Commitment: Spain in Mind is an anthology of letters, essays and memoirs about Spain by forty English and American writers, including George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, Barbara Kingsolver and Edith Wharton. What can a reader learn about Spain from this anthology?
Alice Leccese Powers: Through Spain in Mind – as with the other books in the series Italy in Mind, Ireland in Mind, France in Mind and Tuscany in Mind – the reader learns much about the country, but more about the writers. Like all travelers, writers carry “home” with them. Some adapt to the place they are visiting or living in; others long for home or compare the new country (unusually unfavorably) to their native land. All of the writers are either English or American and there is something very interesting about the collision of the Anglo sensibility and the Mediterranean mind.
Specifically in Spain in Mind, I think a reader appreciates the diversity of the country. Sometimes it seems that Spain might fly apart into its four quadrants. It is very different, north to south, east to west.
Commitment: The writers included in this anthology span many years, and their experiences vary greatly. How did you pick these forty writers?
Alice: Putting together an anthology is a balancing act. You have to be sure that each geographic region is represented and each era is represented. It also takes detective work. Oftentimes one writer “recommends” another. For example, Dos Passos, Hemingway, and Michener knew each other; Robert and Lucia Graves were father and daughter. It’s a matter of tracking down those relationships.
Commitment: Not only do you include essays and memoirs of famous writers, but you add a mini-biography of each writer. How much research went into your work on this book?
Alice: I did a tremendous amount of research for each book, not only writing the mini-biographies and the introduction, but also tracking down the rights to each piece. This made me an expert in the serpentine world of international acquisitions.
Commitment: Spain in Mind is your 5th book in the “In Mind” series, which includes Italy in Mind, Ireland in Mind, France in Mind, and Tuscany in Mind. Have you found similarities among the experiences of American and British writers in each of these locations?
Alice: After five books, I found that British and American travelers and ex-pats break down into several categories: the wealthy who hire the locals as servants and live abroad because it is more economical, but make little effort to assimilate into the culture, the enthusiastic writers who embrace everything about the new place – its cuisine, customs, and language, the transplants who move because of the climate, but become disillusioned and ultimately return home, and the runaways who turn their back on their native land. Some like James Joyce, never return home, but keep it always in their heart.
Commitment: Do the writers in Spain in Mind have any common experiences or opinions about Spain?
Alice: Of course, the British are always attracted to the sun. It’s a relatively rare commodity in England. Quite a few writers were involved in the Spanish Civil War, especially in the International Brigade. During the Franco era Spain was probably one of the cheapest places to live in Europe, but also one of the most primitive. Until the death of Franco, a trip to Spain could be quite adventurous compared to other places in Europe – certainly compared to Great Britain or America.
Commitment: You've traveled to Spain. What are some of the notable experiences you've had?
Alice: Seeing the work of Gaudi in Barcelona was a revelation, although I had seen photos. The same is true of The Great Mosque of Cordoba with its geometric graphic elements and a Catholic church superimposed on its structure. One place that is seldom mentioned in guidebooks is Monasterio de Piedra about three hours from Madrid, a centuries old monastery with dozens of waterfalls that is just enchanting. Definitely worth a sidetrip.
Commitment: How important is it to understand a country's history when traveling or living there?
Alice: It helps immeasurably, of course. And the language if you can. There are so many layers of history in Spain that it is difficult to sort out the skeins.
Commitment: Spain is the second most visited country in Europe, second only to Italy. What makes Spain so special?
Alice: Many are attracted to the weather and the beaches. There are parts of Spain that are little enclaves of Britain – English is spoken in the shops, there are pubs, and restaurants advertise fish and chips. If it’s sun and sand that you’re looking for, Spain has it. But it is a shame to go just for that when there’s such a wealth of history, architectural interest, geographic diversity to explore. And the cuisine is unparalleled, especially in San Sebastian with the highest number of five star restaurants in Europe.
Alice Leccese Powers edits literary anthologies for Random House and writes guidebooks and innumerable articles for national magazines and newspapers. She also teaches writing at the Corcoran College of Art + Design and American University. Powers has a masters degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in mass communication and journalism, a graduate certificate from the Slade School of Fine Art, London in film history, and a bachelors degree from the State University of New York in English. She lives in Washington, D.C. Visit Alice at her website, http://AliceLPowers.wordpress.com
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