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FutureStarrA Moment That Changed Me
Ariel Dorfman has always had a deep-seated passion for writing, but it was one particular moment in his life which forever altered him.
Dorfman is a renowned novelist, playwright, critic and activist from Chile who was born there but raised there. When President Salvador Allende was overthrown by military coup in 1982, Dorfman and his family fled to the US, later moving on to Paris and Holland.
Recently, Ariel Dorfman, a Duke University author and professor of literature and Latin American studies, delivered a speech in South Africa to honor the country's first black president. In his brief remarks, he stressed the significance of human imagination and memory to any culture.
One of the most captivating aspects of his talk was that he shared much of his personal memorabilia, such as an early draft of his acclaimed book Widows and a copy of his short story All I Ever Have. Additionally, he related several anecdotes about his years living in Chile and how they shaped both his life and work.
His most recent book, Feeding on Dreams, recounts the difficult months following his father's job loss as one of the most trying periods in his young life. To support their family during this difficult period, he and his wife had no choice but to sell their home in Santiago's capital city in order to raise a family.
He was forced to leave his homeland, yet many things have remained with him ever since, including a small wooden box containing all his most prized possessions. For him, this box holds many memories - especially the moment when water from his roof dripped on an unopened jar of wine he'd left out for neighbors - which forever altered his course in life.
On a night two decades before 9/11, I met Ariel Dorfman. He was an acclaimed author, poet, critic, journalist and activist - yet his light touch and friendliness belied his deep-seated seriousness.
He was an Argentinian-Chilean who moved from Argentina to the United States as an infant, then to Chile where he resided until a military coup overthrew President Salvador Allende in 1973. Shortly thereafter he became American citizen and taught literature and Latin American studies at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
In September 1973, General Augusto Pinochet launched a coup that killed Allende and installed him as president. Following several years in exile, Dorfman began writing and speaking truth to power both in Chile and the United States.
Ariel Dorfman has penned over one thousand plays, novels, short stories, poetry and essays that have been translated into forty languages and performed around the world. His works have won several awards including England's Olivier Award for Best Play 1991. His novel Death and the Maiden was adapted into a film starring Roman Polanski.
One of Dorfman's most captivating writing features his use of metaphor, particularly figurative language. The metaphors he chooses for his stories often draw from everyday events such as Pinochet's secret service planting a car bomb which killed Orlando Letelier in 1976.
His characters' lives are symbolically represented in symbolic ways, such as Fitzroy Foster at 14 years old when his family moves from the US to Chile in 1981. A photograph taken of him shows him with a mysterious figure that mirrors his own image perfectly.
Similar to his latest book Darwin's Ghosts, the young boy's life is turned upside down by an act of desperation that forces him to relocate. As he attempts to make sense of it all, Darwin must grapple with complex questions of identity, power and empire that have been central themes throughout his work.
It's a story that is both haunted and ethereal, one that draws inspiration from Kafka while offering more than an examination of life's fleetingness. It fits comfortably within Dorfman's collected works but stands apart in both style and scope.
It was 1966, and I was living in Santiago, Chile. Just weeks before General Augusto Pinochet would take power, I was having a drink with my friend Claudio Jimeno at a bar. He had just finished writing a story for his latest collection; I had been reading some of his work. We chatted about our respective experiences growing up in Chile.
One morning, an idea for my own story suddenly formed in my head. I imagined a man playing his trumpet defiantly as the sun rose, and knew that if I wanted to share this moment of truth with readers, then I needed to get it out there right away.
But I knew that if I were going to do it, it had to be done well. Telling the truth meant exposing what was really going on in my country at that moment.
That night, I began writing. And it had to be about the atrocities committed by a government which in fact was a dictatorship. I needed to tell stories of those being tortured and suffering in order for people outside my country to understand what was taking place.
That was why I felt it necessary to share the story. It provided an honest account of what occurred in my country, and by telling it openly and honestly, we could help break down barriers and bring about positive change.
My story had a powerful effect on readers, and I believe other people who read it also saw how they could use their own voices to fight oppression or defend human rights in their countries.
As a result, I have written numerous plays and essays about politics and human rights in Chile. Additionally, I was invited to South Africa by Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer and acclaimed playwright, director and actor John Kani to discuss the power of protest theatre in shaping history.
On the night before my wedding, I was on my way to a dinner party with some of my closest friends. It was an absolutely beautiful night and we all had an unforgettable time together.
But something went terribly wrong. It was an epiphany. What had been in my head all along wasn't actually mine; it was the product of someone whose name had been on my mind.
Ariel Dorfman is an internationally acclaimed playwright and short story writer best known for his human rights plays such as Speak Truth to Power: Voices from Beyond the Dark. But his writing encompasses much more; he's written numerous other notable books too.
Ariel was born in Santiago, Chile and spent the first twenty years of his life there before moving to New York City. Throughout this period he read works by Samuel Beckett, William Shakespeare, and Henry James among other authors.
He began writing professionally as a freelance journalist in the late 1960s, and later published several short stories. In 1970, his debut novel The Magic of the Sun was published.
He has since written numerous other acclaimed books, some of which have been translated into multiple languages. Additionally, he has penned articles for publications like The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The Guardian that have earned him recognition and awards including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2008. His most recent novel The Devil's Garden was released in 2008; he is currently working on a second novel as well as an art history book.