Juan José Delaney

Escritor argentino contemporáneo

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   Memoria de Theophilus Flynn 


Juan José Delaney

Never a day without a line


"This is good work. The stories are interesting from the beginning to the end. I congratulate the boy. He has the obligation to continue." 

Jorge Luis Borges      

By Michael J. Geraghty
For the Buenos Aires Herald (November 21, 1999)

"I only want to be a writer," said nineteen year old Juan José Delaney in an interview in the well-known magazine Gente, in September 1974. "Apart from literature," continued the lightly built, blue-eyed Argentine of Irish descent, "my only interest is music," a surprising statement surely from a young man in a land in love with its soccer, its food, its fantasies and its females.

He was born into a large Irish-Argentine family, a descendant of Irish immigrants who came to Argentina in the second half of the last century and settled out on the rich farmlands of the Buenos Aires province until they came into the city to work. They brought up their seven children speaking English and Spanish and to learn what was right, live what they learned and better themselves.

Juan José recalls. "l can't remember my father or my mother ever forcing us into a career, but I do remember my father often telling us to do whatever we wanted to do, and to do it well." The children took their parents to heart, and went into law, psychology, history, literature and advertising.

"When I was at secondary school," Delaney said, "I started to read Oscar Wilde, and while I enjoyed him very much," he lowered his voice and confided: "I felt I could write the way he wrote. Then I got into Jorge Luis Borges who not only moved me deeply, but also convinced me that I could do the same, and that I was going to be a writer."

Still in his teens he started writing his first collection of short stories which were published before his twentieth birthday as La carcajada, which was why the magazine -a market leader because of its uncanny ability to titillate its public by changing constantly and only portraying the very famous, or the extraordinarily exceptional- gave the adolescent writer four full pages in the latter category.

Jorge Luis Borges said after La carcajada had been read to him: "This is good work. The stories are interesting from the beginning to the end. I congratulate the boy. He has the obligation to continue." When Delaney heard this he was walking on air. It was high praise indeed, especially since it is well-known Borges -nobody's mouthpiece- did not suffer fools lightly, and never said or wrote a word which he felt was not absolutely necessary.

Among Delaney's most treasured possessions is a signed, first edition of a Borges book, El Libro de Arena. I asked him -there is quite a market for signed first editions of famous authors- if he would sell it? "Nooo," was the unequivocal answer. Money simply does not motivate artists.

In the normal course of events nothing more would ever have been heard about young Juan José Delaney. After all one book does not make a writer, nor does one swallow make a summer. Many are called, but few are chosen. William Butler Yeats had told the young James Joyce: "the qualities that make a man succeed are qualities of character: faith, patience, adaptability, and a gift for growing by experience."

Delaney had all of these qualities and the die was cast. He studied literature at university and picked up the tools and rules of the writer's trade. He started working, first in an office, then he got into school teaching, and began contributing articles to newspapers: Ámbito Financiero, La Prensa, La Nación, Buenos Aires Herald, and the Irish-Argentine monthly, The Southern Cross, which -under the late Fr. Federico Richards, the human rights activist- was his first publisher.

Virgil's famous line: "never a day without a line" is Delaney's motto. He gets up early in the morning, and before going to work -director of English at a well-known secondary school- he writes in the silence of a small study whose walls are lined with shelves of books and pictures of his favourite writers. Sunday is reserved for his family, his wife, Clara, and Virginia, his six-year-old daughter.

He has published three more collections of short stories since 1974: Los Pasos del Tiempo, in 1978, Papeles del Desierto in 1991, and Tréboles del Sur in 1994. He draws delicate vignettes of the tragedy and the comedy of Irish-Argentina, its first immigrants and their descendants. His fifth book and first novel, Moira Sullivan, has just been published by Corregidor.

Moira Sullivan was an Irish-American scriptwriter for the silent screen until she was silenced forever in 1927 with the introduction of sound into motion pictures. She then married an Irish-American executive, who was posted to Buenos Aires, where he died still a young man.

Although she was isolated culturally, linguistically and existentially from her roots, she never went back to the United States, and she finally died in St. Patrick's Home in Villa Elisa, near La Plata. Delaney portrays her life by intertwining her present into her past in a series of flashbacks which to her become clearer and nearer the darker and the farther away they get.

Something tragic runs all through Delaney's prose as he describes poignantly the pain, the loss, and the frustration of immigration. Nevertheless his real concern transcends immigration and delves into the inner human conflict that arises out of the duality of human nature between what one is and what one wants to, or should be. His people live temporarily in a world to which they do not belong. Life can be either meaningful or meaningless, but it can never have any rational explanation.

In 1994 Delaney returned to del Salvador University where he holds the chair in 20th Century Latin American Literature. In 1993 he traveled to the United States on a Fundación Antorchas scholarship to participate in the International Writing Programme of the University of Iowa. In 1997 he lectured on "The Language and Literature of the Irish in Argentina" at the Institute of Latin American Studies in the University of London. He founded and directs El Gato Negro, a magazine which specializes in thrillers: crime, police and mystery.

This year Delaney published an essay in the magazine, Todo es Historia, about Jack the Ripper who apparently died here in the British Hospital after he had fled to Buenos Aires from London. He became the owner of a once well-known watering hole, Sally's Bar, which was popular among Anglo-Argentines. Delaney's best work is still to be done and a lot more will he heard about him, probably the only novice writer Borges ever recommended


Volver

  Read 
The Real Life      Short Stories       Essay
Papeles del desierto    Tréboles del Sur (definite edition)       Moira Sullivan     Marco Denevi
  Memoria de Theophilus Flynn 



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