Author offers close-up on writing style

Writer-in-residence João Gilberto Noll began a weeklong visit with a talk on his works and experiences as an author.

By Sam Levine

Brazilian writer João Gilberto Noll began a weeklong visit to the U of C Monday with a discussion in Wieboldt Hall, aided by a translator, on his works and experiences as an author.

“I’m a little bit blind when I write, but I like this blindness,” said Noll, the winner of a 2002 Guggenheim Fellowship, speaking through a translator on how he feels during the writing process. “I want to be in this darkness when I write. The reality of fiction is an ambiguous reality.”

Noll, who is visiting the University as a writer-in-residence, spent most of the discussion answering questions about his own artistic influences and the parallels between his life and his writing.

Most of the discussion participants were students who studied Portuguese, and they asked Noll questions in his native language. Noll called the Portuguese language his artistic “home,” and added that he believes when literature is translated out of its original language, it loses a part of its essence and rhythm.

Noll spoke of his admiration for Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, and Manuel Puig, and listed the existentialist philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus among his greatest literary influences. Noll also said that much of his writing was inspired by North American cinema, and that he tries to watch two to three films each week.

“When I write, I feel as if I am behind a camera,” Noll said. Three of Noll’s novels and one of his short stories have been adapted into feature films.

Students in the discussion offered interpretations of Noll’s work that surprised the author. When one student suggested that Noll’s eerie narratives seemed strongly influenced by Franz Kafka’s writing, Noll said that he had never considered such a connection.

Noll spoke about how his traditional Catholic upbringing led to a fascination with rituals, which he described as a central motif in all his writing. Noll also said that his own antisocial adolescence is reflected in the solitude of his characters.

“All of my characters are outsiders. This is because I too was an outsider,” Noll said.

Born in Porto Allegre, Brazil, Noll is the author of 13 novels. He is a five-time winner of the Jabuti award—one of the highest literary honors awarded in Brazil. He is being hosted by the University’s Center for Latin American Studies.