Listen to Me
Author, Manuel Vilas
Translated by William F. Blair and Annemarie Pearson de Andrés
Iowa City, December 2020
Manuel Vilas continues his literary journey in Listen to Me, an English translation of the original Spanish text by the same name. Between 2008 and 2013, the five years covered in this zany, entertaining book, Vilas records his days encountering the internet and, incidentally, exploring its potential as a literary medium, first on his blog and then on Facebook. In these formats he experimented freely with his writing. Real time responses from his virtual readership resulted in an unexpected, interactive mode of writing.
In Listen to Me the format is structured as sequential, dated entries; the entries vary widely in content and style. Some elements read like poetry, others quite like prose, alternating between the two, but not quite morphing into prose poetry either. A dominant feature of Vilas’ style is dialogue, between the author and God, other authoritative figures, and rock and roll icons. The combination of these features—writing on internet platforms, real time interaction with a readership, diaristic dialogues, and varied literary styles result in a text that is difficult to position within literary genres. For this reason, perhaps Listen to Meis best considered a hybrid text.
Regardless of the genre into which it is categorized, Listen to Me stands as a humorous and ironic dissection of contemporary Spanish culture. Very few of the Spanish privileged (politicians, the wealthy, Church hierarchy) are left unscathed; fictionalized encounters with American pop icons like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Bob Dylan, all idolized by Vilas, are woven into the book’s tapestry. The unifying theme of the text, though, are the conversations between an omniscient and sometimes irascible God and an insincerely obsequious struggling writer, Vilas himself. The result is a delightful, entertaining, fun adventure in Hispanic literature.
About the Author:
Manuel Vilas, born in Barbastro, Huesca in Spain in 1962 writes novels, short stories, and poetry. He also writes literary criticism for the Heraldo de Aragón and El Mundo, as well as other literary magazines. Recent books of poetry include Amor: poesía reunida 1988 – 2010, Gran Vilas, and El hundimiento. Recent novels include Los inmortales, El luminoso regalo (translated into French and Italian), and Ordesa, which is widely celebrated in Spanish media as the 2018 Book of the Year with translations into multiple languages. Significant among his many awards and prizes are the Premio Generación del 27 (2014) and the Premio de las Letras Aragonesas 2015 (2016).
About the Translators:
William Blair is formerly a hand and microsurgeon who, during his academic career, published over 200 research papers, book chapters, and abstracts, including the textbook Techniques in Hand Surgery. He holds an MFA in Comparative Literature – Literary Translation from the University of Iowa and has participated in the International Writing Program’s Translation Workshop. He has translated María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira’s work extensively. Co-translated and published works include two books of poetry by Vaz Ferreira, Lichen by the Uruguayan poet Luis Bravo, and Great Vilas by the Spanish poet and novelist Manuel Vilas. Pending book publications include a hybrid text and a novel, both authored by Vilas. Translated poetry is pending in various journals, including Literal, Exchanges, and Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry. Blair founded Song Bridge Press in 2013 to promote Spanish language literature in translation, and to nurture emerging writers, poets, and translators.
Annemarie Pearson de Andrés is a PhD candidate in English and an MFA candidate in Literary Translation at the University of Iowa. Raised between the US-Mexican border in Brownsville, Texas and Talavera de la Reina, Spain, she translates from Spanish, working particularly with nineteenth-century poetry and prose from Spain and Cuba. Listen to Me will be her first published translation. Her current translation project is A Voyage to Havana (1843) by Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo. When not translating or writing her dissertation, she enjoys delving into various textile arts. She is presently based in New Mexico.