José Saramago, Nobel Laureate, Has Died

[Photograph of José Saramago. Photocredit: Wikimedia Commons]
José Saramago, Nobel Laureate 1998
November 16, 1922 – June 18, 2010
The world of letters has lost another light.

José Saramago died today according to his publisher. He was 87 years old.

I am mostly ignorant of Mr. Saramago’s work. I began reading The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis and found the story wonderful and strange. It tells the story of Ricardo Reis, a “heteronym” used by Fernando Pessoa, who continues to live on after Fernando Pessoa has died. A heteronym is different from a pseudonym in that each heteronym possesses a separate history, temperament, philosophy, and writing style, whereas as a pseudonym refers to the author.

The writing career of Mr. Saramago flourished later in life. He did not become a full time novelist in his late fifties, “after working variously as a garage mechanic, a Welfare Agency bureaucrat, a printing production manager, a proofreader, a translator and a newspaper columnist” (from the New York Times obituary).

His work serves as a reminder that not all great artists are great while they are young, a foil to our obsession with youth.

Obituaries

Patrons & Saints

by Matthew Koslowski on December 24, 2009
in Essays

To one of my saints, my dear friend, Emily Baum, with the deepest appreciation.

In This Essay

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca (C.D.N. Costa, trans.)
Late Bloomers by Malcolm Gladwell, The Annals of Culture, The New Yorker
On Dying Young by Matthew Koslowski, Literature&Literacy
William Stafford, Poet, Wikipedia
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (Stephen Mitchell, trans.)
Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose by Rainer Maria Rilke (Stephen Mitchell, ed. and trans.)
The Second Four Books of Poems by W.S. Merwin
 

“Is there anything I can do to cheer you up?” she asks.

“Sure,” I say. “Just show me a writer — a poet, preferably — who did not a pickup a pen before he was 27 or 30, who amounted to anything, who history remembers.”

These conversations are common.

I expect the normal, well-intentioned platitudes. Often I begin to despair because I have not dedicated myself to my writing. I begin to think that my time is up. “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it,” Seneca whispers. “Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.” And I begin to think about how I have not invested my time well.

Rilke writes, “…if, as I have said, one feels one could live without writing, then one shouldn’t write at all.” Haven’t I been living without writing? I have not worked on my novel in weeks. Or have I been existing and drifting? Do I really feel that I could live without writing?

“William Stafford,” she says.

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On Dying Young

by Matthew Koslowski on November 18, 2009
in Anecdotes

As I have written before, I aspire to be a novelist.

But that desire to be a novelist does not come without a number of uncertainties and fears. Looking at the papers, it is not difficult to come across an article bemoaning the state of the publishing business or another article bemoaning the state of the American reader. Stories circulate within writers communities about the difficulties of finding first an agent and then a publisher. The story is so well known that it even appeared in the movie Sideways as the special lot of writers.

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