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Best field trip ever: Guadalajara International Book Fair

A guest post from Lisa Gardinier.

At 5am on the day after Thanksgiving, when most of Iowa City was either soundly asleep for the holiday weekend or wide awake for Black Friday sales, I was somewhere in between and on my way to the airport and headed to Mexico. This was no holiday getaway, but a working trip. I attended the 26th “edition” of the Guadalajara International Book Fair (Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara, FIL) as the University of Iowa’s new Latin American & Iberian Studies Librarian.

The FIL is the Spanish-language publishing industry’s largest trade fair and is held annually from the last weekend in November to the first weekend in December in the Expo Guadalajara, the largest convention center in Latin America, in Mexico’s second largest city. During nine days, over 700,000 people attend the FIL, which probably becomes the largest bookstore in the world in that given week, with over 1,000 stands representing publishers, bookstores, and national publishing associations, as well as a very full schedule of panel talks, book presentations, and even a free concert series. The FIL has a special invited country of honor every year and this year was Chile. Over 100 librarians from the United States and all types of libraries – public, academic, and school libraries – attend with support from the FIL and the American Library Association.

IWP was well-represented by its alumni, with 13 on the schedule from throughout the history of the program, though I didn’t get to see nearly as many as I would have liked. Leopoldo Brizuela (Argentina, ’03) presented Una misma noche, his latest novel and the book for which he received the Premio Alfaguara de Novela 2012. Alberto Fuguet (Chile, ’94) presented the 20th-anniversary edition of his early novel, Mala onda [Bad vibes], alongside his latest book, Cinépata (una bitácora), a collection of writing on film. He also participated in two panels, including one on adapting literature to film. Luisa Valenzuela (Argentina, ’69) presented her own new novel, La máscara sarda: El profundo secreto de Perón, as well as participated in panels honoring the late Carlos Fuentes and presenting his posthumously published novel, Federico en su balcón. The Fuentes panel was briefly upstaged when a fellow participant pointed out former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos in the audience.  Even Etgar Keret (Israel, ’01) attended the FIL, as the Spanish translations of his works have been very popular and Israel is next year’s invited country.

As a new librarian at UI, I try to meet the faculty in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese when possible. Of course, Roberto Ampuero (Chile, ’96), University of Iowa assistant professor of Spanish and current Chilean ambassador to Mexico, was at the FIL, both in his official capacity as ambassador and in his more familiar role as a writer. He was gracious enough to find time in his very busy schedule to meet with me for a few moments. As the ambassador of the invited country of honor to the host country of the FIL, Ampuero led a delegation of over 300 professionals from the Chilean publishing industry, including editors, translators, agents, over 100 authors, and even a chef. In his literary role, Ampuero presented his latest novel, El último tango de Salvador Allende, with premier Mexican historian Enrique Krauze. Needless to say, the experience of meeting a faculty member currently serving as an ambassador in the middle of a large international book fair is a professional experience that won’t be forgotten.

The general public – who pay only 20 Mexican pesos, or about US$1.50, for a day pass – not only see the exhibit hall and official panels and presentations, but have the opportunity to run into the chance encounters that happen when hundreds of authors and intellectuals are brought together. Jorge Edwards, Chilean writer and ambassador to France, attended Ampuero’s presentation and then spent a few minutes afterward chatting with Krauze in the hallway, and thankfully no one seemed to mind that they were blocking most of it. Or, on Friday when thousands of schoolchildren attended the FIL – best field trip ever? – and I got stuck in the middle of a crowd of teenagers screaming over an actor or singer walking by. I asked a dozen people and never got an answer on who that might have been. The invited country coordinates the free concert series which included Los Jaivas, Javiera Mena, and Los Bunkers. While Los Bunkers attracted seemingly every teenager in Guadalajara, I’d wager Los Jaivas brought in every expatriate Chilean within a day’s drive of the city.

Professionally, my purpose at the FIL was to buy books, learn about the Spanish-language publishing industry, and, maybe, make a few connections. Buying books is the easy part. (Shipping them, however, is another story and would be a dull blog post.) Among the 133kg of books to be added to the University of Iowa Libraries’ collection, are several new IWP alumni publications, including Alberto Fuguet, Pilar Quintana, and Fabián Casas. Just as Tim Shipe’s IWP connections were important to the success of his trip through the Balkans in early 2012, IWP was crucial to meeting publishers and writers at the FIL. Matías Correa (Chile, ’12) introduced me to his publisher, Diego Álamos of Chancacazo Publicaciones, through e-mail and we set up a meeting for early in the week of the book fair. Álamos in turn introduced me to a few other publishers, which eventually snowballed into meeting six independent Chilean publishers, many of them writers themselves.

Of course an event as large as the FIL impacts the city of Guadalajara, and more than just snarling traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods. Many local groups take advantage of the influx of literary-minded visitors to stage their own parallel events and festivals. Two that came to my attention, especially as opportunities to buy interesting and unique materials for the UI Libraries collections, were La Otra FIL and Noches Cartoneras. La Otra FIL [The Other FIL] organized small independent publishers and authors in cultural centers around Guadalajara each night for the duration of the FIL. Noches Cartoneras [Cardboard Nights] was hosted by a small cultural center on the edge of downtown and focused on the cartonera format, books that are published with hand-decorated recycled cardboard covers. The FIL also organizes events curated by the host country. This year included a Chilean film series at the Universidad de Guadalajara and an exhibit of Mapuche silver at the Museo Regional de Guadalajara, among others.

All in all, it was one of the busiest work weeks I’ve had as a librarian – this was not the beach-and-margarita trip to Mexico – but one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in professional travel. It was made possible by the American Library Association and the Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara through the ALA-FIL Free Pass Program, with additional support from the University of Iowa Libraries.

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