Irene Vasco gets up, leaves her warm blankets behind; she opens a strange book exactly in the middle: she ties it behind her back and the book begins to flap; she opens her windows wide and flies through the mountains of Colombia. In a bag, Irene carries colored letters like seeds that she drops and that when they fall, explode like flowers and oranges. Children wait for her because they know she brings stories of cats, spells and spells.
Today we have the honor of talking with Irene Vasco, a children's book writer, artist of the word, book promoter, workshop teacher, translator, librarian… words are too short to describe Irene's important work.
Lizardo Carvajal: In hundreds of illustrations the books appear as flying machines, birds or magic carpets. Why do you think there is this relationship between the book and the flight?
Irene Vasco: I believe that man has always dreamed of flying. Not only in books, but also in tradition. Remember from the Greeks to Icarus, Olympus, the Gods. Our indigenous communities, in the cosmogony, there are always flying beings. The beings of the world above, in the middle and below trying to communicate.
Right now I am reading a book by Paul Auster where a child has to learn to fly. It is not exclusive to children's literature. Even superheroes, if they didn't fly, didn't have all their superhero qualities. So, it is a dream of man that is also present in children's literature, like all man's dreams.
LC: Tell us about the girl Irene and what stories cradled your childhood ...
Irene Vasco: The girl Irene was the worst student any school could have had. I currently work in education; the teachers ask me questions: “what do I do with such a child? What do I do with the child who does not pay attention? " And I don't have an answer because I didn't understand anything at school. I did the tasks in any way just by presenting them in any way on a paper, a notebook. But having no idea what he was doing.
On the other hand, in my house there were many books. My mom is an artist, my mom is a singer. When I was a child, she did television shows for children. They were from the first programs. I was born and soon after, television was born in Colombia. And since I was little in my house, I always had a relationship with composers, with musicians who were part of the permanent inventory of my house. I went to television studios; she helped write stories from a very young age. My mom told me "come and write a song." And everything was always very fast. The programs were live, twice a week. In the program, my mother held painting contests and the publishers gave them collections of books to present to the winning children. For weeks those wonderful collections were in my living room and I had access to that. My grandmother was a storyteller, my dad was also a storyteller. That is, my childhood was very rich in literature.
LC: If you meet Alicia, from Wonderland, and she asks you… What is the use of a book without drawings or dialogues? », What do you answer?
Irene Vasco: To read them and fill them with drawings and dialogues. The book has its own images in the words. Poetry is image, literature is image.
LC: Does children's literature teach or just entertain?
Irene Vasco: Literature has to thrill. Literature, loaded with messages, loses its character as literature and becomes lesson material. Literature should allow the reader to draw their own conclusions, make their own readings, have different levels of interpretation. When there is a clear, direct message, it loses that character of a work of art in which everyone can interpret; it becomes a lesson from someone who wants to convey their value, but who is not a universal value. It doesn't have to be a universal value. It may be a value for some, but why is my value going to be everyone's value? For me, literature is sacramentally clean in terms of transmission of lessons.
LC: Irene has a precious job promoting reading in distant communities, difficult to access, reaching Colombian populations that are normally invisible.What does Irene Vasco feel, what happens to her heart (or stomach) when she comes to tell stories in those places?
IV: I never make a difference between one place and another. Wherever there is someone who listens to me, there I am always available with books and words; the emotions of literature, in any place. They say to me: "Are you not afraid to go to such places?" I say no, for me everything is Colombia and we are all Colombians. We are all people. It is an audience that I am going to address with literature and that does not change anything, they are people. Make the place more beautiful ... as it generally is, because the air is cleaner with different views. Literature is equally moving on one side or the other.
LC: Irene, possessor of a work full of tenderness and love for boys, has also written about the difficult Colombian reality. She has touched on topics such as kidnapping, displacement and violence in works such as “Paso a Paso” and “Mambrú Lost the War. Tell us, what was it like to write to the children about these topics?
Irene Vasco: Just as I have written very funny and very light books on family life, school, jokes between siblings, writing about those other topics is the same: it is finding a story that touches me inside. They always tell me around there "oh, you should write this story" yes, but that is "your" story and it has not touched me, my skin has not felt anything with that story, you have to tell it. I have to tell the stories that go through me, be they happy or dramatic, like the books you mentioned. And in my travels through Colombia I have come across very painful stories that have touched me and the only way to free myself from them is by writing them.
LC: Irene has also written informational books for boys. (I mean the books: "Pedro Nel Gómez, myths, mines and mountains", "Alejandro López, to the extent of the impossible", "A world the size of Fernando Botero", "The house where art lives", "Fantastic places of Colombia" and "Historic cities of Colombia"). Tell us, what is the role of an informative book in children's and youth literature? Why your bet to make Colombia known from them?
Irene Vasco: For me one of the most dramatic things about the school in Colombia is the lack of transmission about the country, a country that we do not know. It was terrible for me to discover as an adult, when my children were teenagers, that I could not tell them anything about my country because I did not know it, because the school had not transmitted it to me. And now, I recommend to schools throughout the country, from the most elegant urban schools to the most remote schools in the jungle and in the mountains, the transmission about what Colombia is. You cannot create a project of a country, of national union, of harmony, of common work, for an unknown country.
That discovery forced me to read and find sources. Better, to confront sources, because the story is told in so many ways so manipulated, so unreal that to find a "thread" that looks like what it really was, you have to read a lot and verify in many parts, consult with many people. I do not guarantee that nothing is as it happened, but it is the closest, according to the people who were close to me and according to my books, to the events.
That is something that impresses me: historians do not write for children. I, who do not know anything and am not a historian, am the one who has to write for the children so that they know their country. that's a paradox. And historians don't write for boys because they don't have the language or the approach. That is also natural. Writing for children requires sensitivities, a trained voice and I have had it since I was a child. For me it is natural.
I believe that there is more and more development in this genre. Fortunately, publishers care about making quality books, with very rich content, with quality illustrations. It is a very difficult and very dedicated job. Much more difficult than publishing novels for young people, because it is delicate, it is "information", it is not creation and fiction according to the author's air.
LC: In the soundtrack of my childhood is Jairo Ojeda; "Mature chontaduro", "the shadow", "the moon fell", songs that accompanied me as a child like so many children in Colombia. Tell us how you met Jairo and also a little about the printing press project.
Irene Vasco: Jairo has been part of my family since he was very young and I was also very young. I did not live in Colombia and my mother who is a musician, worked with that young composer; they did educational concerts. I'm talking about forty years ago and he came to visit me in Venezuela, in Maracaibo where I lived with my children, with some wonderful cassettes. María del Sol, my daughter who now writes and makes music for children, used to say “I am that girl who sings”. And I joined all that medium.
Jairo, in addition to being the father of children's music in Colombia, has been inventing Gutenberg's printing press for forty years, but such that it is a useful tool in schools, especially in rural schools where there are so many stories that are not put into words written. So that children can transmit their voices, so that they can transcribe their stories, so that communities can make their books in their own languages. But not only rural communities, in urban communities we have worked a lot, especially in programs for people who have been displaced, in community centers, so that the written word is alive.
LC: Tell us about your perception of children's and young people's literature in the Colombian sphere, in the Latin American sphere.
Irene Vasco: Some twenty-five or thirty years ago, when the Espantapájaros Bookstore opened, Latin American children's literature occupied a small corner of the bookstore and was practically all occupied by the wonderful collections of that time by Alfaguara, Anaya, SM, all with European and North American authors. That fed us a great many. I think that children's literature in Colombia has to do with those readings we had when those collections arrived. They drew the veil of manners to tell the children about life in a more contemporary way, something that was not present.
So this whole generation, which included Triunfo Arciniegas, Ivar Da Coll, Yolanda Reyes, Pilar Lozano, Celso Román, we nurtured ourselves from the collections we had at that time and we jumped; we open the trail. We managed to break that traditional confinement in which we were here, while in Argentina, Cuba, and Brazil, children's and young people's literature exploded. From María Elena Walsh on in Argentina, the authors overflowed in imagination, in themes, in genres. The same in Brazil. And the poetry in Cuba would be of an amazing level.
I think we have leveled off in some way. I think that in each Latin American country there are already excellent authors, there are searches. That at least we already connected, because it was very difficult to have literature from other Latin American countries. It was very expensive. But fortunately there is much more circulation and we can get closer to what is happening in each of these countries. And I think that now we can talk about quality literature, that is, compete without blushing anywhere in the world.
LC: Tell us about your future projects
Irene Vasco: On the one hand, continue working with indigenous communities. On the other hand with Jairo in the proposal of manual printing, which is a formidable tool to train readers. And on the other hand, with digital books. My husband and I have a publishing house,www.emilibro.com and for now we are transforming the Editorial Panamericana reading plan, the virtual reader plan, to digital books, which are not ePub or animations. They are books made on a platform that Colciencias has already certified as a Colombian high-tech platform. They are real books, they are books where you can write, paint, take notes in the margin, that exist in the cloud and that are also hosted on computers. That can be seen on any computer, be it Microsoft, Mac or tablets. That they are open to the universe and that they are connected to the ecosystem.
LC: What is your position on digital books and the future of the book?
Irene Vasco: I think there is not much discussion there. Digital books exist although they are not as popular in some countries. We have to try to produce the best catalog of digital books possible, with the best possible technology, not only for urban centers, where the paper book is present, but also for those remote places where the paper book does not reach. Access to the book is very difficult, the small collections sent by the State are never enough. On the other hand, programs like Computers to educate are present.
LC: What message do you leave for our readers?
Irene Vasco: That the written word, from reading or writing, will always open universes that will nurture, that will enrich their lives and that I hope this possibility belongs to everyone.