Valeria Luiselli, Writer | 2019 MacArthur Fellow


My work often deals with dislocation,
belonging, migration, of course, and I tend to create characters that are unnamed
and not quite easy to place. My name is Valeria Luiselli. I am a novelist and a
nonfiction writer, but I mostly do something in the middle, something that
might be called documentary fiction. And that is basically documentary practices that lead towards fiction making. I moved a lot when I was little. I lived in about eight different countries, and on four different continents, and was always
somehow a foreigner. And I think that foreignness is a kind of space that
I’ve learnt to inhabit better than any other. That’s the place where I stand
when I work. “Will there be horses there? Will there be arrows? Will we have beds,
toys, food, enemies? When will we leave?” I started writing “Lost Children Archive” as
a response to the refugee crisis of children arriving alone and undocumented
at the border seeking asylum. I became more and more involved with that crisis,
translating in court for children. And I started using the novel as a kind of
dumping ground for all my political rage, and frustration, and fear, and sadness,
until I realized that I wasn’t doing any justice to the novel, and wasn’t doing
any justice to the situation. So I stopped writing the novel, wrote a short
essay called “Tell Me How It Ends” that addresses the issue directly, and then
was able to go back to the novel later. I’ve always written both in Spanish and
in English, and in fact, in the early stages of any work, I write my notes in
both languages, often mixing them together chaotically, until one of the
two languages reveals itself to me as the right one for that material. I’m working on a really difficult project right now, that will ultimately be a kind
of sound map of femicide in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, especially on this on the U.S. side of the border. It’s a kind of
appropriation, but also subversion, of the genre of reenactment, and in this
particular reenactment the characters are not Billy the Kid, and Wyatt Earp, and
the usual Wild West re-enactors, but rather a chorus of women who have been
killed in the borderlands from the 19th century til today. My work comes through a combination of anger and clarity, or an attempt to find
clarity in a world that is constantly filling us with fear and confusion, and I
strive through my work to find, if I’m lucky, some kind of beauty.

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