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martes, 6 de junio 2023
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A Writer Who Navigates between Fiction and Nonfiction

By: Johansson Cruz Lopera - Journalist
The year 2022 was perfect in Marcela Guiral’s life as a writer. Marcela is an UdeA graduate and professor. That year she presented three new literary works: A mediodía llovían pájaros (At noon it rained birds), a book of children's stories; Las mensajeras del ruiseñor (The messengers of the nightingale), a chronicle about midwives and yerbateras (women who use different herbs to cure illnesses) and Este legado de alas (This legacy of wings), an academic research project on the history of four female doctors from Antioquia.

Marcela Guiral, teacher and writer, has been a reading promoter for several years, an experience that helped her find the stories for her first two novels. Photo: UdeA Communications Office / Alejandra Uribe F. 

1984. Rainy night. Pregnant woman in a village two hours from the town. Imminent delivery. The mother-to-be walks hurriedly in the rain, hoping to get to the midwife in time to assist her during the birth. It is not possible. She lays out her ruana on the wet ground, pushes, pushes, pushes, pushes, pushes... She screams. A baby girl is attached to her body only by the umbilical cord. Raindrops greet the newborn.  

This scene, which could be the beginning of a story, a novel, a movie or a painting, is actually what Marcela Guiral's mother had to live through the night she gave birth to her in the village of La Floresta in the municipality of Yolombó, Antioquia. Almost as a birthmark, Marcela was destined to be an artist, as life would later show her.

Marcela Velásquez Guiral, or as she introduces herself, Marcela Guiral, is a librarian with a Master's Degree in Health Education from Universidad de Antioquia and a Master's Degree in Reading Promotion and Children's Literature from the University of Castilla, Spain. In 2015, she won the SM Award for Children's Literature El Barco de Vapor, organized by the Spanish publisher SM (Editorial SM), with the novel Se resfriaron los sapos (The toads caught cold), in which she pays tribute to her father, who died before seeing her first book published. "It is an award that is a reference. It placed me on the national and international scene in literature. It is a novel that opened many doors for me," she said.

Marcela is the author of the books ¡Mira lo que trajo el mar! (Look what the sea brought) (2012), Se resfriaron los sapos (2015), A mediodía llovían pájaros (2019), Las mensajeras del ruiseñor (2022) and Este legado de alas (2022). Her texts have been winners of the Creation Scholarship of the Mayor's Office of Medellín on three occasions. She is also winner of the Children's Literature Award El Barco de Vapor, from Editorial SM.

First readings

Her passion for books began in her father's library. "My dad was the History teacher in town. In fact, he taught me in high school, so my sister and I, who didn't have much to do for fun, found refuge in that library. At 11, I had already read Kafka and other great authors. I began to write a diary alongside those readings. That's where it all began," the writer recalled her childhood.

Marcela lived in the village La Floresta until she was 16 years old. That is when violence knocked on her door. "The war came to the town. It became a paramilitary base. It was a scary and painful time. During those years, we witnessed forced disappearances, rapes and murders. In 2001, my father decided that we had to leave the town. He stayed there doing his job, and we fled the war," she said. 

Marcela Guiral has won the Creation Scholarship of the Mayor's Office of Medellín three times. She has also won the Children's Literature Award El Barco de Vapor from Editorial SM. Photo: UdeA Communications Office / Alejandra Uribe F. 

When she returned from Spain, she learned that the master's degree she had completed in the old continent could not be recognized in Colombia then. To avoid sitting idly by, she began a master's degree in health education at the Faculty of Medicine. She was the only student with a background that had nothing to do with health. Still, she was leading a bibliotherapy project at the Alma Mater Hospital, so she could take the new postgraduate course. That is how she became a fiction and nonfiction writing teacher at the Faculty of Medicine of UdeA. 

An Encounter with the Chronicle

For Marcela, a teacher, storytelling comes naturally. She spent her childhood days going to the river during the day to play with her friends and ending up at night listening to Daniel, the town's chancero (lottery vendor), or talking about witches and ghosts. In the northeast of Antioquia, a mining area of the department, stories of curses, goblins and evil spells abound, essential elements that she used in her stories.

She uses that gift for words with undergraduate students at the Faculty of Medicine, where she teaches communication. "I teach the students how to write chronicles. It sounds strange, but that's how it is. I teach them to write the life stories of those medical records they must always fill out for their work. I teach them to know who is behind those symptoms: who they live with, what they eat, where they live," she said. 

She is sure that writing can also help them as human beings. "I propose that, as they do with their patients, they write their life stories… about their feelings and their families because it is a tough degree, and writing makes it easier," she said. 

Coincidence or not, destiny or life, each action marked the next step for Marcela. Arriving at the centennial Faculty helped her find new stories related to medicine in Antioquia and create stories of women who had been ignored or not documented in detail. She did so in a chronicle tone with the help of academic research.

This is how Este legado de alas was born, a history text that outlines the lives of four women who decided to fight to be admitted and recognized in a male-dominated environment. "Each of them managed to stand out in the medical field and leave us a legacy that has made the way easier for women in Colombian medicine," points out Dr. Nora Maria Cardona on the back cover of the book. 

As if she were following breadcrumbs, as did Hansel and Gretel on their way home, it is thanks to this research on women doctors from Antioquia that she found the stories of the healers, midwives and yerbateras, who give life to her publication Las mensajeras del ruiseñor. "I was born in a town of midwives and yerbateras. I felt I had to write these powerful stories that are part of life."

"The nightingale always announced strong winds and downpours. Do you remember? Its song was never wrong. I had grown up deciphering nature to heal people. I knew what the silence of the rivers meant. I knew about herbs to make poultices and concoctions, about the wind that caused the flu and the wind that did not. I even deciphered the songs of the birds that always brought a message, like when the nightingale sang. When it came, I prayed to heaven that no one would come looking for me and say that I had to go out to assist a woman who was about to give birth because when it rained, the roads would become muddy, and it was difficult for me to arrive. The horses would get stuck in the mud, and I would have to get down and help them out. The fear came up to my throat because the births followed one another without respite, and I had to get there quickly to have time to change and get everything ready for the birth. Listen, listen, it sang again. Did you hear it, Joaquín? This afternoon, it is going to rain." Fragment from the book Las mensajeras del Ruiseñor, 2021.

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