It took 13 long years to produce a biography of more than a thousand pages. Richard Zenith, an American who has been devoting himself to the work of Fernando Pessoa for almost 40 years, will launch “Pesoa-Uma Biography” for Quetzal at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Callus, Lisbon on the 19th.
The book he thought he would write was born out of the challenge of his American literary agent to write two by three. In an interview with Renascença, he says that the biography reveals some novelties, one of which may be, perhaps, the beginning of the heteronyms of Pessoa, who played with the characters invented by his uncle Cunhar as a child.
It is said that “it is true that the best source of writing about Pessoa’s life is work”, it further recalls that Peso said that “the poet is a pretender” and there are distortions. Richard Zenith, who started the biographical genre for the first time, heard what Pesoa told him and what notes he kept about him which showed a very preserved poet.
How the idea of writing a biography about Fernando Pessoa was born, that the poet’s work has been studied for a long time and has been in discomfort for a long time.
It follows Fernando Pessoa from all my work. I started as a translator, then I edited his work. I have been very interested in the life of Peshawar since 2000. So I organized a version that was automated autobiographical writing and personal reflection, where I collected a few pessary diaries and other autobiographical texts, some already published. And other unpublished.
The current biography of Fernando Pessoa was a biography of Joao Gaspar Simos.
I realized at the time that there were some things from the first biography of Joao Gaspar Simoes that have many qualities, but have the wrong information, the wrong date. However, this is normal, because so many years have passed and we have discovered so much, other things. So my literary agent in New York challenged me to make a biography.
I’ve done photobiography with Joachim Vieira before.
Yeah Al that sounds pretty crap to me, Looks like BT aint for me either. The writings were too short. Now this biography I never expected to be so extensive! I thought it would be half the size, or even less.
I wanted to know if Fernando Pessoa helped you write this biography, in the sense that what he wrote about his life served as the basis of his biography. Did you co-author this biographical detail with you?
It is true that the best source to write about Pessoa’s life is Peso’s work and his notes. So, there is a lot of information about Peshawar Estate. Pessoa kept a lot of paperwork, in large quantities, we know. Even since I was little in Durban. So a thorough search in the papers has a lot of information, small unknown information and then Pessoa’s own work which we all know, poetry, prose, autobiography a lot.
What kind of autobiography?
Autobiographies are usually distorted. The poet is a pretender! We can take a verse from the poem and think, here is Fernando Pessoa, but weighing everything, thinking and considering all these works, we discover a lot about Fernando Pessoa.
Is this biography of Fernando Pessoa the most amazing truth for scholars?
I think there will be some elements in this biography that are new and probably amazing.
All childhood and youth. There are many chapters in this phase of Peshawar’s life and there is a lot of new information about his relationship with his relatives. Because of this access I had unpublished letters and other materials. It was known that Pessoa had this change-ego, or heterogeneous word, or pre-subjective word, even when he was a teenager. However, there is more information about it. We see how all these “dramas between people”, as Pessoa, known as his project, practically started from scratch, when he was still a child.
Does the first antonym appear too early? Was Pessoa still a child?
Yes. One thing that comes up in biography is the role of an uncle. Fernando Pessoa’s uncle Kunha. This uncle actually married his great aunt Tia Maria. They had no children and, more or less, adopted Pessoa as a child, they were like second parents.
This Tio Cunha, who starred extensively with Fernando, included a number of statistical inventions, including Captain Tibo, which Pesoa mentions in his writings. While in Durban, Fernando is mentioned in a letter from Uncle Cunningham.
How old was he?
I was about eight years old then. Fernando Pessoa’s niece, Manuela Noguira, who is still with us, is 96 years old and very strong. A few years ago he published two letters from TO Kunha, which revealed this aspect. And he has a few more letters with more information. This is quite interesting to me.
A life of Richard has been dedicated to Fernando Pessoa. Do you still remember the first time you came in contact with Pessoa’s work?
The first contact was in the United States, when I did not finish university. He was about 22, 23 years old, and a friend of mine who had a Portuguese boyfriend sent him some photocopies, including some of Alvaro de Campos’ Tabacaria poems and some of Alberto Cairo’s poems. I knew I could read more or less Spanish and I was fascinated.
Was it instability? How long has it lasted?
I do math … it’s been over 40 years.
Is it an emotion?
Yes, it is an emotion. Sure! Fernando Pessoa is passionate. There are great poets and writers like Peshawar, but there is no one else as huge as Peshawar. Because, like all the synonyms, the style in which he writes, he has all the interest, the pessoa never stops. He was permanently restless.
It is very interesting for the Portuguese to see that it is the researchers of foreign descent who have made the most progress in discovering Fernando Pessoa. How do you see this reality?
Well, there are also many Portuguese. Pesoa is a universal author, so I think it’s normal that there are many researchers from other countries who study Pesoa. In my particular case, there are more reasons, because Pessoa wrote a good portion of his work in English. There are lots of notes, kind of thinking, kind of humor, this pessoa had a huge English influence.