Juan Manuel Roca

Portrait Juan Manuel Roca
© Ali Ghandtschi

Juan Manuel Roca was born in Medellín, Colombia in 1946. The celebrated writer, journalist and art critic headed the Sunday supplement of the daily newspaper »El Espectador« for ten years and is currently editor of the cultural journal »La sangrada escritura«.

Roca belongs to the so-called »generación del desarraigo« (uprooted generation). His poetry takes concrete reality and experience as a point of departure. Malleable, sensory elements and vivid, concrete colours are contrasted with gloomy, shadowy descriptions of memory, and lost illusions. The poems offer finely drawn images of semantic and structural clarity, and were repeatedly published by Roca in collaboration with visual artists. His first volumes of poetry came out in the early seventies, among them »Memoria del agua« (1973; t: Memory of water), and »Luna de ciegos« (1975; t: Moon of the blind). Collections followed such as »Antología poética« (1983; Poetic anthology), »País secreto« (1987; t: Secret country), »Pavana con el diablo« (1990; Pavane with the devil) and »Prosa reunida« (1993; t: Gathered prose). His most recent volume of poems, »Las hipótesis de Nadie« (t: Nobody’s hypothesis), appeared in 2004.

The title of his only novel to date, »Esa maldita costumbre de morir« (2003; t: That damned habit of dying), plays on the frequent unnatural deaths of many people in a country marked by violence. The story tells of two brothers who are members of the secret »Mirror Brigade« and undertake an underground struggle against a group of conspirators, who want to abolish all mirrors in order to destroy people’s identities. Stylistically, the novel attests to Roca as a poet: many things are merely implied and what remains unuttered is of greater significance than what is voiced explicitly. The author observed: »I didn’t want to abandon my preference for the creation of images any more than lyrical cadence. What is more, I’ve retained linguistic precision.«

In 2007 Roca published his first collection of short stories, »Las plagas secretas« (t: The secret plagues) and his novel was nominated for the coveted Premio Rómulo Gallegos. Roca has received many awards for his poetry, including the Premio Nacional de Poesía Universidad de Antioquia, the Premio Nacional de Poesía Ministerio de Cultura, the Premio de Poesía del Mundo Latino »Victor Sandoval« and most recently the international Premio de Poesía »José Lezama Lima« awarded by the Cuban Casa de las Américas. He has also received the Premio de Periodismo »Simón Bolívar« for his journalistic work. He has an honorary doctorate from the Universidad del Valle and lives in Medellín.

© international literature festival berlin