By Katherine Quevedo
Santa Clara was honored to host world-renowned author Isabel Allende on April 22 and 23 as part of the university’s Leader in Residence program.
Allende wowed a packed auditorium of students and faculty with a keynote speech on the major events in her life, from her upbringing in Chile to her international literary success.
During her brief stay on campus, Allende took time for an exclusive interview with The Santa Clara.
The Santa Clara: How do you incorporate your ties to your South American roots into your books?
Isabel Allende: I can only write about my background. When I write a story that is placed in the United States, like “The Infinite Plan” or “Daughter of Fortune,” it’s always from the perspective of a person who comes from outside … I could have not written the story about the Gold Rush [“Daughter of Fortune”] from the point of view of one of the Forty Niners that crossed the continent; I had to write it from the point of view of a person of color who was in California before the Forty Niners got there.
TSC: You began your writing career as a journalist, and you have since become an award-winning novelist. Do you ever plan to go back to journalism again?
IA: No, I liked it very much when I was younger, but now at my age it would be very stressful to be out there on the streets fighting for the news … I don’t think I could do it anymore. I can do certain pieces, for example, like go to the Amazon and write a travel article about the Amazon that would be sold probably to a magazine or several magazines. And that allows me to do it on my time, as many words as I want – it’s my article, it’s not like working on a newspaper.
TSC: And you did travel to the Amazon, is that right?
IA: Yeah, I did. I have been there a couple of times. It was a wonderful experience. I didnÃt think I was going to ever use it for anything except for an article, but a few years later when I decided to write a book for young adults, an adventure for young adults, the natural place was the Amazon.
TSC: How do you research for your books usually?
IA: Depends. Once I decide where the story will happen, let’s say the last book, my latest book is called “The Forest of the Pygmies,” and it will be published next year, and it is the third volume of a trilogy for kids. I wrote the first one in the Amazon, the second one in the Himalayas and the third one in equatorial Africa … I had to research several different places, and when I had decided it was going to be in equatorial Africa then I concentrated on that place. And so I get maps, travelogue books, I try to learn the history of the place. I try to read at least one or two novels written about the place because sometimes you get in a novel details that you donÃt get in a map, in a guidebook or in a travel book. And then I always go … because when you go, you get a feeling of the smells, the texture, the color, the temperature. There is something that is unique to every place. Even if [I use] only one sentence to describe it, that sentence is necessary to create a feeling for the reader that it’s real, that the place is real.
TSC: You are a big proponent of feminism. What do you think of feminism in Latin America today?
IA: Well, women in Latin America today are in general more educated than men, and they take better care of themselves, so in health and education they’re doing as well as men or better than men. However, they don’t make the same salary when they work and they have little say in politics, although more and more women are getting involved in politics now and economically they’re all behind.
TSC: You’ve gone through so many hardships in your life, but you keep such an upbeat attitude sense of humor. How do you manage that?
IA: Well, what’s the worst that can happen? That you suffer, that’s the worst. We are very resilient creatures, and there is always joy in even the most awful situations. There’s always friendship and love and the complicity of another human being. Even in the worst moments in my life there has always been humor and love. People are so afraid of taking risks and of suffering and of pain. Take all the risks, suffer, get scarred. Works are proud scars.