Amid crisis, the real challenge Venezuelans face is morphing reality into story. Stories to capture the multiplicity of perspectives into the crazy times we’re living in, that’s the only way understand each other and the country as well.
Somebody has to take seriously the task of creating stories and giving Venezuelans a chance to share theirs. Starting this weekend, La Vida de Nos is taking on that task.
It’s the brainchild of three people: Journalist/Writer Albor Rodriguez from Ciudad Bolívar, writer Héctor Torres from Caracas and cultural producer Juan Carlos Liendo from Mérida. But what is exactly “La Vida de Nos”? Rodríguez, who serves as co-editor told me during a phone interview ahead of the site’s launch.
La Vida de Nos is a site devoted to publishing stories, approaching our reality from a literary standpoint, outside of the journalistic canon. Stories about Venezuelans in their real lives.
Héctor Torres went deeper in a phone interview last week on a break of promoting his latest book La Vida Feroz (The Fierce Life), the third and last book of his “Caracas trilogy”:
There aren’t many options available for narrative non-fiction in Venezuela, because we’re mostly stuck in a permanent newscycle. In the process, we are missing the many singular lives that can produce a plural vision of the country caught in this complex reality. That’s what it takes to explain what Venezuela’s become.
The site sets out to become a path to those who want to tell and share their life story, but have no previous experience with narrative non-fiction. In their view, writing could be a key part of the personal path to self-realization.
La Vida de Nos sets out its goals on the site itself:
…looking to be a site to promote good stories, we want to promote the concept of self-realization as a valuable experience. (The site) is not a space for citizen journalism. Neither is it for stories by journalists or writers based on others’ testimonies. We want to open a space where any person, known or unknown, can publish their stories with our curatorship and support.
For Torres La Vida de Nos “…sets out to be a place to both find stories of common people and also help new and/or developing authors improve with the assistance of our editors”.
Torres says the point is to put forward “a wide range of stories in order to resist the imposition of a single official story.”
But given that La Vida de Nos wants to focus on our reality, can its content really shy away from the news headlines or even so, avoid the current political conflict we have witnessed for years? Torres says the point is to put forward “a wide range of stories in order to resist the imposition of a single official story.”
Juan Carlos Liendo backs Torres in telling stories to “turn the back on the official story”, but admits that the site’s content will inevitably be influenced the news: “Many crazy things happen every single day in Venezuela… and many of the stories being told today come from the news”. Certainly, the first set of stories to be published “…could create headlines or at least produce serious interest”.
How did it all come together?
Right after Albor Rodriguez promoted her 2015 book Duelo (Mourning), which came as result of coping with the loss of her infant child three years earlier, she had an idea: Since she specializes in narrative journalism, she wanted to create a site that gave a more literary take on our reality, giving insight into dramas that deal with the human condition.
“She called me to propose a repository for stories”, Torres says. In the months that followed, they developed the idea through their shared love of a well-told story.
Eventually, they realized that would need more help to make it possible. So Juan Carlos Liendo, a long-time friend of Rodriguez with more than three decades of involvement in the cultural scene (particularly as a theater producer) came aboard. He found interest in both the literary angle of the site (“theater is living literature”) and the Internet-related one (He has his own personal blog).
Liendo sees La Vida de Nos as an opportunity to recover the profession of writing, including receiving financial compensation for the work: “Writing is a job that requires time and effort. Therefore, the writer needs to eat and pay bills. The job of the writer must be properly rewarded.”
Finally in late November of last year, La Vida de Nos launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the money they’d need. For the organizers, the results were a mixed bag: They didn’t achieve their financial goal (blamed in part on the highly volatile economic situation at the time), but got enough to get by.
The bigger upside was finding encouragement from the public, especially in the social networks.
The most important thing is that a good story is the one that regardless of its genre is well-told.
Just ahead of the launch, all involved are aware of the challenges they will face. “It’s a leap of faith”, said Rodriguez who shares her overall optimism: “Narrating is the best way to understand what’s happening in the country”. Torres considers that in a mostly news-driven environment like ours, La Vida de Nos is indeed “…a gamble”.
That gamble means embracing many forms of storytelling, not only the written ones. La Vida de Nos will be open to photographers, videographers, graphic artists and other kinds of artists. According to Torres: “There’s enthusiasm for the possibilities to innovate. As we have little to lose, we want to appeal to all formats available and every tool that the Internet has to offer us”. Albor indicates they want to translate the same creative spirit to the site’s presentation: “It’s going to be an authentically digital site. We don’t want to look like a traditional printed publication”.
La Vida de Nos will start by rolling out out four stories at first and then presenting one story weekly. They have at least 25 stories in different stages of development. The expectations are pretty high, but in the end it comes down to one single thing according to Hector Torres: “regardless of its genre, what matters is that the story is told well”.