Every year on April 23, the residents of Barcelona celebrate Dia Sant Jordi (Saint George Day) by giving each other books and roses. The swapping began in 1926, when a Barcelona writer and editor realized that the dates of Shakespeare's and Cervantes' deaths coincided. The day is celebrated around the globe as World Book Day. In Barcelona however, where Saint George is the city's patron saint, the event is especially important for booksellers who cite it as their biggest sales day of the year.
This year, the literary and film agency Pontas took the occasion to mark its own 25th anniversary.
Anna Soler-Pont founded the agency in 1992. At the time she was a freelance copywriter and proofreader, with a degree in Arabic languages. After meeting a group of female authors who asked for representation for their novels in Europe, she eventually agreed to represent the women.
For the first four years, Pontas represented only women writers working in Africa or the Middle East. Though the agency has since expanded to represent men, it remains important to Soler-Pont that the firm handle more female authors than male. (Pontas also makes a point to hire more women.)
Today, Pontas represents film and literary rights for 76 authors from five continents. Pontas authors have published 1,540 books in the past 25 years. Despite the numbers, Soler-Pont insists that the firm cannot take on more than 100 clients, lest it compromise the integrity of its work.
For Pontas’ anniversary, Soler-Pont flew many of the agency’s authors to Barcelona, some coming from as far afield as Singapore and Jakarta. Among the agency's writers in attendance were JJ Bola, Milena Busquets, Eka Kurniawan, Susana Fortes and Dolores Redondo.
“We decided to celebrate only with the authors because they are the core of this project,” Soler-Pont explained in a short speech during a celebratory dinner.
This commitment is something the authors value. “It’s like having a team look after you, not just one agent,” said Winnie M Li, who was “approached aggressively” by Pontas after she was a runner-up for the CWA Debut Dagger 2015 for her debut novel, Dark Chapter (forthcoming in the US from Polis Books, September).
This ethos is something Soler-Pont confirmed. “Our aim is to give voice through fiction to as many different points of view as possible,” she said. “We want to get across the message that the whole world is interested in the same subjects, but what changes is the point of view.”
Given this outlook, it was fitting that Barcelona was also hosting with the first UNESCO Cities of Literature Meeting to be hosted by Barcelona. Barcelona was bestowed with the title of UNESCO City of Literature in December 2015, and this year hosted 15 fellow literary cities for a weekend of meetings discussing reading, libraries, publishing, bookselling, and lead by the head of the Barcelona Ciutat de la Literatura de la Unesco, Marina Espasa.
Coordinator of the UNESCO Cities of Literature network, Poland's Justyna Jochym, was particularly blown away by Sant Jordi, commenting: “It is very exciting to see the whole city, readers, booksellers, publishers, involved, showing their love for the book.”