“Thanks to Rolex I have a new friend and colleague,” said Mia Couto, speaking of Julián Fuks, his Brazilian protégé in the 2016–2017 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.
According to Couto, a master of the Portuguese language and one of Africa’s foremost writers, Portuguese-speaking writers rarely have the type of interaction that authors in the English-speaking world have with their editors. “We generally deliver a completed text which is then published pretty much as it is.”
So Couto decided to use the experience of mentoring Fuks, one of Brazil’s most promising new literary talents, to exchanges ideas and work. “I decided to learn from him too,” said Couto, who has shared his own unedited texts and even his doubts with his protégé.
Fuks, who has published five books and recently won Brazil’s most important literary prize – the Jabuti – is a journalist, critic and translator who has completed a doctorate in literary theory. Much of his writing draws on his own experience and family history, and while fiction, it is based on real occurrences.
“I want to go further in inventing stories and making up characters. Mia does that incredibly well. In his books fantasy is very important,” says Fuks of his mentor.
After spending 10 days together in Mozambique, Couto’s home country, in early March, the pair travelled to Europe for a series of interviews with the media and specially organized readings and discussions in Lisbon and London.
In Lisbon on 15 March, the pair were the guests of honour at a gathering hosted by Rolex Portugal. The two writers discussed the mentoring year and their various meetings in the Azores, where Couto was conducting research for a new book, and their home towns of São Paulo and Maputo.
Portuguese author Anabela Mota Ribeiro read excerpts of Fuks’ novel Resistance, while musician and writer Kalaf Epalanga read excerpts from Couto’s The Sword and the Spear to the delight of the 40 top editors, authors, publishers and literary figures present.
Two days later, the 175-year old London Library, the largest independent lending library in the world, was an appropriate setting for a wide-ranging discussion between Couto and Fuks moderated by Fiammetta Rocco, the culture editor of The Economist before an audience of 80 people from the literary world.
Audience members were treated to readings of previously unpublished works of the mentor and protégé by the award-winning Irish actress Fiona Shaw. A Rolex Arts Initiative Advisory Board member, Shaw made texts come alive from Couto’s forthcoming Women of Ash and Fuks’s The Occupation for the fascinated guests.
Both authors talked about the experience of living through political upheaval, with Couto mentioning the role of writers during Mozambique’s post-independence, 15-year-old civil war, while Fuks mentioned how his family had to flee the military dictatorship in Argentina and migrated to Brazil in the late 1970s. Both mentor and protégé commented on their different styles and working methods. Fuks is a careful writer who makes sure that each sentence and paragraph are perfect before going on to the next ones, while Couto is a prolific author of more than 30 books, for whom “words are always coming at me and just flowing out.”
For both these fascinating and original writers, it is clear that mentoring is a two-way street. “He is encouraging me to loosen up and let go a bit,” said Fuks, while Couto replied: “I am learning from him when to stop.”