A writer’s venturous walks

By: Miguel Terry Valdespino

Durante el acto de premiación en España.

No obstacle seems to stop her. Much less the scarcity of vision. He writes persistently and does it especially well. From this magnificent gift he has left evidence in several books and in an important international award won in Spain.

Today Gilda Guimeras Pareja, a habanera residing in Guanajay, satisfied with life in spite of everything, and having found enlightenment and fullness in her approach to the Catholic Church, has much to tell readers of the New Word.

When is your vocation as a historian born?

“I grew up listening to historical issues. Amparo, the lady in charge of my care, had worked at the home of relatives of the chronicler Eladio Secades. She was a very good anecdote counter and used them to keep me calm or make me sit down and eat. My dad had an encyclopedia of history.

“Looking at his pictures came the desire to know what had happened before my existence. Finally, my mom, apparently less attracted to that discipline, ended up doing her bachelor’s degree when I was a teenager.

“History was so natural that I didn’t think it was a professional choice, but a hobby. I was attracted to the logic and harmony of Mathematics. I studied that bachelor’s degree at the university until the beginning of the third year, when my son was born and I had to settle in Guanajay. Then I appealed to my old friend, the story.”

After this vocation were your literary inclinations born… or were they all born at once?

“All at once, for the same reason to be surrounded by books, but not in the sense of wanting to be a writer. I learned to read when I was four, with amparo’s help, and I’ve been a very good reader ever since. That’s what I wanted to remain. Having time to read all kinds of books, not just those relating to my profession. I didn’t feel the need to write something of my own or think I had anything special to say. Besides, writing, reviewing and rewriting texts seemed cumbersome to me. However, in 1997 I began publishing chronicles with the utilitarian purpose of disclosing local history.”

Frente a la iglesia de San Hilarión Abad, en Guanajay.
Frente a la iglesia de San Hilarión Abad, en Guanajay.

Given his lack of vision, how do you manage?

“With aids for the blind. The reality is, if I hadn’t started to lose my sight, I would never have ventured into fictional literature. When I stop working at the museum, it became difficult for them to accept my chronicles in the press, and the colleagues of the National Blind Association (ANCI), because of those chronicles, urged me to participate in their literature contests. The mixture of both led me to fiction. I knew then that on computers you could install programs for the blind.

“I didn’t have a computer at home, at the time they weren’t for sale. I managed to make myself one thanks to the support of Abilis, a Finnish disability aid foundation, and anCI, which facilitated the process. My son, a computer science graduate, adapted it to my needs and installed the Jaws, a reader for the blind.

“I started writing with the screen in black and the white letters in large size because otherwise I could not read anything. That’s how I work. Gradually the large letters have become invisible, but the reader remains.

“As a child, my mom showed me the keyboard. Click Memory, I just had to incorporate the specific commands to work blindly. I don’t like the option to dictate texts because dictations introduce difficult-to-rectify errors. I only dictate to the phone when I come up with an idea or verse, while I’m doing something else.

“Many people doubt that this is possible. They ask it over and over again, as if he hadn’t explained it to them anymore. Some people think my husband is dedicated to typing my texts, when his help is to read me works and books that are not digitized, or assume that I cheat and present myself as disabled to gain some advantage. They don’t know I’m not the only blind person who writes like this. There are those who have many more skills than I do. I check more slowly than the seers, but I’m not worried about that. I just thank you for having a way to keep working.”

 

Tell us about your adventure at the Tbilisi Poetry Prize in Spain, which you finally won in its main category.

“A Spanish friend sent me the call and, as there was a special section for the disabled that offered two awards, I thought that my poem might aspire to the second of them. I lived a whole odyssey with the mail, which ended up returning the original to me when I assumed it in Madrid and there was no time for anything left. Thanks to the help of several friends, and mainly the schooler Francesc Carreró, he managed to enter before the closing of the contest.

“It was due months before the opinion came out and, frankly, I forgot about it. My surprise was capitalized when one morning in February 2016 I received a call from Spain, an announced that I had won the absolute prize, contesting not with other disabled people, as I had imagined, but with the other participating poets. I didn’t feel like a poet. It was my first poem and I had written it without any pretence but to give way to memories and emotions.

“The news caused such nervousness that I prepared bass with a freshly fumigized wedge and spent a couple of days affected by my throat. I went to church to thank God for granting me something I would never have aspired to. I didn’t write poems, even when I was young, when so many girls get to write or collect verses.

“The trip and the award, where the teacher, writer and critic Angel Luis Prieto de Paula made the praise of the book, at times seemed unreal. I lived the rare experience of passing by monuments and places I knew about books and cinema, not being able to see them at all.

” I touched the facade of the house where Martí lived during his stay in Madrid and met a tyflological museum, which was very kindly accompanied by María José Sánchez Lorenzo, head of the Department of Cultural Promotion and Braille of the ONCE. A space designed for the blind, where, among other things, it is possible to perceive the shape of the world’s main monuments. Something we should have here someday.

“I could see how much the Spaniards have achieved in terms of integration of the visually impaired, listening to the sound signals of traffic lights and elevators, transiting through low sidewalks to facilitate the passage, I learned of the so many blind people who walk oriented by their guide dog. It was very hopeful to understand how much can be done for the blind community.”

In poetry you have won your most important prize. Is this the genre you enjoy reading and writing the most?

“It is the genre where I feel most comfortable, where I become aware of the weight of each word, of its musicality and rhythm. I enjoy it when I’m able to synthesize emotion or thinking in a few lines. However, I also love to write chronicles, in them I try to make the previous work of searching for information disappear and come to light something simple, available to any reader. And I can’t get away from those stories that go around my mind and don’t leave until I turn them into stories.”

To this day, how many books have you published? How many more would you like to publish?

“Five and, astonishingly even for me, three are fairy tales: It is better the night, Eve Seasons and the most recent of all, The rules of the game; one where I collect chronicles of Guanajay: Counted in a few lines and the poem Who reaches the platformers, that of the Tbilisi Prize. I have in the publishing house another book of chronicles, which becomes the second part of the previous one. I have also finished a new poem: Before the same door, a part of which, with the title The Obviity of the Mirror, got mention in the past Villena contest.

“So, for now, I would love for these two that are already concluded to come to light, something that is becoming increasingly difficult because of economic constraints.”

Habanera… or Guanajayense?

“Habanera of Key West. I was born and lived there my first twenty-two years. It’s the place of reference I’ve never been able to get rid of. I feel at home when I’m anywhere in Havana, especially if it has sea. From Havana are almost all the places where my poems and many of my stories move.

“Of course, after all these years of living here, some Guanajayense has surely been enriching me. Here my son grew up, I made friends, built a house, done all my work and lived a myriad of experiences. Guanajay’s story has been the story I’ve been in charge of spreading. That weighs, not a bit. It almost always presents itself to me as Guanajayense, and I take it as a kind of unofficial adoption, a way to integrate into this environment.”

In recent years, you have had an approach to the Catholic Church. What have you found in this approach?

“A kind of spiritual enlightenment, a fulness I have not found elsewhere. The certainty that every possible path goes through love and that it is inclusive, beyond any difference or merit. A greater capacity to forgive, which makes me grow as a human being. Hope, joy, strength and much inner peace.”

Like Violeta Parra, and yet, do you also give thanks to life?

“Of course, life is a wonderful opportunity that never ceases to amaze me. Every day I thank God for existing. I have many limitations, not only visual ones, but also many reasons to give thanks. I am married to a man who has supported me in the most difficult circumstances, my son is a person of good that I can always count on, our little family stays together. I thank you for the doors that, despite the obstacles, have opened to me, for living with joy and for having discovered a gift that allows me to continue interacting with the world.” Ω

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