Eduardo Galeano died last week, on April 13, at age 74. He was a friend and mentor, whom I’d see whenever I visited his native Uruguay, and from whom I’ve learned so much. I’m still very sad that he’s gone. I want to take this opportunity to share some of his work with fellow writers, because I suspect that many people have not heard of him or read his work, or that some people know him only peripherally, as a socialist polemicist, author of 1971’s The Open Veins of Latin America. But he wrote so much more and better work, stuff that challenged my philosophical and aesthetic assumptions in life-changing ways. In my opinion, Eduardo Galeano is one of the greatest writers ever to grace this planet.
I first became aware of Galeano though The Book of Embraces, a gift from my Uruguayan in-laws. This was during my graduate studies, when I was steeped in classical essays and was writing long, convoluted pieces. Because the book offered such a stark contrast to what I was reading and writing, I fell in love with Galeano’s efficiency and poetic depth. In the ensuing years, I read every Galeano book I could find and then some (over several years, I would check La Jornada, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México’s online newspaper, every week to find a new Galeano vignette). I found in his writing celebrations and arguments by a keen observer who translated his every vital encounter into quick-striking images (speaking of images: he was a collagist, too, who illustrated some of his books with curious grotesques alongside his texts). I saw that he was concerned with others far more than with himself; that he was a researcher and a listener; that he loved the world, and therefore was not afraid to call out its injustices and hypocrisies. Although Galeano resisted labels and genres, I have always felt that he was in spirit a kind of essayist, apprehending and processing the world’s offerings and creating art.
I have taught Galeano’s books for over a decade, and I often recommend them and give them as gifts. I have never encountered anyone who was not changed for the better by them. So here I will simply get out of the way and share two quick links: one to a selection from The Book of Embraces published in Grand Street magazine, the other to a video of the reading Galeano gave at Brigham Young University in 2006. I hope that you will love them and they will inspire you (and that you will read Galeano’s many books, beginning with my favorite, that first book I ever read of his, The Book of Embraces) .
Thank you to Patrick Madden for this tribute.