Matute, Ana María


When I say ‘how I began writing’ I am not referring to a system I followed in order to be a writer —which I doubt it exists—, but rather to the search for some motivations, motivations that will always be a bit vague, to understand how a person such as myself can devote their life, from a young age, to what is commonly known as literature; and, simultaneously, is also as undefinable as it is debatable. I systemically avoid any definition in this sense, because throughout the years I have understood that the most fortunate of them is not but another invention, given more often by those who are not writers than by those who are. And when I say ‘writer’, I am referring, in this specific case, to the literary creator.

I assume a writer’s reasons or motives obey to causes as different as men are from each other; but keeping in mind that we are all often connected by a common nexus: the suffering of the world.

Reducing this to my particular case, if I resort to childhood to explain or explain myself, it is because I believe that both in literature and in life ‘childhood’ is always here: I have said many times that I write because I am unable to speak. And now I add that if I cannot speak, perhaps the fact that I was a stuttering child may have played a part in it. I stuttered a lot: as exaggerated as in jokes and comedies. As I could not express myself like other girls, as I felt isolated from the world around me, and due to circumstances implicit to the time period, the family, and the social class I belonged to, my childhood was mostly spent in a state of heartbreak and solitude. For children like us, parents were almost mythical creatures, completely untrustworthy. The children of my time usually had to seek shelter in a friend from school or in any affection capable of filling the emotional void, like the care of a nanny or a cook. Until one day, all of a sudden, still ignorant to the world’s most cynical side, we are thrown into life like who pushes a child who will never learn to swim into a pool, forced to harshly and painfully confront it.

What I have just referenced can give an approximate idea of the loneliness of a child whose words always made her classmates laugh. Even her teachers and her own siblings. Laughter and mockery, forgiven with time but not forgotten. I liked to study, and I did, but I could not recite my work or answer questions in class. So I ended up in last place, with the repressions and threats it comes with, permanently cornered and isolated. I became the eternal ‘distracted girl’, when now I believe I was more ‘withdrawn’. So, since life and the world were foreign to me —I was rejected, so to speak—, I had to come up with my own.

I was never let into what is often called ‘girl stuff’, because girls did not like me. I was awkward and too innocent. I am still awkward, though unfortunately less innocent.

I am unaware in what language (because the universal language of childhood exists, although many times lost or forgotten) I would ask myself: Who invented my life? Who am I? I did not believe I belonged to that family or that environment, nor to that time period or that society. Intuitively I told myself: Do I not belong among them, or have I yet to connect with someone? After asking myself: Who invented my life?, I decided to invent it myself; and I immediately began writing. I discovered that solitude can truly be beautiful, yet ignored. And suddenly, solitude changed shape, transforming into something else. It grew like the shadow of a bird grows on a wall, taking flight and becoming something fascinating: something similar to revealing the other side of that life that rejects us.

In this way I learned to see the glow of darkness. I wanted (unlike other children) to be disciplined in the dark room, to see that glow of the apparent void. And I remember that one day, when I crumbled a cube of sugar between my fingers, a blue spark sprouted in the darkness. I could not explain how far that blue spark took me. But even today I can sometimes see that light in the darkness, or rather, the light of darkness. That is what I do when I write.

In the midst of these small disasters happening in my life, which over the years I do not think they were so, the Civil War broke out. Then, the most brutal and least pleasant image of life broke and penetrated in that bubble of mine, in that sort of private and lonely island. I learned to look at things and people with other eyes, and to listen with other ears, and to understand, finally, that it did not matter where I came from or where I was going. I knew I was there. And that I had to keep going, whether I liked it or not.

Here I still am. I can only add, since I cannot speak, that I probably still have much more to write about. But nothing else to say.

Ana María Matute

Speech transcribed in Revista de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Magazine) no. 3. Mexico, July 1982.
Portrait of the author by Lorenzo Goñi.