August saw Los Angeles host a pair of important events for the Spanish-language publishing and literary communities in the U.S. The first was the annual celebration of the International Latino Book Awards, which took place August 19 and 20 at Los Angeles City College. The second was LéaLA—a Spanish-language book fair in Los Angeles organized by the team behind the Guadalajara International Book Fair—which took place August 25–28 at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Downtown Los Angeles.

The International Latino Book Awards were established in 1997 by actor Edward James Olmos and publishing executive Kirk Whisler with the goal, according to the organizers, of “providing Latinos more access to resources to help improve their futures and to help mainstream America view the Latino community in a more accurate, less stereotypical way.” The ILBA is administered by Empowering Latino Futures, a nonprofit organization that also organizes Latino Book & Family Festivals (it has held 69 around the U.S.) and has distributed some 165,000 free books to underserved youth in San Diego.

Per its mission statement, the awards are broadly inclusive, and this year were given to 249 books across 105 categories, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, business, children’s, inspiration, religion, and books in translation. Many categories honor books published in English and Spanish, with some categories honoring bilingual books. In many cases gold, silver, and bronze medals are given, while there are special awards offered as well.

Winners come from mainstream publishers, as well as small and medium-size publishing houses. The gold medal winner for Best Latino Focused Children’s Picture Book Award–Spanish went to ¡Corre, pequeño Chaski! Una aventura en el camino Inka by Mariana Llanos, illustrated by Mariana Ruiz Johnson (Barefoot), while the winner for the same category for a bilingual book went to Let’s Be Friends/Seamos amigos by René Colato Laínez, illustrated by Nomar Perez (Holiday House). The gold medal for Best Children’s Nonfiction Picture Book–Spanish or Bilingual went to Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Magaly Morales (Abrams).

Though books published by Astra, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Random House, and Scholastic also won numerous awards, ILBA’s objective is to honor books from smaller presses and to elevate authors who might otherwise be overlooked by mainstream publishing. That is why so many awards are presented and, over the past two decades, more than 3,700 authors and books have won awards.

One publisher who has acquired ILBA winners is Omar Villasana, founder of Katakana Editores in Miami, a publishing house that specializes in literary translation and publishes books in English, Spanish, and bilingual editions. Katakana’s Spanish-language book Zugunruhe by Cuban poet Kelly Martínez-Grandal won an ILBA silver medal in 2021 for Best Poetry Book–Bilingual; Keila Vall de la Ville’s Los días animales won the gold medal for Best Spanish Novel–Adventure or Drama in 2018 and was published by Katakana last year in English as These Animal Days in a translation by Robin Myers.

Like many of his authors, Villasana was born abroad, in his case in Mexico, but moved to Miami, where he found a robust book scene, particularly of Spanish-language authors. “In Miami, we get to know very different authors, because of the access we have to them, because many of them come here to live. I have published authors from Cuba, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Spain.” Martínez-Grandal, for example, is Cuban but spent many years living in Venezuela before moving to Miami, where she works as a production editor at Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial in Miami. “Miami, with the Miami Book Fair and the Books & Books bookstore chain, has been very supportive of my books,” he said, noting that distribution can be a challenge. “As a small publishing house, I do my own distribution and sell primarily through Amazon. Some independent stores are very important to us, such as McNally Jackson in New York City and Brazos Bookstore in Houston, where they also stock our titles and have hosted events.”

The International Latino Book Awards are broadly inclusive, and this year were given to 249 books across 105 categories.

Villasana made the trip to LéaLA, which is now in its seventh year. “It has become an important sales venue for me,” he says, adding that attending LéaLA exposes him to new readers living in California and offers him inspiration about what to publish. “While there is a big audience in the Latino community for self-help and religion books, my first customer at LéaLA had a bag full of books and bought numerous Katakana books as well.” Among Villasana’s titles that drew interest at the fair were the recently published bilingual editions of No son tantas las estrellas/There Are Not So Many Stars by Isaí Moreno, translated by Arthur Malcolm Dixon, and Placeres cárnicos/Meaty Pleasures by Mónica Lavín, translated by Dorothy Potter Snyder. Lavín participated in multiple panels at the fair and signed books.

The thematic focus at LéaLA was Mayan culture, with the intention of connecting the Indigenous civilization to the present day, said the organizers. As is often common for many literary events focusing on Spanish-language literature and culture in the U.S., many discussions focused on the border and its metaphors. Supporters of LéaLA included several dozen well-known writers including Jazmina Barrera, Liliana Blum, Carmen Bullosa, and Antonio Ortuño. A keynote was given by Don Miguel Ruiz, who celebrated the 25th anniversary of his bestseller, The Four Agreements.

Sponsors included Barnes & Noble, the Los Angeles Public Library, and Telemundo. Books were sold on site by the Carlos Fuentes Bookstore of the University of Guadalajara. Among the publishers who exhibited was Mexico’s Trilce, which featured several Lucha Libre photography books by the acclaimed photographer Lourdes Grobet, who died in July. The event also highlighted the publication of the book One Hundred Voices of Ibero-America. Written to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Guadalajara Book Fair, with photographs by Maj Lindström and text by Vanesa Robles, the book brings together the testimonies and interviews of 100 writers who have taken part in the fair over the past 35 years. A digital version of the book is being given away to celebrate Guadalajara’s turn as UNESCO World Book Capital this year.