The Writing University conducts a series of interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the various University of Iowa writing programs. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.
Today we are speaking with Bruna Dantas Lobato. Bruna Dantas Lobato was born and raised in Natal, Brazil. A graduate of Bennington College, she received her MFA in Fiction from New York University and is currently an Iowa Arts Fellow and MFA candidate in Literary Translation at the University of Iowa. Her stories, essays, and translations from the Portuguese have appeared or are forthcoming inThe Kenyon Review, Harvard Review, A Public Space, BOMB, The Common, and elsewhere. She is a 2018 A Public Space Fellow and a 2019 PEN/Heim winner.
1. Do you have a plan or project in mind for your time at the University of Iowa?
I'm currently working on my MFA thesis, which is an English translation of Caio Fernando Abreu's 1982 story collection Moldy Strawberries. I’m obsessed with Abreu’s many tonal shifts, moments of playfulness, and very deliberate uses of lyrical language in the original Portuguese. I spend a lot of time reading the stories out loud to myself to get a feel for the prose in both languages. I’m also working on a short novel about a young woman from Brazil who moves to Boston for school. Both of these projects are very bilingual and very bicultural, and therefore very personal, too.
2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?
I wake up at around noon and drink two cups of coffee. I spend most of the day doing administrative work, like submitting new writing to magazines, replying to emails, and applying for fellowships. I only begin my actual writing and translating at 10 or 11 pm, when I don’t have classes anymore and I know my phone won’t ring. This works well for me: I’ve always done my best writing late at night, when everyone is asleep and I feel like I’m the only one left in the world. I turn off all the lights, except for my desk lamp, and put on my pajamas. My imagination runs freer this way, and the strange and unexpected turns in my writing don’t scare me as much. If the work is going well, I let myself lose track of time and write until dawn.
3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?
I like to read several books at once, all at different paces. Right now, I’m reading The Museum of Unconditional Surrender by Dubravka Ugrešić (translated from the Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth), Awayland by Ramona Ausubel, and Notes from the Divided Country by Suji Kwock Kim. Nothing gives me more pleasure than reading good writing, and nothing can teach me more about my own work. I’m always reading both for research and pleasure, in a way or another. That said, I haven’t read a book that isn’t somehow related to my book projects in a long while.
4. What is something the readers and writers of Iowa City should know about you and/or your work?
That translating and writing are all part of the same thing for me. I have an obsession with words and wordplay. An incessant need to tell stories. Gratitude for the books that saved me in one way or another. Life in a language and then in another.
5. Tell us a bit about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?
I’m originally from a city in the northeast of Brazil called Natal, which means “birth day” or “birthplace” in Portuguese. I love that my hometown is called “home town,” mostly because it feels like the stuff of folk and fairy tales. I hail from a place called “home place.” I can’t think of anything else that can affirm so clearly that I indeed come from somewhere, that there’s a place on earth where I belong so completely that it’s simply called the natal home. I’ve tried to find a way to use this detail in my own fiction writing, but it’s so on the nose it sounds allegorical. It’s both sufficient and insufficient as a name. Like a character being named after their virtues or failings in a novel—a homeland being named “home.”
Thank you so much for talking with us today, Bruna!
February 27, 2019