Renowned Northside novelist leaves Pittsburgh


Former writer in residence at the City of Asylum, Horacio Castellanos Moya, is having the busiest summer of his life, with a newly translated novel, “Tyrant Memory,” a book reading and signing event and a move to Iowa after five years of living on the Northside.

Before departing at the end of July to take a faculty position at the University of Iowa, Castellanos Moya gave a reading to about 140 people on Wednesday July 27. The event’s RSVP response was so large that City of Asylum had to rent a tent to accommodate the crowd.

“It went great,” said City of Asylum Director Henry Reese about the event. “The reading was terrific, and the weather was perfect.”

Castellanos Moya was born in Hondurus before moving to El Salvador with his family at a young age. He also lived in Mexico City, Toronto, Frankfurt and San José before coming to Pittsburgh as a City of Asylum resident writer. 

In addition to teaching at the University of Pittsburgh and working as a journalist, Castellanos Moya has published eight novels, all in Spanish. His position will be in Iowa’s Spanish creative writing program.

“I’m grateful to Pittsburgh because I got a lot of support here to do my work. I met very nice people that understood my situation and supported me to put all that effort into my [latest] book,” said Castellanos Moya.

Castellanos Moya’s newly translated novel, “Tyrant Memory,” is an ambitious work as it incorporates three different points of view that witness an attempted coup d’état in 1940s El Salvador.

The story’s three narrators are a conservative, Catholic woman, a friend of the woman’s husband and two men who were intimately involved in the attempt to oust the dictator. It was written to mimic a diary style and the woman’s voice provides the foundation for this piece of historical fiction.

A New York Times book review called “Tyrant Memory” is Castellanos Moya’s “most ambition novel to date.”

“I agree it’s the most ambitious in the sense that I am handling more characters and I was working on a period of history that I don’t have direct experience,” said Moya. “There was no chance of having direct sources. There are of course [some direct sources], but they are too old, and I had no access to them. My father even took part in the coup de tat, but I could not take advantage of his experience because I was too young.”

Castellanos Moya is not sure how long he will remain in Iowa, but the position will put him on track for tenure. To some extent, he says it will depend on the weather.

“I will remember Pittsburgh…with gratitude. Nothing is very far away on the planet, everything is so close now,” Castellanos Moya said.

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