Colombian writer Antonio Ortiz poses with some of his works
Antonio Ortiz combines his skinny jeans with a shirt with a print of Pulp Fiction, the Quentin Tarantino movie. He fixes his gaze on the ceiling and remembers that his passion for writing comes from his childhood, writing ran through his veins. His father, José Ortiz, inherited his love for letters. At the age of 10 he was writing love poems to his childhood sweethearts. His imagination took vast leaps. In high school, each unusual experience was the inspiration to create micro-stories. After finishing high school, he obtained a scholarship to study English Literature at the University of Arkansas, in the United States.
A specific moment marked his life, the birth of Estefanía, his eldest daughter. His wife was in college and he was just starting his first job. Antonio’s mother forced them to get married, because she did not assimilate the idea of building a family without being committed. Due to this new challenge, his writing career was at risk; Despite this, his ideas sprouted even in the least expected spaces, such as the bus or a park bench. His most famous book began there.
Colombian writer Antonio Ortiz
MalEducada, his first hit, appeared in 2016, sold more than 20,000 copies and reached number one in four Latin American countries. This was the impulse to create another four novels, all related to youth problems. She did not study sociology or psychology, since his compass pointed to literature and, currently, to teaching. His inspiration comes from listening. It wasn’t just listening, it was understanding the stories of his students and his friends.
Paula was a student in his class. Rich family, busy parents; a girl who, due to lack of love, ran into “a deadly cocktail of friends who ended her innocence”, she recounts. She frowns as she criticizes what happens to some parents in the 21st century. “Adolescents do not know how to take responsibilities. Adults cover their children’s tracks when they do something wrong and want them to be perfect in front of others. The name MalEducada is not for Paula, it is for the lost generation of young people who exist after debauchery.
“He is the best dad in the world, although very imperfect. I was never a problematic young woman, but he was always very aware of my sister and me. When he was at school he saw that my friends’ parents were serious and demanding with them; They did not understand his bad mood or his constant sadness, ”reflects Tania, Ortiz’s youngest daughter. The basis of a good relationship between parents and children is trust, talking about those issues that daunt a child’s character. “We tell him our fears, what torments us, and for him it’s completely normal,” she says.
Sandra Zuluaga, Ortiz’s wife, emphasizes that “instructing a person, sometimes, is not that simple, since there are no adequate words. Antonio knew how to raise in a pedagogical way, with communication and example”.
He was very careful when his eldest daughter asked his permission to go out to parties. The sermon was the order of the day: Before drinking or smoking, think about how you will feel afterwards; don’t do it if you feel pressured by your friends. Ortiz did not want to be “the Grinch” of the story, but his hair stood on end at the thought that his girl would return at dawn the next day. Empathy was his salvation before the arrival of this youthful life.
As important as eating or sleeping, that’s how teaching is for Ortiz. He is a student teacher, also Tania and Estefanía’s life teacher. The love of reading is the greatest legacy that he has left in his family.
While she was publishing her first writings, she felt the anguish of thinking that girls could not find a solution to the difficulties of age. “I wanted to know how I could help them, other than with a vampire saga. Books allowed me to reach much higher. I matured as a human being, a writer, a husband and a father; this is reflected in my daughters.” They are fans of her stories. “When I wrote MalEducated, Estefanía, my eldest daughter, was 14 years old. Tears flowed from her eyes as she finished reading the book. She told me how proud she was of me: these things happen, it happens to my friends, it happens to me too, ”she says.
Colombian writer Antonio Ortiz
Relaxed and harmonious, often, this is how Ortiz defines himself; critical, when dealing with issues such as violence and anti-feminism. “We have to discipline ourselves, because we are an ultra-conservative country in which women obey men. That is the purpose of my book A forbidden silence”. His voice is solid when he testifies that the increase in intra-family conflicts occurs because the figures that a ruler presents on gender violence are more influential than the testimonies of battered women. “Colombia is not educated, because talking about this issue has become water wipes that have ignored home education that is strengthened at school,” he concludes.
They have never censored a book, but “in a country like ours it is difficult to publish about drug addiction, sexuality, anxiety and depression,” he explains. Discovering Miranda is one of his most questioned texts. “For some parents and teachers it’s just the life of a lesbian girl who doesn’t teach anything good. They do not understand, there are people identified with the characters, ”she analyzes; she examines the multicultural gap that exists in the face of social changes. “That’s why touching on these thorny issues makes the path of being a writer more difficult.”
He is still surprised when he realizes the number of messages he receives on Instagram from Peruvian followers. In 2017 he was invited to a book fair in Lima. Upon arrival, the publisher’s manager covered his desperate face, since, despite the call he made to the readers, he did not know how many people would attend the discussion. “I entered the main pavilion and there was a very long line. At that moment I asked myself: who are these people waiting for?” recalls Ortiz. They sat him on what he defines as a throne with his five texts in front of him and a multitude of eyes full of illusion. The camera lenses shot, a dozen microphones pointed at him, and applause resounded throughout the room. “This has been one of the most exciting moments of my life; I’m still not over it,” he declares. He is moved by the fact that young Peruvians identify with Colombian events; many of them fear “coming out of the closet” because of their very conservative culture.
According to a study by the National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (INEI) of Peru, carried out among 8,630 young people from the LGBTI community, 4,885 fear expressing their sexual orientation and gender identity, 72.5% of these adolescents are afraid of being discriminated against or assaulted for their sexual preference, 51.5% fear losing their family, 44.7% fear losing their job or job opportunities.
He also visited one or another evangelical school where his work was praised. “At that moment I realized that I am doing something important through books. People recognize each other and become aware of their family relationship”, says Ortiz.
Antonio Ortiz, author of What I never told you
Her passion for writing encompasses all aspects of her life. “It’s what makes him happy, it defines his way of expressing himself with songs, poetry or creating stories,” says his wife. Today, this endearing love is transmitted through social networks, with the publication of videos on advice to future novelists. “It’s very funny because you make valuable content, but people do better if they get naked,” he whispers. He loves exchanging messages with his followers and finding various life testimonies.
Write anytime and anywhere. “He tells me that his head doesn’t stop and he constantly has ideas. He is curious, because he carries out everything he thinks, although sometimes he is cool and other times not so much”, says Tania.
Ortiz, however, not only bases his texts on real issues. “Walpurgis: the first stone, it took me five years to create it, it is a work that I developed since I was 15. I finished it last year.” It is a fantasy book with powerful characters. Each one has a special gift. It takes place in a world of magical beings. “You don’t have to fit into just one niche. He may be like Stephen King who has written about horror, but he will surely have other thematic interests, ”she expresses. He adds that, among other projects, he would like to write about the life of a teacher, “my autobiography.”
From a drawer he takes three messy notebooks, some leaves fall and puts them in front of my sight. “I don’t write for people, I write for myself; As long as I’m satisfied with what I’ve written, that’s fine,” she asserts. He accepts that he has a sancocho de hojas. On one page he writes down the characters, on another the context of the story, the next contains poems or song lyrics, and in some corners mini reminders are displayed: “Warning: finish describing Simona!”
His eyes light up as he reads a fragment of his latest composition. “In the school, near the soccer field, there is a chapel. Well, I don’t know whether to define the place as a chapel, because it looks more like an astronomical observatory. They call it the oratory, a space where ceremonies of different religions are held. It is a gift from the Strauss family, some parents who lost their daughter in that field that is exactly behind the oratory. Hanna died doing what she loved the most: playing soccer. She collapsed in that same green place, defending the colors of the school despite the fact that many people humiliated her and trampled on her. When finished, she explains that her motivation came from one of her students who had died in this way.
“I write by hand and develop the idea, I go there and here. It’s like playing chess. Imagination arises as if a character were telling you and you make the descriptions. I am restless all the time”, he smiles. Taking a paper and pencil has become her biggest hobby. She sits on a bench and looks around. “Writing became my need. I float my fears, frustrations and longings. I always have a message to give ”, she concludes.