Alberdi: I write in Basque and from a Basque woman perspective

The Basque writer was in Amed a few years ago, where she performed with local denhbej.

Uxue Alberdi Estibaritz was born in Elgoibar, Gipuzkoa (Basque Country) in 1984. Graduated in journalism, she is a writer and bertsolari. She has worked with different media as editor, reporter and broadcaster of radio literary programs.  She writes in Euskara (Basque language) and has received two grants to write two of her books. She wrote the short story books, Aulki bat elurretan (Elkar, 2007) and Euli-giro (2013) and the novel Aulki-jokoa (Elkar, 2009), translated into Spanish in 2011 with the title El juego de las sillas (The chairs game). She has been awarded several prizes both for her short stories and written verses. She is also author and translator of children book. She has written several articles about bertsolarismo and feminism.

Currently she writes full time as well as performing regularly as bertsolari, verse improviser, a sort of Basque version of the dengbej.

Indeed, Uxue Alberdi actually performed during a Newroz in Amed (Diyarbakir) many years ago. She recalled with great passion the incredible experience of singing in front of a million people. “I would never forget that feeling of unity and solidarity”, she said.

Alberdi was part of a Basque delegation to Newroz: they were all artists and they were given the chance to perform together with Kurdish artists.

“There has always been a special bond among Kurds and Basques”, she said.

When and how did you start writing?

When I was a child I was writing rhymes and very short stories. When I was 16 I started publishing some opinion articles in a local magazine, when I was 18 I was writing short stories for the Basque radio (Euskadi Irratia); some of mine stories were awarded some local and national prizes.

When I was 21 I was given a grant to write my first book Aulki bat elurretan. Since then I haven’t stopped writing.

Being a writer is something that takes you by surprise really: one day you get up and read on the news, “Uxue Alberdi, writer”. It takes you a while to get used to the label, but then writing is something coming from nearly deep inside me.

You are also a bertsolari, therefore you are used to work improvising. How much does it help in your writing, if it does at all? And going deeper into your creation process, how do you write? Are characters coming first, of is the plot you start with?

The creative process in writing and in bertsolarismo are very different, I would say even antithetic to a certain extent… During times of intense writing I tend to notice some difficulty in improvising bertso (verses), because the ideas coming to my mind tend to be too complicated and wide to adequately adjust them, or to get them to properly fit into the metric of the verse. On the contrary, after times of many bertsolari performances, I need a period of time to get acclimatized, and get into writing, because the mind is used to search for short sentences, concise, so that the audience can grasp then immediately, a kind of unified code easy to understand, common imaginaries and shared references, being them cultural, funny, social, thematic, linguistic or visual references, weaving links between those who improvise and the audience.

As to the literary creative process, it something that changes depending on the type of project. The initial boost not always comes in the same way: sometimes it is an image first, or a character, a feeling, a more concrete argument… There is something telling me this image, this character or this fact could actually have a story and I start pulling the strings, imagining, making notes, trying tones… Right now, I am writing a novel based on the life of a real person, and for this I have made several interviews with this person, over 40 hours of tapes. At the moment I am trying to translate into fiction the material I have collected, turning this person into a character, mixing her/his ideas with mine, merging real events with fictional ones… Every story requires a different process.

Tell us a bit about your literary, musical, cinema influences…

Over many years I read a lot of short stories: Julio Cortazar, Antón Chéchov, Samanta Schweblin, Alice Munro, Eider Rodriguez… I also read a lot of Basque literature, also because I use to lead three literary groups in which we work with literature written in Euskara, or translated into Euskara. Thanks to bertsolarismo, then, I always keep in mind oral language. I have the luck to have a mother who owns a bookshop and who provides me with any the books I want… These days I am reading more novels than short stories. I am currently reading the novel “Lili eta biok” by Ramon Saizarbitoria.

Let’s talk about your own work?

I have published two short story books (Aulki bat elurretan y Euli-giro) and a novel (Aulki-jokoa). Some ten years ago I spent some time living in Sweden and I have put together short stories set in this nordic country in Aulki bat elurretan. I was only 20 and this was my first serious literary attempt. I was lucky to get a grant for writing the book and its publication opened quite a few doors in the Basque literary scene. After that book, came the novel Aulki-jokoa (translated into Spanish in 2011). It is a novel about love, war, freedom, rebelliousness… ever present darts crossing the lives of the citizens of a small coast village of Euskal Herria (Basque Country). A story knitted by three female voices in different stages of their life: childhood, teenage years, and old age. It is a story built over feelings but also over dignity and the healing role of memory.

My publication, Euli-giro, is a book made up of nine short stories. The title refers to a rarefied but daily environment and describes the feeling of surprise or threat, more or less veiled, recurring in the stories. The tension in family relations, frustration, danger, death or betrayal is served in a small plate, through the details and the small gestures. Although almost all stories start out from the daily life, in this book I have given up a more realistic perspective to gradually dive into symbolic, fantastic, magic and even surrealistic at time, narrative levels. In reality this game between the real and the fantastic is to be found in all of the three books I have mentioned. 

My latest novel is called Janis Joplin.

How much of Euskal Herria there is in your work?

I write in Euskara and from Euskara, and I write from my body: an euskaldun woman. These are my geographies and from them start my look. Most of my stories are set in my country and for this reason are full of our history, our landscapes, our people and the imaginary all of them share, however my characters’ experiences are also, to a certain extent, universal. After all, the particular and the universal are the same… particularities are what make up the universal.

Language is of course very important in your work, and we refer here both to your mother tongue, Euskara, and the language more in general. What is the place of literature in Euskara today? For example among young writers, and how would you describe the Basque literary scene?

All Basque writers are conscious of the fact that they write in a subordinated language. However, this is our language, we are the only ones in the whole world who can write in Euskara. Basque literature: either we do it, or no one else will.

As to literary production, I believe we have many and different authors writing in Euskara and they do it very well. As for readers… we always like they would be more, but I think this is true in every language. The future of Basque literature is tightly connected to the future of the Euskara, and in this future we cannot only count writers, readers and speakers…

There is a need for policies in favour of the Euskara and not against it, as our very institutions use to promote. We live in a great cultural colonisation and the worst of it is that many people don’t even realise that… They are telling us about peace and living together, but in reality what they want is to drawn us little by little… Being part of a nation without a state bring us to a linguistic, cultural, identitarian, economic subordination…