Deming, NM- The Western New Mexico University Writer-in-Residence JJ Amaworo Wilson presented his novel Damnificados at the Marshall Memorial Library in Deming, NM on Friday, September 15. With the Silver City-based Southwest Festival for the Written Word looming, Wilson was hoping to use his presentation to expand the festivities to the greater Southwest and hopefully draw members of the Deming Community to the festival happening later this month. Wilson was accompanied to the reading by his wife, Dr. Alexandra Neves of the WNMU School of Education and their son Keannu.
As the presentation began, Wilson went into the background of his work on the novel. Many years ago, Wilson was staying at a hotel in Caracas, Venezuela in a room paid for by his publisher. Despite his publisher’s strict instructions to remain in his room, Wilson left his hotel one night and took a stroll through the Caracas streets. He came across a peculiar skyscraper, unfinished and protected by a pair of armed guards. On close inspection, Wilson could see that there were people actually living in the skyscraper.
What Wilson had found was a famed building in Caracas known as the Tower of David. Construction on the building began during an economic boom in the 1980’s, however when the Venezuelan economy took a downward turn, work on the Tower of David halted and the building remained unfinished. Not long afterward, according to Wilson, roughly 600 transients broke into the tower and began squatting there, eventually starting their own community, separate from the rest of Caracas. Wilson learned that the people that lived in the tower were known as “damnificados,” which translates to “the damned.” According to Wilson, these were people who were “born into poverty and would always live in poverty.”
However, it wasn’t only the homeless that lived in the tower. A community was raised within the Tower of David, including schools, hospitals and law enforcement. There was even a gym and other recreational activities. Soon, teachers and nurses were moving into the tower, and Wilson even claimed that families moved in. Each person craved a simpler, easier life, outside of the current government. Soon, the authorities in Caracas took notice and posted armed guards outside of the tower, hoping to discourage any further “emigration.”
Damnifcados tells a fictionalized account of this real-life community, telling the story of Nacho, who serves as a translator and messenger throughout the sixty-story building. The novel tells of a philosophical and somewhat literal “siege” on the Tower of David from the outside authorities, the both the wealthy and the government. Wilson even relates the story as a tale of David and Goliath, in which a smaller combatant manages to topple a giant. Wilson concluded his discussion by stating that the power of the people will always be greater than the people with the power. The event concluded with Wilson signing copies of his novel for the attendees.
Wilson’s novel has won numerous awards, including the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award and the Forward INDIES Book of the Year in 2016, and the Independent Publisher Book Award in 2017. Damnificados is currently available on both print and digital on Amazon. There are also plans for a French translation in the near future.