Writer in Residence Programme 2009

José Eduardo Agualusa is WIR in Amsterdam

1 Jan-28 February 2009

José Eduardo Agualusa (Alves da Cunha, 1960) is an Angolan journalist and writer born to white Portuguese settlers. A native of Huambo, Angola, he currently resides in both Lisbon and Luanda. He writes in Portuguese.

He has previously published collections of short stories, novels, a novella, and - in collaboration with fellow journalist Fernando Semedo and photographer Elza Rocha - a work of investigative journalism on the African community of Lisbon, Lisboa Africana (1993). He has also written Estação das Chuvas, a biographical novel about Lidia do Carmo Ferreira, the Angolan poet and historian who disappeared mysteriously in Luanda in 1992. His novel Nação Crioula (1997) was awarded the Grande Prémio Literário RTP. It tells the story of a secret love between the fictional Portuguese adventurer Carlos Fradique Mendes (a creation of the 19th century novelist Eça de Queiroz) and Ana Olímpia de Caminha, a former slave who became one of the wealthiest people in Angola. Um Estranho em Goa (“A stranger in Goa”, 2000) was written on the occasion of a visit to Goa by the author.

Agualusa won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2007 for the English translation of his novel The Book of Chameleons, translated by Daniel Hahn. He is the first African writer to win the award since its inception in 1990.

Three of Agualusa’s books have been translated into Dutch by publishing house Meulenhoff: Een steen onder water (2003), De handelaar in verledens (2007) en De vrouwen van mijn vader (2009). In the epilogue of De handelaar in verledens, translator Harrie Lemmens writes that there are two fundamental cornerstones to Agualusa’s work:

‘It’s hard to capture the truth about Angola as mujimbo (gossip) plays a big part in everyday life. People make up stories that turn into accepted facts, which makes the storyteller responsible for the construction of reality. Agualusa constantly plays with fiction and truth. A theme that is forced upon him by Angolan reality.’

Secondly, Agualusa believes in a cultural unity between the countries where Portuguese is the common language. “Portuguese is the river, the countries are the river banks”. In his work, exploring the river, Agualusa jumps from one bank to another. He feels equally at home in Angola, Brasil and Portugal. Let’s hope that he will feel at home in Amsterdam too.

Agualusa participates in this years edition of the Winternachten festival in The Hague/Den Haag on January 16, 2009. Hans Maarten van den Brink will interview Agualusa and Harrie Lemmens, the Dutch translator of his novels, for SLAA at De Balie on Sunday, February 1, 2009.

Quite a few Dutch newspapers (and magazines) took the opportunity to interview José Eduardo Agualusa during his residency in Amsterdam, among these were the VPRO Gids, NRC Handelsblad, Het Parool en de Volkskrant. This spring, the Portugese newspaper Expresso will publish an extensive photo reportage of Agualusa at the Amsterdam residency. Agualusa completed his new novel Barroco Tropical in Amsterdam, it was published May 2009 in Portugal. The main character in this novel is a writer who is working on a manuscript in Amsterdam. More local colour slipped into a column that Agualusa wrote for a Portugese newspaper. The Dutch translation of this column by Harrie Lemmens can be found here: Een kat in de zon.

More information:

Fleur van Koppen


Fleur van Koppen

Programme officer

[email protected]