Despite looming uncertainty over future relations between Cuba and the U.S., the second U.S. Publishing Mission to Cuba, organized by Publishers Weekly and Combined Book Exhibit, returned to Havana last week with a new set of publishing professionals and nearly 400 titles by American publishers to display at the Havana Book Fair.
Organized in partnership with the Book Institute of Cuba, the U.S. Publishing Mission to Cuba is an effort to prepare for future business relations between the book industries of the two countries. This year the mission featured several new faces, among them Judith Curr, president and publisher of the Atria Publishing Group at S&S; Ted Adams, CEO and publisher of indie graphic novel house IDW Publishing; and literary agents Amy Berkower of Writers House and Kim Witherspoon of Inkwell Management.
Due to the economic embargo against the Castro regime, the 400 American titles in the U.S. Pavilion were only for display and not for sale (they were donated to the Book Institute of Cuba when the fair ended February 19). The impact of the embargo on life in Cuba, let alone book publishing, is pervasive. In opening remarks to the publishing mission, Juan Rodriquez Cabrera, president of the Book Institute of Cuba, hailed the American publishers who worked with PW in supporting the lifting of the embargo on books after last year’s mission. “We want to tell the American publishers who sent a letter [to Congress] asking to lift the blockade, that we consider it a sign of solidarity with Cuban publishers,” Cabrera said. “The blockade means we will have fewer opportunities to read American writers. We must change this.”
This year the publishing mission included about 31 American publishers and publishing professionals who gave the mission and the Havana Book Fair high marks. IDW’s Ted Adams said: “Havana is a vibrant city and the Havana Book Fair draws hundreds of thousands of people who love books. The citizens of Cuba would love to read our books and I know I’d love to publish their books. I hope our governments can continue to work together to normalize conditions between our countries. It’s time for these economic walls to come completely down.”
Combined Book Exhibit has put together this video compilation of the 2017 U.S. Publishing Mission to Cuba, an official contingent of American publishers and publishing professionals that traveled to Havana Cuba to meet their Cuban publishing counterparts. The video compilation is record of the mission’s activities at the Havana Book Fair, at the Imagine II conference, and of travels around the Cuban capital.
Alex Correa, president of the Spanish-language book distributor Lectorum, cited the books of Cuban publisher Editorial Gente Nueva, noting that most of their titles “could very well be sold in the U.S. They are nonpolitical and deal with children’s themes that are universal.”
Lorraine Shanley, president of Market Partners International said: “The Cuban publishers were eager to soak up as much information as they could, especially when it pertained to rights and translation. The other valuable experience was spending time with the range of entrepreneurs who were participating in the U.S. Publishing Mission trip. There was a lot of curiosity and energy in the group.”
The mission is as much a cultural exchange as it is a business meeting. The American group toured the National Museum of Fine Arts and the National Library (which included a meeting with its director) and there were dinners and cultural performances.
The final night in Havana (organized by Cultural Island Travel, which partners with PW and CBE to set up cultural events) featured a dinner catered at a contemporary art gallery in Old Havana, along with performances of traditional Cuban dance—updated with a contemporary pop sensibility—by a troupe of young, stylish Cuban dancers. And a virtuoso performance by Jorge Luis Pacheco, a young and justifiably acclaimed Cuban jazz pianist, and his trio, brought the house down.
Despite concerns about the future of U.S.-Cuban relations, the U.S. Publishing Mission to Cuba ended this year’s visit on an optimistic note, with both Cuban and American publishers vowing to continue to work to somehow bring the two industries closer together.