7 questions to José Maria Vieira Mendes

José Maria mostly writes for the theatre, but he also writes opera librettos, literary translations and — so far — two children’s books. His debutting on Planeta Tangerina’s catalog with the book Para que serve? (What is it for?). The text was born from a conference for children, held at Teatro LU.CA in January 2019.

Tell us about the conference that inspired this book. We wish we had been there…

I really enjoyed doing this conference, for which Teatro LU.CA challenged me to answer the question “What is culture for?”. This briefing created a certain expectation that was fun to dismantle — because, as you can imagine, I didn’t actually answer the question…

When did you start developing this habit to ask questions to questions? And where has it led you to?

I was often faced with questions to which I couldn’t find answers, no matter how much I learned or reflected on them. At a certain point, I decided to try understanding where those questions were coming from — why they existed —, which then led me to understanding that maybe the lack of answers wasn’t my problem: the problem was in the actual questions. And that’s why I decided to start asking questions to questions, especially to the most difficult ones.

Don’t you fear that, in the end, some readers will ask “what’s a book like this for?”?

No, because we can all find a way to answer that question. The book is used for many purposes: reading, spending time, holding a door, hiding a ticket or protecting you from the sun. Instead I’d like the readers to reach the conclusion that when we’re holding a good book it doesn’t matter what it is for. That’s what makes it a book — and sets it apart from a corkscrewer, for example.

How did you find the experience of creating a picture book together with an illustrator?

Madalena’s illustrations have a dialogue with the text and are part of a book which is the sum of both — reaching a result the text alone never imagined possible.

In regards to your writing experience, what’s the difference between writing for this kind of picture book and writing for a theatre play?

There are many differences, but there’s also a similarity: the possibility to allow yourself to be surprised by a collaboration that leads you to places where you never imagined you could be. Working with others can be truly wonderful.

What is a pandemic like this for?

It’s for many things, but its utility isn’t its strongest power. Its strongest powers are the things it causes to each one who’s living it — such as unsettlement, pain, suffering, anger, death or nuisances. But it will go away.

Before we finish, is there any question you’d like to ask?

What’s the use of asking questions to someone who wrote a book?