The Fine Art of Narration and Writing

Santiago Gamboa Delivers McGill Lecture in International Studies

​Hartford, Connecticut, May 4, 2017 – Famed Colombian author and diplomat Santiago Gamboa, whose travels have resulted in eight novels and numerous short stories, regaled a packed McCook Auditorium audience on April 19 at this year’s Patricia C. and Charles H. McGill III ’63 Distinguished Lecture in International Studies.


Santiago Gamboa captivates his audience during the Patricia C. and Charles H. McGill III ’63 Distinguished Lecture in International Studies. Photo by Defining Studios. Click here for more photos. ​
Gamboa’s presentation, “The Art of Narration and Travel Writing (a Latin American Writer in India),” was delivered in both English and Spanish for the benefit of a near-standing-room-only audience. His journeys have taken him from his native Bogotá to Cuba, France, Korea, Paris, Delhi, Rome, and other places far from his Colombian homeland. He is renowned for his enlightening monologues, as well as his dispatches to one of Colombia’s leading newspapers, El Espectador. One of his novels, Perder es cuestión de método (To Lose Is a Question of Method or The Art of Losing), was an international best-seller, adapted into a film by Colombian director Sergio Cabrera in 2004. His most recent novel to be translated into English, Return to the Dark Valley, will be published by Europa Editions later this year. It joins Necropolis (2012) and Night Prayers (2016).

After thanking the McGill family, Gamboa opened his lecture by saying, “Many times, I have been asked what writing is and why I do it. The ones who write know that writing is the best way of thinking. That which is written is always real and absolutely true, given that it acquires a form and, occasionally, a vital air, as opposed to the unwritten, which is the extended and infinite universe of the not thought about.”

Gamboa likened writing to that of Mozart’s response in the movie Amadeus. Explaining that his composition was completed in his head, Mozart said, “The rest is just scrawl … not music itself. Just like literature, in which the written language transmits the work, the words are not the work itself.”

Gamboa explained, “The book is an object made out of paper and ink that in itself doesn’t contain anything artistic. The literary work is coded within the book and does exist, assuming life through language in the imagination of the reader.”

He said that the writer starts from zero and that what is literary is the way in which the writer perceives the words, then thinks about them, and finally possesses them. “The writer is alone. He can learn through reading … make comparisons, feed upon influences, and establish a genealogy, but nothing more.”

As for the art of narration, Gamboa said that if one has talent, that can sometimes be enough, but “if one has no talent, all the reading in the world will never be enough.”

“One who doesn’t have talent is much more aware of those who have it, and this is normal. It is the same as health or wealth, which attracts more awareness within those who do not have them,” he said.

At the conclusion of his presentation, before retiring to a reception in Hamlin Hall, Gamboa entertained his audience by reciting a writer’s prayer: “I promise that I wish to narrate it all and against all hope. I promise to be sincere with the truth and with the lie, and I promise to contradict myself. I promise that I will never be a writer without writing. I also promise something very simple: that each morning I will repeat this prayer: ‘Lord, I am not greedy; I just ask you for 500 words.’”

The McGill International Studies Fund was established in 1996 with a gift from Patricia C. and Charles H. McGill III ’63. The gift helped secure a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The income from the fund is to be used to support the appointment of visiting humanities scholars, primarily international scholars, in the academic areas of international studies that include African studies, Asian studies, Caribbean and Latin American studies, Middle East studies, global studies, and Russian and Eurasian studies.

Charles H. McGill III ’63 is a nationally recognized expert in mergers and acquisitions, as well as corporate strategic planning and restructuring, with significant experience in consumer products, restaurant and food service, and information services. McGill is the founding partner of Sagamore Partners, an acquisitions adviser. Previously, he was a senior executive of Fortune Brands, Dun & Bradstreet, and the Pillsbury Company. McGill is a former member of the Trinity College Board of Trustees and Board of Fellows. He received the College’s Alumni Medal for Excellence in 1993. The McGills are the parents of a 1994 Trinity graduate.

Written by James D. Battaglio