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Bernardo Atxaga opened a window to Basque culture in New York with the chair that bears his name


Bernardo Atxaga during a talk he gave last Friday at New York's CUNY Graduate Center (photo Koitz)
Bernardo Atxaga during a talk he gave last Friday at New York's CUNY Graduate Center (photo Koitz)


The writer Bernardo Atxaga (Asteasu, 1957) opened a window last Friday at City University of New York. This window will shed light on both sides of the glass not only by presenting the Basque culture in Manhattan, but also by bringing some diversity and boundless energy of New York to Euskal Herria. This is the goal of the Bernardo Atxaga Chair in Basque Literature and Linguistics, initiated by the Etxepare Basque Institute and thanks to whom; many Basque writers will be able to give courses in the Big Apple during the academic year.

New York, USA.  Last Friday the writer, Bernardo Atxaga, officially inaugurated the chair that carries his name in the City University of New York (CUNY), with a conference offered at the Graduate Center there.  Among the audience was the Minister of Culture of the Basque Government, Blanca Urgell; the Director of the Etxepare Basque Institute, Aizpea Goenaga; and Dr. Mari Jose Olaziregi, the Institute’s Director of the Promotion of Euskera; and José Del Valle, Director of the Luso-Brazilian Hispanic Literature program  at CUNY.

Accompanying Bernardo were his wife, Asun Garikano, and their two daughters, as well as the musical poet Jabier Muguruza.  The talk entitled, “Culture and Political Change in Euskadi,” was also attended by several Basques from the New York area, such as Mikel Urmeneta, designer for Kukuxumuxu; and the soprano Amaia Arberas.

Atxaga Katedra NY 2011 1

[A moment during Atxaga’s talk at the Graduate Center (photo Koitz)] 

To put it on the map

During the talk, Atxaga noted that Basque culture has had to overcome many stereotypes to be known in the world, but that literature is a useful tool to make people aware. Still, he stressed the need to put it on the map. "Putting something on the map makes the invisible visible. It means that it is not enough just to exist, but you need to be represented and so people have to work to put something on a map.  And what helps existence more than the story,” he said.

Atxaga Katedra NY 2011 2

[Bernardo Atxaga with his two daughters and his wife Asun Garikano; the Minister of Culture Blanca Urgell; Aizpea Goenaga Director of the Etxepare Institute; Dr. Mari Jose Olaziregi, Director of Euskera and musician Jabier Muguruza (photo Koitz)]

This talk concluded the seminar that Atxaga offered during the week to students at the Graduate Center at CUNY.  The Bernardo Atxaga Chair focuses on Basque literature and linguistics, and once or twice a year will bring Basque artists to New York to give new seminars. These writers, following the idea mentioned by the directors of the Etxepare Basque Institute may well bring Euskal Herria to Manhattan, but also, in turn, take some of the city of skyscrapers back home.

Activities in Manhattan

Friday’s conference ended all of the activities aimed at bringing Euskera and literature closer to those in New York.  These activities were co-organized by the Etxepare Basque Institute and the Graduate Center as well as by Euskadi’s Delegation in New York.  On Friday the 9th, as part of the program, Dr. Mari Jose Olaziregi, a renowned expert on Atxaga, analyzed the evolution of the Basque writer at a conference in which she tried to situate him in the literary universe.

On Tuesday the 13th, Atxaga gave a poetic recital along with musician Jabier Muguruza, with the help of translator Amaia Gabantxo.  During the show entitled, “The Cats and Paradise,” Basque, Spanish and English were combined to bring the special chemistry that had united the two artists during their careers.  Film also played a part in the program on Friday with the showing of the movie These Skies based on Atxaga’s novel of the same name.  The film was directed by Aizpea Goenaga, current director of the Etxepare Basque Institute.


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