Who I Am and Why I Write
Josep M. Benet i Jornet
Josep M. Benet i Jornet is one of Catalonia's leading playwrights. He has written more than forty plays since 1964. He is also a television scriptwriter.
My grandfather Josep Benet was a humble farmer from Borges Blanques, one of those people who hung a picture of Macià at the head of the bed. Neither he nor his children read books or went to see plays. They had enough to do fighting poverty. My grandfather Francesc Jornet was quite a well-known doctor in l'Hospitalet de Llobregat. He was an office-holder in a right-wing party and the reds killed him just after the war began in 1936. He used to read but didn't want his daughters to have any kind of serious education. My father, Pere, hated having to toil on the land and became an accountant. In marrying him, my mother, Concepció, went down the social scale. They rented a tiny flat in Barcelona, in the Ronda de Sant Antoni and my sister Núria and I were born there.
At home you could count the books we had on the fingers of one hand. We didn't go to the theatre. However, when I learned to read (with difficulty as I was very slow-witted), books became my passion. If I had to choose between a toy and a book as a gift (we couldn't afford both), I preferred a book. My uncle and aunt from Gironella, where we spent our summers, had a library, which, to my eyes, was abundant and attractive. It dated back to Republican times and there I read things in Catalan. In Barcelona I read "penny dreadfuls" in Spanish. My classics were Alf Manz (cops and robbers), Josep Mallorquí (Wild West), George H. White (science fiction) and Marisa Villardefrancos (romance). But I also read, for example, Jules Verne and Karl May. Not much more than that though. A couple of times I performed in school plays (Escolapis de Sant Anton). At the age of sixteen I became a passionate member of the youth theatre group of the parish of Carme.
I always wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a writer like someone wants to be an astronaut, knowing that it couldn't come true, that I'd never be one. In fact, for some time I wanted to be a pulp writer. I found Graham Greene's novels heavy. I was a neighbourhood kid, but I didn't fit into the neighbourhood and nobody gave me any other bearings. I was weak, lacking in confidence in myself and with still less confidence in my intellectual abilities, and with parents who were worried by my ineptitude ? but I wrote, and I knew that I'd never stop writing, first novels and then theatre. You can imagine what kind of texts they were. I had no false hopes. I knew I wasn't writing anything good, that I'd never write anything good, but writing was a vice, and my awareness of this vice that was condemned by the family but also inevitable was confused with the beginnings of my awareness of sexuality, another vice that society condemned in those days but that was also inevitable.
In the wretched years after the Civil War my mother took refuge in an iron-clad religiosity while my father took his refuge in the girls that went to the Price dancehall on Thursday afternoons. My sister was open and nice and I was shy and unsociable. My constant distraction for years was comic strips (books dribbled in every five or six months), and I, with any old bit of paper - usually what they used to wrap our purchases at the market - drew my own comics, whole collections with drawings and texts. At home they thought that I liked drawing and that I was good at it (false) but they never gave any importance to the fact that my drawings were always accompanied by a story. Those clumsy comic strips, with image and dialogue, were a bridge to the theatre. But why theatre? I don't understand: it's a mystery. I don't understand where this craze came from. Through his sacrifices (as I was always reminded), my father wanted me to get where he hadn't been able to get, by studying industrial engineering, while my mother wanted to return me to the place that pertained to me through her former condition, to another social status: we are not just anyone, she always said. Disaster. I played truant, escaped to the Library of Catalonia, and kept clear of responsibility by reading new and different authors, in such a way that went a bit beyond pure consumption. I had the instinct of going beyond my own threshold of interests and did it groping my way with no one to guide me or to tell me that maybe I wasn't doing anything wrong. As an overgrown kid, of eighteen I think, I told my parents after the Christmas holidays that I wasn't going back to the Industrial Engineering School, where I kept failing the exams, and that they should send me out to work. My father, generous, desperate, asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I didn't expect the question but, with a flash of intuition, I told him I wanted to do an Arts degree. They paid for me to finish my school-leaving exams (in which I had only completed four subjects) and then financed my Arts degree. Continue reading...