Risks of interviewing an award-winning editing colleague

Risks of interviewing an award-winning editing colleague
Fecha de publicación: 
15 March 2024
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I have a dear friend in front of me, a colleague by the way, with whom I shared the beautiful years of the University, where our minds opened to knowledge that practice would later complement.

The one chosen to share this dialogue for the readers of CubaSí, in the versions of its news portal and its very successful insertion on Facebook, is none other than Enrique (Kiki) Pérez Díaz, recently awarded with the 2023 National Edition Award.

Graduated in Journalism in 1982 at the Havana University, the interviewee has confessed that this career was an inevitable leap for those who have literary interests and the list of journalists who later became writers is long.

I was always close to literature, he admitted to the Cuban News Agency, but from the reader’s approach, and journalism made me overcome my shyness in front of the blank page - always a challenge for those who type texts -, where mysterious and imaginary characters - they only exist in the writer’s own head - jump all over you.

Surrounded by a world of great fantasy, to the pleasure of the children's flock, Pérez Díaz (Havana, 1958) has created titles such as Mensajes (1991), Inventarse un amigo (1998), Escuelita de los horrores (1999), Los gatos de papel (2005), Cuentos a caballo (2006), Bushido (2014) and Nunca fuimos Cenicientas (2018), among others.

Such a wonderful creation has even been encouraged with a scholarship abroad and the granting of awards such as The Golden Age, Pinos Nuevos, La Rosa Blanca and the Dora Alonso. He also holds the Félix Elmuza Honor and the Honor for National Culture.

He has moved from living well west of the capital to now live in Alamar, where he shares lifetime with his wife, another colleague who works like him in Culture, and his son. The unforgettable Maria de los Ángeles Santana, his aunt-in-law, often welcomed us into her house in Vedado to study and have parties.

Mounted in a time machine in reverse, we both only remember good things from that course - 1977-1982 - at the then Arts and Letters Schools. Other luminaries have graduated from there just like Enrique Pérez Díaz, but - and just to mention two examples - also Alejandro Gil, the filmmaker and documentary maker who gave life to “Inocencia.”

Forever young due to his life dynamics, always hand in hand with coryza and asthma as faithful pursuers, the one affectionately called Kiki or Enriquito maintains both a fresh image and thoughts. So he has a lot more to give. And not before reiterating in my defense that it is quite a risk to interview someone who has won multiple awards, even in editing; let’s roll the dice and get into the real conversation.

Did you picture yourself being so recognized in your country and abroad for your texts?

-Never. I have written by vocation and spell. Trying to exorcise my ghosts and my nostalgia. I have not adhered to fashions or styles. I have tried to be different and original. Apparently, my fictions have interested many. They have embraced them as their own and that is, ultimately, one of the goals of literature, that people find themselves in it and grow from it. The other thing is to come across intelligent editors and have good luck and not stop before the walls, fences or abysses that life puts in front of us.

Have you ever thought about obtaining the 2023 National Edition Award?

-No matter how much imagination I have had as a writer, I never dreamed of such an award. I would tell you that this award has been a collective construction of many who know me and value my trade for so many years. They have been nominating me since 2010 and, according to what they tell me, I had been very close to being a finalist for years. It is not something I sought or longed for, and yet I value it very much because I represent a different type of editor, with a more proactive and innovative concept of managing it. On the day of the award ceremony, I almost died of shock when upon entering the back of the Nicolás Guillén room, from La Cabaña, a chorus of applause sounded around me and people excitedly shouting “Enrique, Enrique, Enrique” … many colleagues came to kiss me, hug me, greet me. I don't know how I managed to get to the front row and give the speech. I don't usually have stage fright, especially after having spent many years in front of the cameras in any situation, but that day I received so much love and human warmth that I was shocked.

What do you prefer writing or editing?

-Both, depending on the moment. Editing is applying knowledge and sensitivity. Writing is giving outlet to the soul and hoping that it flies away and returns with some good story.

And speaking of literary vices, which one dominates you?

-Read. Read. Read.

What does the holding each year - now in its 32nd edition - of the International Book Fair, a festival of letters that the people always expect, mean to you?

-A kind of pleasant punishment for all the time I devote to it and the exhaustion it causes me. But it is also the moment I meet many friends and get closer to people I never thought I would meet.

Of your works, which would you choose if you were forced to choose only one?

-Mensajes, which is now entitled Una calle es como el mundo en Colombia. It is a book from my first stage, tender, innocent and beautiful, about two children who are very far away emotionally despite their geographical proximity that a lonely and self-conscious cat manages to turn into best friends.

How do you manage yourself to face so many tasks, such as heading the Cuban Books and Reading Observatory (OCLL)?

-That, dear friend, is an insoluble mystery even for myself. I sleep a little. I read a lot. I try not to leave anything pending (a vice acquired since the ACN times) and I move around helping everyone I can.

Looking back, you have previously thanked the ACN, previously known as AIN, for the rigor and training it provided you. Now that this Agency will celebrate its 50th anniversary in May, what messages do you have for your colleagues from then and for newcomers?

-Take advantage of everything that a news agency like ACN can teach you, which trains you in the most diverse writing techniques and makes you confront a news event in a thousand ways. Reviewing other people's work gives such training that one day you learn to write better on your own. Great writers that we all admire were born from journalism. This teaches us to overcome almost all professional fears. Literature, on the other hand, leaves us more full of questions than answers.

You went from journalism to literature, and the conjunction of both is part of your life track record. If you started again: would everything be the same?

-I don't think so, perhaps if I lost my memory when I started over, I would return – under the same conditions I had – to being the same. But if I started from scratch, of course I would start a different life, perhaps as an actor, a rocker, or the keeper of a lonely lighthouse on a desert island, like the fairy who in one of my first stories invented true love. Few people know that my dream was to be a veterinarian, but family and literature were so important that I asked for journalism.

When you look back, there are always time to gratefulness. Who are the first people to come to your mind?

 -I talked about that in my award acceptance speech. First of all, to my family. Then to my teacher Makarenko Rudy Canelles Vigo, who taught me to read. Also to all the editors, designers and authors I have learned from. To all those who opened doors for me in this life and also to those who closed those doors to me, because they, actually, made me stronger and more tenacious, more skilled at surviving and smarter at finding my own path.

Are you mulling over new projects?

-I don't like to talk a lot about projects because they lose their energy if you don't rush them and they even get erased from your mind. There are themes that capture my time today and do not leave me much energy to dream as many stories as before. However, if inspiration and magic come, I will wait for them working.

We have talked about your time in the media - you worked also in Juventud Rebelde - however, I would like to hear your thoughts on your time at the then School of Journalism, especially the group with which you shared for almost 5 years (1977-1982)?


-I have never felt as integrated into a human collective as that group of 24 universes that graduated in the spring of 1982. Neither time, nor distances, nor ideologies, nor the accelerated course of our lives and jobs managed separate us. I remember all of you as I met you on the first day. Even if I find them with gray hair, wrinkles, with more or less pounds, for me they are always (and will be) the same. Those of us who were hurt by any injustice, who loved and suffered with the same professors, who learned to be professionals by challenging all barriers and conventions and who, despite our diversities, thought and beat in unison. I don't feel sorry for not seeing you often, for not meeting as we sometimes try to plan. I believe that we all mean to others one of those imperishable memories that are written with fire in our minds and, precisely for that reason, nothing, and no one, will ever be able to erase.

Would you like to take advantage of this opportunity to speak exclusively with the Cuban News Agency in a Special collaboration for CubaSí, to send a message to Cuban readers: what would it be?

-There are many types of readers. So many we cannot figure them out properly. There are those who prefer novels, those who love science books. Others love recipe books. I had a friend who reviewed the traffic code every night to disarm with his eloquence and know who to give a ticket to. Many like me find more truths in wrongly called “children's books” than in real life itself. I could give everyone the same advice: “Be readers, eager and habitual readers. That is the quickest way to advance in any sphere of life. That is the safest route to understand the world and be better people.”

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Díaz / CubaSí Translation Staff

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