Bem vinda, Portuguese for welcome, was the phrase used to greet more than 20,000 book professionals at the 32nd edition of the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL). The largest Spanish-language book fair in the world ran from November 24 to December 2 and is becoming more multilingual with each passing year. This year’s guest of honor was Portugal, which, along with an exciting array of authors, also brought scientists and artists, who held events to highlight the best of Portuguese culture and cuisine.
Book professionals and participants from 47 countries filled the halls and presentation rooms. Some of the highlights included the participation of distinguished authors and the literary awards presented by the fair. The most prestigious award given by FIL, the FIL Literature Award, recognizes a lifetime dedicated to literature; this year’s award was presented to Uruguay native Ida Vitale, a poet, journalist, translator, and literary critic.
The 26th edition of the literary prize Premio de Literatura Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, given to female fiction writers, was awarded to Clara Usón, from Spain, for her novel El asesino tímido (The Timid Assassin). In her acceptance speech, Usón reaffirmed the right of women to write and to be recognized for their literary contributions; she also reminded the audience that most book buyers today are women and not men.
Though there were relatively few U.S. exhibitors at FIL—HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster were all present selling English-language titles—there was a growing number of Americans in the rights center. “We’re here for the first time, and we think that Latin America represents a great opportunity for our books,” said Ines ter Horst, director of rights, contracts, and permissions for Princeton University Press.
There was also a large contingent on hand looking to sell works by authors from Mexico and Latin America to the U.S. Elianna Kan recently joined Regal Hoffmann & Associates and is representing Spanish-language authors. “I’ve just sent out my first submissions to American publishers and am getting a very good response,” she said. “Curiosity about Spanish-language authors is on the rise.”
The success of English translations of books by Mexico’s Valeria Luiselli and Colombia’s Juan Gabriel Vásquez have certainly helped bring more attention to the region. “Latin-American authors and publishers are the great untapped resource of global literature,” said literary scout Diana Hernández, who lives in Barcelona. “There is a large pool of superb books that are never seen by American publishers, and my job is to help address that problem.”
That said, the main action for U.S. companies at FIL came was acquiring Spanish books for the U.S. library market. Alex Correa, president and CEO of Lectorum Publications, noted that interest in Spanish-languages titles is extending well beyond the typical enclaves of Los Angeles and Miami. “There are some 250 American librarians here from all over the U.S.,” he said. “And they are here to buy Spanish-language books because their clients are demanding them.”
Steve Rosato, business development executive of OverDrive, which distributes e-books to libraries, confirmed the interest of libraries across the U.S. in offering Spanish-language titles and noted the interest of Latin-American publishers in working with OverDrive to have their titles distributed in the U.S. “I’ve been coming here for three years now, and it is getting easier,” Rosato said. “At first, when we spoke about the library market for Spanish-language e-books in the U.S., I would get a blank look. Now, it’s a relatively straightforward transaction. Today, Spanish-language publishers ask me the terms and we get right down to business.”
Plans for FIL 2019 are already underway, with the fair intending to host India as the guest of honor—once again demonstrating that FIL is no longer a Mexican book fair but is rather an international stage with Mexican flavors.