With Gladness Comes Generosity

52 Weeks / 52 Interviews: Week 34: Giannina Braschi




Born in San Juan and based in New York, Giannina Braschi is a cutting-edge poet, essayist, and novelist. She was a tennis champion, singer, and fashion model before she discovered writing. She holds a PhD in the Spanish Golden Age and has taught at Rutgers, Colgate, and City University. She has written on Cervantes, Garcilaso, Lorca, Machado, Vallejo, and Bécquer. Author of the euphoric poetry collection Empire of Dreams, the Spanglish novel Yo-Yo Boing! and the philosophical new work of fiction United States of Banana, Braschi has received grants and awards from National Endowment for the Arts, NY Foundation for the Arts, El Diario la prensa, PEN American Center, Ford Foundation, Reed Foundation, Rutgers University, Danforth Scholarship, and Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. Her collected poems inaugurated the Yale Library for World Literature in Translation. She writes in three languages—Spanish, Spanglish, and English—to express the enculturation process of millions of Hispanic immigrants in the U.S.—and to explore the three political options of Puerto Rico—nation, colony, or state. Braschi dedicates her life’s work to inspiring personal and political liberation.


When the government proclaims war against terrorism—it proclaims war against the awakening of the masses

Monkeybicycle: The United States of Banana is a conversation between yourself, contemporary and historical world figures, as well as literary characters about Puerto Rico’s current political climate. Why did you choose to dialogue with Hamlet and Zarathustra?

Giannina Braschi: Because I always write about my friends. And Hamlet and Zarathustra are my friends. Because we are prophetic, apocalyptic, and revolutionary. What we have in common is our brotherly love—we carry dead bodies on our backs—and we never give birth, although I am in labor most of my life. I knew Hamlet would give me the poetry, Zarathustra would give me the philosophy, Segismundo would give me the plot, and I would handle the politics. Together we would liberate Segismundo from the dungeon beneath the Statue of Liberty and liberate Puerto Rico from the United States of Banana.

Mb: The language used is extraordinary and has a very musical quality to it. This is also your first novel written wholly in English. What is the role of language in your work?

GB: I’ve studied music all my life. I’ve sung songs in foreign languages and learned those languages through those songs. I memorized T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land from tapes before I (mis)spoke English and discovered in Eliot’s dramatic shifts my own music—the anonymity of the voices that come from no where—the Greek chorus that captures the conscience of the people. Zarathustra said poets have not discovered the tones. But I have discovered the tones—I speak in tones—in tongues–and from different cultural registers. I mix languages. I mix genres. I mix myself with eccentrics.

Mb: Philosophy, literature, and politics collide through the monologues and dialogues that make up the book. Can you talk about the confluence of these three in your work. Does one inform the others, or are they, like the characters, in a constant dialogue?

GB: The characters Zarathustra, Hamlet, and Giannina exemplify the unity of philosophy, literature, and politics. They encounter each other in the streets of contemporary New York, recognize each other, and don’t stop walking, talking, and contradicting each other—but all dealing at the same level—no one thinking he is superior to the other. We see how the powers of the world are shifting and we shift with those shifting powers. We watch the collapse of the Twin Towers as the fall of the American Empire, and we rise into a new world of multiple possibilities where we meet prisoners of war, terrorists, ambassadors, kings, queens, and presidents. It’s a world in which philosophers, poets, and lovers are in power.

Mb: This is perhaps the funniest and most enjoyable postcolonial novel I’ve ever read. Though it deals with very serious and heavy events, such as the destruction of the World Trade Center, the immigrant experience, and revolution, it never loses sight of its humor. What does humor do for us in the face of tragedy?

GB: Tragedy is all about losing. And humor is all about gaining perspective. Humor returns our gladness. And with gladness comes generosity. Humor returns us to the light and makes us light—it kills grudges, buries bodies–buries revenge—buries blame and guilt—fear and dread. Laughter, like hiccups and sneezes and farts and burps, relieves us of severity.


Colonize your colonizers–they say–learn from those bloody bastards. Which bastards–I ask. The American bastards–they colonized your colonizers–Spain and England–and look how phony they look–like prairie dogs–following the Bushes in the oil fields of Iraq.


Mb: The novel deals a great deal with the american empire and the future of Puerto Rico. You describe its options as Wishy, Wishy-Washy, and Washy. What do you believe the future holds for Puerto Rico?

GB: Puerto Rico will be Wishy. Some people you will never discover, unless you create them first. Like Cervantes created Don Quixote and now we meet Don Quixotes in the street. Or like Tirso de Molina created Don Juan and now we say that guy over there is a Don Juan. Likewise, some countries you will not discover unless you create them first. I liberated myself from the eternal dilemma of Wishy, Wishy-Washy, or Washy. The United States of Banana is a declaration of independence.


Read more from / about Giannina Braschi here. Buy a copy of United States of Banana here.


Edward J. Rathke is the author of several books, one of them published [Ash Cinema, KUBOA Press 2012], two more coming out soon, as well as various short stories online and in print. He writes criticism and cultural essays for Manarchy Magazine and regularly contributes to The Lit Pub where he also edits. More of his life and words may be found at edwardjrathke.com.

‘La libertad no es una opción, es un derecho’


24 de septiembre de 2012

‘La libertad no es una opción, es un derecho’

La autora puertorriqueña aboga por que la Isla tenga “libertad y voz independiente”

Giannina Braschi es la autora de la novela “United States of Banana”, publicada recientemente. (Suministrada)

Por José A. Delgado / jdelgado@elnuevodia.com

WASHINGTON – La escritora puertorriqueña Giannina Braschi promocionó en Washington este fin de semana su más reciente publicación, la novela “United States of Banana”, que representa, entre otras cosas, un llamamiento a favor de que Puerto Rico tenga “libertad y voz independiente”.

“La libertad no es una opción, es un derecho constitucional”, indicó Braschi, en una entrevista, antes de participar ayer en el Festival del Libro en el parque central estadounidense. Braschi fue una de las escritoras y los escritores invitados al reconocido festival, auspiciado por la Biblioteca del Congreso. “United States of Banana”, publicado en 2011, incluye una primera parte en que la autora puertorriqueña, radicada en Nueva York, narra por medio de la ficción algunas de las experiencias y consecuencias de los ataques terroristas del 11 de septiembre de 2001 contra el World Trade Center, en Nueva York.

El título de la obra surge de la segunda parte, en la que a través de personajes como la Estatua de la Libertad, Segismundo (prisionero durante un siglo por su padre, el rey de “United States of Banana”), Hamlet, Zarathrustra y Giannina, se pasa juicio sobre la situación colonial de Puerto Rico y las consecuencias de que Estados Unidos anexe plenamente a la Isla.

“Quiero la secesión de Puerto Rico de ‘United States of Banana’”, dice Giannina, el personaje de la novela, su primera publicación plenamente en inglés. No es la primera vez que Braschi, quien hasta hace poco fue profesora en Colgate University (Nueva York), explora el tema de las relaciones políticas entre Puerto Rico y Estados Unidos. Lo ha hecho, por ejemplo, en su novela bilingüe “Yo-Yo Boing”. Braschi indicó que ya explora ideas para una próxima publicación, pero prefiere no hablar de ellas en esta etapa: “Soy supersticiosa”.

Sólo adelanta que el debate sobre la situación colonial de Puerto Rico estará presente.

“Estoy a favor de Estados Unidos, pero quiero a Puerto Rico antes que cualquier país en el mundo. Quiero más a mi gente. Soy americana del Norte y del Sur”, sostuvo.

Braschi está consciente de que el Gobierno de Puerto Rico impulsa un referéndum local sobre el status político de la Isla y de que sectores de la diáspora reclamaron participación.

“Los que vivimos acá no podemos participar en el referéndum de allá, pero los que votan por el Gobernador en Puerto Rico no pueden votar aquí por el presidente de Estados Unidos. Siempre hay algo que nos niegan – dijo – porque somos colonia”.

Contemporary Philosophical Fiction

United States of Banana on sale today at www.amazon.com

On sale in paperback ($8.95)  or Kindle  ($3.99)

The premise of this allegorical novel by Puerto Rican author Braschi (Yo-Yo Boing!; Empire of Dreams) is bizarre but intriguing: the author and two famous fictional characters—Giannina, Hamlet, and Zarathustra—attempt to free Puerto Rican Segismundo from the Statue of Liberty, where he has been imprisoned for more than 100 years. His father, the king of the United States of Banana, imprisoned him there for the crime of being born, and it is his father who frees him and awards statehood to Puerto Rico. The plot is secondary, however; the novel’s main purpose is political, with plenty of reflections on the horrors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, on Puerto Rico’s awkward position as an American territory, and on personal desire and individual liberty.

Library Journal’s ultimate VERDICT : Recommended for fans of philosophical fiction such as Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra.



The Story of America Begins Here

Berättelsen om Amerika Börjar Nu

Giannina Braschi: ”Drömmarnas imperium” Publicerad 2012-05-25 08:36 Giannina Braschis prosa tar färg och tempo från gatans poesi. Samtidigt är den lärd och full av litterära referenser. Hennes skildring av 11 september är något alldeles nytt och eget, skriver Ingrid Elam.


Kort tid efter 11 september 2001 började de skönlitterära bearbetningarna av katastrofen komma, Jonathan Safran Foers ”Extremt högt och otroligt nära” publicerades 2005 och två år senare gav Don de Lillo ut ”Falling man”. Nu föreligger också delar av det hittills kanske mest originella bidraget till litteraturen om 11 september-attackerna i svensk översättning, Giannina Braschis ”United States of Banana” från 2011, som får inleda urvalsvolymen ”Drömmarnas imperium”. Så här kan det låta: Valmöjligheterna är absurda. De kan välja mellan potatismos, pommes frites och bakad potatis. Men hur man än serverar den är det samma potatis. Om du frågar mig om det är bättre att vara conquistada por un conquistador o exterminada por un exterminador, prefiero ser vencida Braschi skriver en prosa som tar färg och tempo av gatans poesi med dess speciella tilltal, hiphop-rytmer och stilblandning, men hon skriver inte på gatans språk utan på en bildad, litterär engelska och spanska, full av sofistikerade ordlekar. I korta stycken fångar hon tillståndet efter 11 september, mardrömmarna, skräcksynerna, politikens förfall. Vad finns kvar i New York? Staden iakttas av en spanskspråkig invandrare som talar direkt till alla som vill höra. Vilka är människans villkor nu? Kroppsdelar far genom luften, där faller en man i vit skjorta utan ben och huvud, här två avslitna händer som fortfarande håller varandra. Allt faller, tornen, börsen, människovärdet. Det är en apokalyps på blandat och brutet talspråk men det är också, märker man efter hand, en filosofisk betraktelse över 2000-talets öde land. Den genljuder av lärda referenser, inte bara kroppsdelar utan även diktrader och delar av dramatiska dialoger fladdrar förbi i efterskalvens luftvirvlar, en bit Yeats, en trasa Eliot, en essäsnutt Benjamin. Giannina Braschi doktorerade i litteraturvetenskap på 1970-talet, hon rör sig på ett västerländskt bildningsfält, men hon experimenterar fritt med de plantor som växer där och vänder upp och ner på hierarkier. Viktigast bland undertexterna är Shakespeares ”Hamlet” och Calderóns ”Livet en dröm”. Den senare handlar om prins Segismundo som låstes in av sin far i en jordhåla och växte upp där utan kontakt med världen utanför. Det är ingen tvekan om vem av de två som har jagberättarens sympati, Hamlet som dödar i skydd av ett draperi och tvekar där Ofelia vågar ta språnget ut på djupt vatten, eller Segismundo som reser sig mot sin far och mot alla odds lyckas vända sitt öde. Braschi lägger perspektivet konsekvent hos invandraren – själv är hon född i Puerto Rico – hon insisterar på att det spanska arvet är lika viktigt som det anglosaxiska och att berättelsen om Amerika måste skrivas om efter 11 september. Saf¬ran Foers och de Lillos romaner är i grunden traditionella berättelser om några livsöden i skuggan av katastrofen, medan Braschi gör något nytt och eget. Det handlar inte så mycket om vad hon berättar utan vad formen säger, nämligen att Amerika varken är en smältdegel eller består av många från varandra åtskilda ghetton. I stället är hennes Amerika en väv där alla inslag syns och berör varandra. Braschis bidrag till den nya berättelsen är allt annat än realistisk eller harmonisk, snarast blasfemisk, full av förtvivlan och svart humor. ”United States of Bananas ”är hennes senaste bok men den ligger först i det svenska urvalet som i övrigt rymmer en mindre bit ur ”Yo-Yo Boing!” från 1998 och en längre ur den bok som också är urvalsvolymens titel, ”Drömmarnas imperium” från 1988. Det är en klok omvänd ordning, de tidigare verken är svårare att ta till sig i bokform, ”Yo-Yo Boing!” blandar två språk till spanglish och de korta prosastyckena i ”Drömmarnas imperium” är hallucinatoriska New York-impressioner – före tornens fall. Båda är med sin rastlöst svängande rörelse som gjorda för högläsning. De två översättarna, poeterna Helena Eriksson och Hanna Nordenhök bidrar med var sitt efterord, Nordenhöks är en introducerande miniessä medan Eriksson snarast skriver vidare på Braschis text. Deras översättningar är utmärkta och fångar känslan av att befinna sig i den del av Amerika där människor möts i ett brokigt men ändå samlevnadsmöjligt flöde av språk och erfarenheter: New York.

Ingrid Elam litteratur@dn.se



Contemporary Writers on the Classics

PEN World Voices Festival: Special Event
Thursday, May 3, 2012 at Baruch Performing Arts Center, Engelman Recital Hall, 55 Lexington Ave., New York City, from 2:30pm–4 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.

Enjoy a free, lively panel discussion with PEN festival writers Gabriel Adamesteanu, Giannina Braschi, Ib Michael, and Laurie Sheck, moderated by John Brenkman.  In his famous essay “Why Read the Classics?” Italo Calvino writes: “The classics are books that exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflaging themselves as the collective or individual unconscious.” How does this “peculiar influence” resonate for the writer? For Giannina Braschi characters like Hamlet, Zarathustra, and Segismundo mingle and debate with common folk and icons such as the Statue of Liberty in modern day New York.  The Associated Press calls Braschi’s new book UNITED STATES OF BANANA–a work of limitless imagination and a fushion of irony and fearlessness.  For the fifth consecutive year, Baruch College’s Great Works Program invites international authors to select a classic from the school’s curriculum and discuss its influence within their life and work.


United States of Banana: Burial of the Sardine

Still Life Vanitas

There at the Fulton Market—where three roads intersect—was the point where HAMLET, GIANNINA, and ZARATHUSTRA first met. The three had been walking the streets like mad—without stopping to rest—until they came to the South Street Seaport—where flies were harrowing around the halo of the fish market that smelled like the rot of Chinatown. They recognized one another and walked toward each other with dead bodies on their backs.

GIANNINA: I’m burying the sardine—the dead body I carry on my back.

ZARATHUSTRA: A little fish—in a little coffin. And for this—for this little stinky thing—we came from so far?

GIANNINA: Look, it’s moving. It’s still alive.

ZARATHUSTRA: It’s so salty and ugly it itches and bites.

GIANNINA: It worked its whole life in the sludge of oil and vinegar. I’ll sprinkle incense, myrrh, and a pound of gold to be buried with it under the Sand.

HAMLET: Hurry up. The ferry will leave without us.

GIANNINA: You have no idea how much I’ve suffered under the influence of this rigorous but retarded sardine. Not a warrior, but a soldier. Making me vow to its regiment of passive-aggressive work. No traveling was allowed. No smoking allowed. No pets allowed. No one could get near me because the sardine would stink—and its stink would bite. Sometimes it would fly around the rim, but it would always dive back into the can of sardines—looking for its paycheck. Every two weeks—it brought me a salary—the stinky sardine—and I brought home all I could buy with that salary—confinement, imprisonment. Depending on a salary made me salivate—but it blew my mind to dust—the dust that blows around and makes you cough—but you hardly can see it because it’s made of dust. But I’m not made of dust—I’m made of flesh—and making love to the little sardine drove me crazy. It was such a little fish it barely filled my mouth. I could hardly eat it. I grew hungry—hungry for a big fish. God help me—no more fish! Please no clams, no oysters! Please—nothing shelled or scaled! Nothing salted—nothing finned or fanged! Because it had fangs—the sardine had fangs—and it bit me like a rabid squirrel. It must have known I wanted to bury it. Its fangs were long—and its screams were shrill— and it held grudges—and it had bones to pick. It blamed me for keeping it down—but all I wanted was its liberation from the can. I wanted it to breathe clean air—and to sing. Your mouth is already open—now take a deep breath, little fishy, and sing—sing a song of love. You know my cords are made of vibrant colors. You know I too come from the sea—but I don’t come with grudges in my fangs. I come with wings to fly from your stink. I hate sardines.

ZARATHUSTRA: Then why do you eat them?

GIANNINA: Because I detest their helplessness. I wouldn’t eat a lion. It would eat me first. I eat what is weaker than me. I like lamb. I watch a grazing lamb, and my mouth waters. I could eat it alive. But not sardines. They’re already dead. They never lived. They’re dead even when they’re alive. Always with their mouths open. Begging for water. And I don’t mind beggars. But sardines are not beggars—they’re squirmers. They beg for water—but what they really want is to eat you alive—with their deadliness—which is a plague—a virus—bacteria—something contagious that kills you without killing you. They open their mouths to beg for water—but do nothing but gulp the draught and wait for water—with their mouths open—as if snoring, which is worse than imploring—they’re beggarly beggars that don’t even beg—they’re too dead to beg—and they’re deadly contagious. It’s their deadliness that lingers over me every day of my life—the dead inertia of the sardine that obeys and begs for water, gallons of water, and does what it’s asked to do in spite of no water and denies itself so much—that it doesn’t realize it doesn’t have a being anymore—and it lets itself be canned—always with its open mouth saying:

Drop dead, but give me drops of water. I don’t want to be buried alive. I want to survive. I’m a salaried sardine. Give me more  money.

That’s why they’re so salty and ugly, they itch and bite. Because they’re salivating for salty salaries—salty salaried sardines.

ZARATHUSTRA: It is not a sardine. It is a big fish.

GIANNINA: The coffin is small, but the stench is immense. Zarathustra, would you allow my little pet to be buried in the same hole of the hollow tree where you left the tightrope walker?

HAMLET: And may I please leave the putrefied carrion in the same hollow tree?

GIANNINA: We are burying sameness—the aesthetic principle of sameness—the three together—at the same time—holding hands—burying bodies in the same hollow tree—and running free from freedom. Free…