Amalia Andrade Writing from the Space Between

Amalia Andrade has spent more than a decade publishing a blog featuring stories about teenagers from Cali, unrequited love, and letters never delivered… Today, she has more than 45,000 followers on Instagram and her book Uno siempre cambia al amor de su vida por otro amor o por otra vida, a graphic guide to overcoming heartbreak, is available in all Spanish-speaking countries and has also been translated into Italian and German.

 Text and Photos: Alejandra Algorta

Andrade is one of those ageless people. She tells me she learned to draw on YouTube. She sketches faces, hearts, and chairs on the back of a paper placemat, like a child waiting for her order, until the phone rings and she confirms the dates of her upcoming Mexican tour.

Uno siempre cambia al amor de su vida por otro amor o por otra vida is a completely visual book, written and illustrated by hand, and it invites reader interaction. But those who have followed her from the beginning know she’s been publishing stories on her website much longer than she’s been drawing.

Why publish a completely illustrated book?

I think I felt that writing wasn’t enough. I’ve always been interested in writing as image: words arranged in a specific order on a sheet of paper to form a drawing. I’m also interested in new ways of writing. I felt like the words on their own limped; they felt more robust, more powerful, if I could draw them, create them with my hands.

Most of the photographs on her social networks are drawings:

pictures of her diary, pictures of a framed sheet of notebook paper with the caption: “So be it, so be it, so be it.” 

How do you compare the content of your blog or other social media with what you write in your book?

other networks, it feels like a less hostile tool. It’s less hostile because what counts is the image, not the text. So if I want to write, if I want to share my written work via Instagram, I have to create an image from the text. It’s a way of telling a story, creating a universe from what you are. And in the process of self-editing, some very interesting things occur: you choose what to show and what to hide, and this is a lot like the writing process. Silences speak as loudly as words.

But what you publish online is published in real time, about your actual life. Where do you draw the line between your literary projects and what you share about yourself on your personal social media?

I began using Instagram as a place for self-examination; truly, as a tool for self-knowledge, like writing. Recently, I realized that I might need to establish more carefully drawn boundaries around my private and public lives. I’m not interested in my work being solipsistic; I use what’s happening in my life, but with so many followers, everything can become the subject of indiscreet glances. I now try to silence certain things while remaining honest, keeping certain things quiet without lying.

There are a number of personas in your writing: the Amalia who writes for herself online, the Amalia who draws about heartbreak in Uno siempre cambia al amor de su vida por otro amor o por otra vida, and the Amalia in this book who writes a heartbreaking story about the creator of Lambada. How do you keep these three separate types of writing separate? 

It’s really wonderful to start with real things and then make decisions in the writing process that turn life into fiction. I call it “auto-fiction” and it’s perhaps a more intimate exercise than other types of writing, and probably the genre where I feel most comfortable. The exercise of writing for oneself is vital; it’s where I find out things about myself that can’t be accessed in other ways.

I feel the process is different when writing fiction; it’s a process that nobody understands. Susan Sontag said that writing is a way of looking at the world. You listen to the song Lambada and think: “Here’s a story about a person who went away crying. This is a great story.” But I never know what will happen until I sit down to write. With João’s story —he’s the composer of the song Lambada¬— I knew I was going to use the song as a kind of spell. I’m not sure why, but that’s what seems to happen with songs: if I dedicate a song to you today, you’ll think of me every time you hear it.

Yellow notebook pages full of repetitions. “Bad news, everything changes; good news, everything changes.” Lists of favorite words. Words as spells, as empowerment, are constants in her writing. Andrade looks up from the broken heart she’s just drawn on her placemat: “Clarice Lispector said that to write is to cast a spell.” Andrade says this as if she’s revealing the secret of alchemy. “You know you’ve succeeded when you manage to capture someone in writing”.

However, Amalia Andrade’s writing always seems somewhat impossible to categorize: the chameleon of genres. A fictional account of things that really happened, a book illustrated by a writer, or even a self-help book with coupons to be redeemed at the bank of emotional intelligence.

“Writing is a form of salvation, it’s medicine. The text is a self-help book in the sense that all good books are self-help books. It sounds very romantic, but I write in order to gain access to myself.  Jeannette Winterson says that through writing we are able to do this. My work explains and heals me.”

This hybrid quality in Andrade’s work led her to sit down with Spaniard illustrator Ana Saínz Quesada at the Hay Festival in Cartagena to discuss their personal approaches to the art of storytelling through images, each from opposite sides of the spectrum. 

I like my writing to offer a different way of reading. It’s important for the Festival to provide spaces for new forms of literature: comics, graphic novels… I’m not really on one side or another; I like to inhabit both worlds.

What then would be the correct category for your narrative?

I’d like to put myself in a new category of reading: on the border, the space between. Literature for me is like life; I feel I inhabit in-between places. This is my personal life so the most organic thing is for my book to do the same.