Q & A with Alberto Salcedo Ramos

By Jethro Soutar

Alberto Salcedo Ramos is a Colombian writer and one of the most celebrated crónica (literary journalism) writers in Latin America. Here he tells Words Without Borders about his work and influences, and about "Queens Football," a crónica featured in this month’s Queer issue and part of The Football Crónicas, a collection of soccer-themed writing from Latin America, published by Ragpicker Press.

Jethro Soutar: How did you find out about Las Regias and when did you realize you wanted to write a crónica about them?

Alberto Salcedo Ramos: I found out about them through a journalist friend. As soon as he told me about them, I knew there was a story worth telling. The Hungarian writer Stephen Vizinczey once said “whatever it is that I can't stop thinking about—that’s my subject.” I go by the same maxim.

JS: What was it about Las Regias that made you think they’d make a good subject for a crónica?

ASR: First, because it was a chance to make visible a community that is ignored by the mainstream press. I also thought they’d make good subject matter because I could show their conflicts while speaking of the great intolerance that exists in my country.

JS: What is a crónica? Are there any rules?

ASR: The crónica is a genre that informs through narration and interpretation. Stylistically, it uses fiction’s tools (in terms of form), but what it recounts (the content) must be rigorously verifiable.

JS: There is talk of a Latam boom in crónica writing, a second boom to follow the boom of magic realism. Both genres blend fact and fiction, in a continent where fact is often stranger than fiction. Are crónicas particularly well suited to Latin America?

ASR: It’s a very Latin American genre. It’s perfect for documenting our social problems, which are very similar across the continent.

JS: Who are the writers that have influenced you?

ASR: Gay Talese, Truman Capote, Joan Didion, García Márquez, Hemingway, Camus.

JS: You’ve written several crónicas about soccer: "Queens Football," but also "The Referee Who Sent Off Pele" (published this month by Granta) and "Portrait of a Loser," among others. Even when soccer is not the main subject, it frequently crops up in the background: soldiers play soccer at their mountain camp in "Midnight Eagles," villagers are executed on the soccer field in "The Village that Survived a Massacre." Why does soccer appeal to you so much as a writer?

ASR: Albert Camus said he learned more about the human condition on the soccer field than he did anywhere else. I think the soccer field is sometimes a theater stage, sometimes Freud’s couch, sometimes a war trench. It therefore allows us to get to know human beings from a different perspective.

JS: Who’s going to win the World Cup?

ASR: I don’t know who, but I predict it’ll be a team from the Americas.

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