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October 1, 2023

Samanta Schweblin on Becoming a Writer in Argentina

On September 18, the Georgetown Americas Institute (GAI) and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Georgetown University co-hosted a conversation with Samanta Schweblin to discuss her formative experiences as a writer and the path to publishing her award winning book Fever Dream (2014), as well as the sources for her inspiration. The conversation was moderated by Tania Gentic, associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

Samanta Schweblin speaks with students at Georgetown University’s Pedro Arrupe, S.J. Hall.
Samanta Schweblin speaks with students at Georgetown University’s Pedro Arrupe, S.J. Hall.

The event began with a reading from Schweblin’s upcoming book of short stories. The storywhich shares similar themes with Fever Dream, such as motherhood and the role of natureserved as the premise for a candid discussion with the audience on her experience and sources of inspiration.

Fever Dream, Motherhood, and Writing

“I am always surprised by how often people ask me why I focused Fever Dream on motherhood when I myself am not a mother. I then ask, ‘Why do we not ask detective novel writers how many crimes they committed last weekend?’ It seems to me that we hold women to a different standard.” -Samanta Schweblin.

Motherhood is a central theme in Schweblin’s work. The original Spanish title for Fever Dream (Distancia de rescate) makes reference to the distance a mother needs to rescue their child if they were ever in danger. 

During this visit to Georgetown Schweblin discussed her use of technique and inspiration to write so profoundly about things she herself has not experienced. She remarked on how often she is asked this question and posited that the relationship between women and motherhood is very loaded in both American and Latin American societies. As a writer, she argued, one does not need to experience something to convey it, but rather it is essential to write so that readers can experience it themselves.

 “You need a whole narrative just to get the reader to reach that beating heart in your chest that is your own book; everything is in service of that tiniest of emotional points. That is why writing is all about the reader, and I write for them, so that they can reach that beating heart.” -Samanta Schweblin.

In Schweblin’s opinion, a central question any author must ask is if they want to write for themselves or for the reader. She writes for the reader. When she puts pen to paper, Schweblin is placing words in another individual’s mind. This is incredibly beautiful, she believes, because it is about dancing with someone else. Literature is about readers; if the book is sitting unread on a table then there is no literature.

Samanta Schweblin and Tania Gentic speak with students at Georgetown University’s Pedro Arrupe, S.J. Hall.
Samanta Schweblin and Tania Gentic speak with students at Georgetown University’s Pedro Arrupe, S.J. Hall.

Lessons From Her Grandfather’s Studio 

“What is the difference between a great piece of writing and one that simply blows your mind? Many theories have failed to answer this question. The one thing that is universal, however, is the reader. My theory is that what happens to the reader, their emotional path with the book, is what makes the difference.” -Samanta Schweblin.

Schweblin developed a respect and care for the reader’s experience in her own childhood. She would help her grandfather in his world-renowned engraving studio in Buenos Aires on the weekends. She would “assist” him by staying clear of the many paints and dangerous chemicals that the adults used, and during the afternoon breaks she would read her precocious work out loud.

“Dozens of engraving artists from all over the world would come to my grandfather’s studio to learn from him, and every weekend during their teatime breaks I would get to read out loud the short pieces of writing I wrote during the week. My childhood was defined by this experience, and I would wait eagerly every week for the moment to tell my stories.” -Samanta Schweblin.

Although she was not formally trained as a writer, Schweblin looks back at these early experiences as career-defining moments. Her style, her themes, and her approach to writing were all born at this time. 

That is what makes her global success so interesting, for her writing style was developed particularly for readers from Argentina instead of a global audience. No matter where she is when she is writing, Schweblin feels like she is transported back to Argentina.