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Friday, September 22, 2023

"Speaking more than one language and translating it on a daily basis is a richness": Fabio Morabito

Fabio Morabito
Listen to Constanza Mazzotti's voice note

With more than twenty years of teaching at the Institute of Poetics of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Fabio Morabito knows very well that speaking more than one language and translating it on a daily basis is a richness, because he recognizes the emotional and psychological value that this implies.

For this teacher, poet and writer, the use of two languages is a practice that, contrary to popular belief, constantly enriches both languages, an act that, in his words, must be defended.

In the corridors of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) people spoke of him with a mixture of respect and a bit of fear. After choosing his subject, half blindly and out of curiosity, I heard the rumor: "He is very strict", said someone who had already attended one of his classes. 

I decided to ignore those words and headed towards the Department of Poetics. A place that, to get there, you have to take the "Puma Bus", go outside of Ciudad Universitaria and arrive almost at the outskirts of the UNAM.

There was Fabio, starting the class I was a few minutes late for. 

The awkwardness of the silence made me utter, without being asked, a greeting followed by my name: "Hi, I'm Frida" and, in addition, add an obvious: "I was late" followed by silence.

Who knows what that Fabio must have thought, who, until then, I only knew of him by a nebulous nickname given by that unknown companion: "Fabio?strict", he doesn't look like that, I thought.

By that time Fabio Morabito, an Italian born in Alexandria, who has been writing in Spanish in Mexico since his adolescence, already had a prolific career as a poet and writer to his credit. 

In 1985 he won the Iberoamerican Fine Arts Poetry Prize "Carlos Pellicer" for Published Work for his collection of poems "Lotes baldíos", a work that brings together two of his most significant poems "Cuarteto de Pompeya" and "La ola que regresa".

The imagined story of the last moments of two bodies embraced and petrified during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. ?one of the greatest natural disasters of the last two thousand years? discovered by the archaeologist, also Italian, Vittorio Spinazzolla, in 1922 and which he baptized as "The lovers of Pompeii", and of which Fabio recreated a last night full of passion.

While "La ola que regresa" (The returning wave) is the title given to the volume of poetry and short stories about everyday life that gathers three of his books: "Lotes baldíos" (1985); "De lunes todo el año" (1992), winner of the Bellas Artes de Poesía Aguascalientes Award; and "Alguien de lava" (2002), a poem that speaks of the vigor of the sea and nature.

In 1997, "When Panthers Were Not Black", which narrates the journey of a young female cat in search of her identity, guided by a group of her peers "who leave no trace", won him the International White Raven Prize awarded by the Jüngenbibliotheke of Munich.

In 2006, "Grieta de fatiga", fifteen short stories about the beauty and curiosity of the everyday - a favorite and recurring theme in Fabio's narrative and poetry - was awarded the Antonin Artaud Narrative Prize.

The only thing we knew was that the teacher was perhaps "strict".

Whoever said that ignorance is bliss was not wrong. For that ignorance created a kind of bond between the professor and his shy students in Translation I and II class. Thus creating a recurring familiarity of Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in the faculty lounge of the Poetics department so far away from the hustle and bustle of the halls of the Faculty.

As time went by, we got to know each other. The translation "prof" gradually acquired an air of respect that was diluted by the great sense of humor with which he would wax lyrical about every word we experimented with. "What does the paragraph say?" "What other word can you think of?" "That sounds good" "No, that's not convincing".

Years and interviews later, Peninsula 360 Press from its segment "Portraits of the Bay Area" returns to the same Poetics room of the Institute of Philology of the UNAM to meet again with this professor and listen to his experiences from his role as teacher of the subject of Translation of Modern Italian Literature at UNAM, which he has been teaching for more than ten years.

A class that he says is "more like a translation workshop". Fabio also reflects on the constant work involved in coming into contact with a language that is not "one's own". 

Years after those revealing classes, his students got to know and congratulated their translation "prof" with closeness because, in 2015, Fabio once again won the International White Raven Prize awarded by the Jüngenbibliotheke in Munich for "Mexican Folk Tales".

Subsequently, in 2017 he was awarded the. Fine Arts Award Narrative Colima for Published Work for " Madres y perros", while in 2018 she won one of the biggest awards for Mexican literature, given every year to the best published book, the Xavier Villaurrutia Award for Writers for Writers for her work "El lector a domicilio". 

This prize has been awarded in the past to writers such as Juan Rulfo for "Pedro Páramo" in 1955, to Octavio Paz for "El arco y la Lira" in 1956, to Josefina Vicens for "El libro Vacío" in 1958, to Elena Garro in 1963 for "Los recuerdos del porvenir" and in 2021 to Cristina Rivera Garza for "El invencible verano de Liliana", among many others.

In addition, in 2019 Morabito wins the Roger Caillois Award awarded by the French PEN ClubA prize awarded each year to an author from Latin America and another to an author of French language

Past Latino award winners include Chile's José Donoso in 1991, Colombia's José Donoso in 1993, and the Chilean José Donoso in 1991. Álvaro Mutisin 1995, the Argentine Adolfo Bioy Casaresin 2003, the Mexican Carlos Fuentes; and in 2006, the Mexican Carlos Fuentes Sergio Pitolto mention just a few.

For more details about Fabio Morabito and his facet as a teacher and translator, visit the interview on the Instagram account of  @peninsula360press.

You may be interested in: "No one has the right to extinguish your dreams": Celina Rodríguez


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