Pablo García and Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez
Spring 2013 in Guatemala
"A collection of extraordinary force, full of unusual metaphors, with an accomplished atmosphere, where [the reader] really feels that the poet's voice has been worked by the dead and comes from the other side of things" - Juan Villoro
Born in Totonicapán, Guatemala, Pablo García learned Spanish and K'iche, the most common Mayan language, in school. He writes in K'iche before he translates it to Spanish and roots his writing in Mayan culture. García received the B'atz' Prize in 2007 for his book, Canto Palabra de una Pareja de Muertos. Guatemalan writer Rodrigo Rey Rosa founded the B'atz' Prize in 2004 to honor the work of indigenous writers.
"A story that exposes with grace and technical mastery the local varieties of collective fear and resolves the narration with an ending as plausible as unexpected" - Rodrigo Rey Rosa
Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez comes from a peasant family in San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala. He learned Kaqchikel at home, but with his father's encouragement, he started to read and write in Spanish. Oxlaj Cúmez started to write while he was studying to become a teacher at la Escuela Normal Rural Pedro Molina, and in 1998, he received a position at the school. Learning about the B'atz' Price encouraged him to explore the relationship between Spanish and Kaquikel, which, according to Oxlaj Cúmez, have similar rhythms and different structures. He received the B'atz' Prize in 2007 for his book, La Misión del Sarima'. The book is a mixture of oral tradition and magical realism, Spanish and Kaqchikel; in the the words of Oxlaj Cúmez, "it is a mixed history because our reality is like that."
2013 marked the first year of Writers at Home in Guatemala! Students read Pablo García's Canto Palabra de una Pareja de Muertos early on in the semester and worked with a K'iche scholar to understand the nuances of the language and culture. In early February, students traveled to Sendero Ecológico El Aprisco, a nature preserve and environmental education center in Totonicapán. The site served as a reflection of the K'iche language, whose vocabulary and symbolism resides more in the natural environment than the more artificial constructions of colonial and post-colonial society. García talked about the challenges and shortcomings of translating his work from K'iche to Spanish before he walked around the nature preserve with students. Towards the end of the semester, Cúmez came to Rafael Landívar University and gave an informal talk to CSB/SJU students about his inspiration for La Misión del Sarima'.
"Writers at Home was a wonderful introduction to the Mayan cultures that shaped much of our experience in Guatemala. It was incredible to talk with members of these Mayan cultures who were that willing to share them with us. As an English major, I loved reading their books and learning about how they reconciled the differences between languages. I am grateful to have experienced the first year of Writers at Home in Guatemala!"
Bridgette Springer, CSB/SJU '14