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Exhibition of newly discovered letters to Gabriel García Márquez opens in Mexico City

Discovered in a box labeled “grandchildren” in the Colombian author’s Mexico City home, the letters include correspondence from presidents, fellow writers and even famous actors like Woody Allen and Robert Redford.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — “Every time we came to the house, we knew exactly where Gabo would be,” said Emilia García Elizondo of her late grandfather, Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez. She always found Gabo, as friends and family called him, working in the study at his Mexico City home.

But when she grew up she never expected to find what was in a box in that study labeled “grandchildren”: around 150 previously undiscovered letters to the Nobel laureate from prominent figures in literature, cinema, art and politics.

“It’s always exciting to make a find like this,” said the author’s son Gonzalo García Barcha in the luminous sunroom at García Márquez’s Mexico City home, where the collection goes on display Thursday. He and his daughter Emilia made the discovery while they looked for new material to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his father’s Nobel Prize.

“We were looking to see if we had an unpublished photo or something like that, and while looking for other things, we found these letters in one of his files here in the house,” said García Barcha. 

One of the progenitors of the literary genre known as magical realism, García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts,” according to the Nobel Foundation. 

Gabriel García Marquéz's son Gonzalo Gacría Barcha looks out at the courtyard of his father's Mexico City home. He and his daughter Emilia found the letters in a box labeled "grandchildren." (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

“There’s something for everyone in the letters. Over there we have the letters from people in the world of cinema. I’d say they’re the most glamorous ones,” said García Barcha, pointing to a glass case displaying letters from Wim Wenders, Woody Allen and Robert Redford. 

“Dear Gabriel,” reads the March 1988 letter from Redford. “You are now at the age where you probably don’t want to be reminded of your age, but if you play your cards right, you can live forever. So Happy Birthday.”

Redford reminisces about García Márquez and his wife Mercedes Barcha Pardo’s visit to the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake, Utah, adding that he hopes the encounter will be the prelude to many others. “There will always be much to talk about.”

From fellow writers came a brief birthday wish from Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes — “To think we met a half a century ago!” — and an invite from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda to a literary tertulia with Argentinian novelist Julio Cortázar and, perhaps, Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, though only the latter’s first name is given.

In a plaintive and penitent note, American photographer Richard Avedon apologizes for taking a poor photograph of García Márquez “in the rain with no light,” and pleads for another chance to get it right. 

For granddaughter Emilia, the most surprising correspondence was that from Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, but not because of any political information contained therein.

“They’re very nice, a good representation of their friendship,” said García Elizondo, who is working to turn the author's home into a cultural center. “They really moved me. But I liked the ones from Robert Redford and other artists more.”

Emilia García Barcha laughs with her father Gonzalo among letters to her grandfather Gabriel García Márquez. This year marks the 40th anniversary of García Márquez's Nobel Prize in Literature. (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

The letters from political figures range across the spectrum. In the case adjacent to that with Castro’s correspondence lies a series of notes from U.S. President Bill Clinton. 

Opposite an array of letters from four Mexican presidents who served from 1994 to 2018 sits a 4-page missive from Subcomandante Marcos, the anti-capitalist insurgent and former spokesman for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, who led the organization’s 1994 uprising against the Mexican government in the southern state of Chiapas. 

“Nature imitates art with the obstinacy that forgets a sick love (is there any other kind?),” begins the revolutionary’s July 1994 letter. Marcos then relates a story of receiving a lock of hair in a letter from a woman who claimed to have seen a vision of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who told her that war had been declared in Mexico and that the government was possessed by the devil.

After his anecdote, he invites García Márquez to a National Democratic Convention the following month “in a humid and forested place which our brainless gaze on history has baptized ‘Aguascalientes’.”

While readers of García Márquez’s masterpiece “100 Years of Solitude” may disagree, the author always considered his 1961 novella “No One Writes to the Colonel” to be his best work. He once said in an interview that he wrote the former so that people would read the latter (whose title in Spanish translates literally to, “The Colonel Has No One to Write to Him”). 

Thus the title of the exhibition takes on another layer of meaning for the Nobel laureate and his family: “Gabo 40 Years After the Nobel Prize: The Writer Does Have Those Who Write To Him.”

The letters will be on display at the author’s home in the southern Mexico City neighborhood of Jardines del Pedregal until Aug. 14, after which they will be united with the rest of his personal documents under the care of experts at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin. Tickets cost about $10. 

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