Argentina’s Literary Legacy Inspires Today’s Creative Writers of Buenos Aires

Writers and poets have continued to be inspired by Buenos Aires’ melancholic and persevering atmosphere. The city is poetic – its history, folklore and romance are evident in every neighborhood, and the stories these elements have produced make it a destination for literary lovers and contemporary writers alike.

h3. Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges 1951 by Grete Stern
Image courtesy of Grete Stern via Wikipedia

Tourists will be most familiar with the name Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), the man many academics point to as the grandfather of South American fiction. He was born in Buenos Aires where his respected family had a house in the suburb of Palermo (now one of the trendiest and most expensive neighborhoods). During his teenage years the family moved to Switzerland, but at the age of 22 Borges returned to Buenos Aires where he started his literary career. His most famous works include three anthologies of short stories: Ficciones (1944 in Spanish, 1962 in English), The Aleph (1949), and Labyrinths (1962), most set in his native city. Familiarise yourself with at least a couple of Borges short stories before visiting Buenos Aires, as inhabitants of the city (known as porteños) consider him to be one of their greatest authors. Plus, while exploring its streets, you’ll be able to picture the city of his youth, a city he considered ‘as eternal as water and air.’

h3. Julio Florencio Cortázar

Julio Florencio Cortázar
Image courtesy of Sara Facio via Wikipedia

Julio Florencio Cortázar (1914-1984) is a close second when it comes to Buenos Aires’ most famous sons. His short stories and fiction gained him a reputation as one of the most accomplished surrealist writers in South America. His novels Los Premios (1960), Hopscotch (1963) and 62: A Model Kit (1968) are good examples of his skilled craft in stream-of-consciousness writing and influenced the fantastic realism apparent in other Latin authors Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda and Carlos Fuentes. When witnessing a bizarre street scene that to locals seems so normal, you’ll have an idea of where Cortázar’s derived his imagination.

h3. Victoria Ocampo

Victoria Ocampo Sur Magazine
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Founder of Argentinean magazine Sur, Victoria Ocampo (1890-1979), was perhaps the city’s best loved female intellectual. Stylish, brainy and influential, Borges described her as ‘the most Argentine woman.’ (Porteñas afer all, have a reputation as being both very chic and difficult to deal with at times). Ocampo came from a privileged background and her mansion, Villa Ocampo, is open to the public, and located in the upper class neighbourhood of San Isidro. She was a great friend of Graham Greene, who stayed at Villa Ocampo. His book The Honorary Consul (1973) is dedicated to her.

h3. Buenos Aires’ Modern Literary Energy

The literary buzz of Buenos Aires does not merely dwell on a nostalgic love, but remains very much alive today. Writers from around the world come to the city, encouraged by its history yes, but also to feel its pulse. Cafés with checkered floors, smoky 3am milongas and a thriving night scene make it ideal for both accomplished writers to soak up the atmosphere incognito and amateurs hoping to feel like a real writer as they sip their bitter espressos and furiously scratch down notes. Quite a few famous names have made the city their home at one time or another, including Pablo Neruda, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (author of Le Petit Prince) and, currently, film maker Francis Ford Coppola.

Literature inspired by Buenos Aires does not solely exist in the form of fiction. Visitors can get a taste of the city’s creative literary arts when they see a play or listen to tango. Unlike in western cities, where we tend to roll our eyes at amateur drama, in Buenos Aires, the young people adore it. People are passionate about the genre of theatre, and tickets regularly sell out. Plays (classed either as “mainstream Corrientes” or “off-Corrientes” – the main avenue through the city) are put on all over the city, in groovy little theatres, underground venues and disused warehouses. You’ll see the audience eat up every word uttered on stage as if it were a book.

Think of tango, and you probably picture the iconic dance. However, when visiting Buenos Aires, it’s important to remember that tango started off as a form of music. Back in the day themes of desirable women, jealousy, drinking and horse racing comprised most of the material, but after the 2002 economic crash, tango songs came back into fashion with lyrics about political injustice taking center stage. With the help of an interpreter, ask for any tango lyrics to be translated and you’ll find pure poetry right under your nose.

El Ateneo Book Store Buenos Aires
Image courtesy of David Wilbanks via Flickr

h3. Literary Tourism in Buenos Aires

Several companies offer guided literature-based walking tours in Buenos Aires. See Eternautas. If you are interested in the great works of Argentine authors, it is a good idea to buy a translated copy from home, however bookstores such as Boutique del Libro (Thames 1762, Palermo) have a good English selection where you can buy the translated classics. And of course don’t miss the spectacular interior of the city’s most famous book store, El Ateneo (Santa Fe 1860, Recoleta).

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Daniel Neilson

Daniel Neilson

Daniel Neilson is a freelance writer and photographer, and lived in Buenos Aires for five years eating too much meat, going hoarse at football games and thoroughly failing to learn a step of tango. He edited Time Out’s Buenos Aires guidebook and has contributed words and photos to a variety of publications about Argentina for Four Four Two, The Wire, CNN Traveller, Real Travel, Adventure Travel and the Observer among others. He now spends his days drinking imported mate and planning his return journey.
Daniel Neilson

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7 responses to “Argentina’s Literary Legacy Inspires Today’s Creative Writers of Buenos Aires

  1. William says:

    It is true, Buenos Aires has plenty of cultural activities to discover and it is part of the daily life of its inhabitants. In general all human sciences are a vital part of Argentinean society, they are a society very political. You can find interesting cultural tours in Buenos Aires also here

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