The Havana International Book Fair includes more than just literary presentations. One of its defining features is its board program which comprises discussions with readers, editorial debates and conferences by authors.
This 25th edition is no different, as evidenced during the inauguration ceremony on February 11, held at the Fair’s main venue in the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress (dating from 1774).
The opening ceremony which took place in the Nicolás Guillén Hall, saw the participation of Miguel Díaz-Canel, vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers of Cuba; Abel Prieto, advisor to President Raúl Castro; Julian González, minister of Culture, and Miguel Barnet, president of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), among other political and cultural figures of the island.
The President of the Cuban Book Institute and organizing committee, Zuleica Romay, commented on events taking place across the Fair’s various secondary venues, including book launches as well as important literary encounters between academics and professionals.
Given that this year the Fair is dedicated to the Eastern Republic of Uruguay, a broad delegation of intellectuals from the country are participating in presentations and conferences on Uruguayan literature, almost all of which are taking place in the Eduardo Galeano Hall.
Raul Sendic, vice president of Uruguay, also spoke at the inauguration noting Cuba’s important contribution to defending Latin American culture, as well as the longstanding ties of friendship and solidarity between the two nations, dating back to the end of the 19th century, when José Martí served as Uruguayan consulinNew York.
LAS CENIZAS DEL CÓNDOR
In 1979, 25 year old Uruguayan Fernando Butazzoni won the Casa de las Américas Literary Prize for his first collection of short stories entitled Los días denuestra sangre.The prestigious award - according to Butazzoni - confirmed his capability as a writer, “The Casa Prize marked a watershed in my literary career.”
He went on to write various other books: in 1980 his anthology of poems De la noche y la fiesta received a special mention from the Rubén Darío International Poetry Prize; in 1981 Butazzoni published his first novel La noche abierta; followed by a volume of short stories entitled Con el ejército de Sandino three years later;as well asthe novels La danza de los perdidos in 1988 and El príncipe de la muerte in 1993.
Speaking at the Eduardo Galeano Hall, he gave details about his remarkable novel which takes a new approach to testimonial and report writing, news coverage and thrillers. Las cenizas del Cóndor (José María Arguedas Narrative Prize) explores, among other issues, the period of military dictatorships which occurred across Latin America, revealing through superb literary skill and testimonials, the true story of the so-called Operation Condor.
130TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY IN CUBA
The Casa de las Américas, one of the Fair’s secondary venues, played host to the International Seminar on the 130th Anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery in Cuba, also the perfect moment to launch the center’s new Afro-America Studies Program (the institution already offers programs on Latinos in the U.S., Caribbean and Indigenous Cultures), directed by essayist Zuleica Romay, who in 2012 won the Special Research Prize for her work on the African legacy in the modern-day Americas and Caribbean entitled Elogio de la altea o las paradojas de la esclavitud.
The Seminar – noted Romay – isn’t at all a reflection on the past, but rather a wake-up call about the present day impact of slavery on our continent, and an appeal to continue addressing such issues.
As such, the Seminar series began on February 15 with a lecture by Colombian historian and researcher Alfonso Múnera (who since 2011 has served as Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States) entitled Esclavitud, abolición y pervivencias en una sociedad del Caribe continental: Cartagena de Indias.
Other noteworthy speakers included U.S. anthropologist Nina Jablonski, director of Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Human Evolution and Diversity, giving the talk The illusion of skin color, while Editorial Unión presented the book Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation, by Rebecca Scott and Jean M. Hébrard.
More than a commemorative event, the seminar served to foment new outlooks and approaches to the slave trade, its impact on both sides of the Atlantic, how slavery developed in different countries, the social and cultural impact of abolition and pending challenges.
EN BUSCA DEL UNICORNIO
In UNEAC’s Martínez Villena Hall – another of the Fair’s secondary venues - renowned essayist Graziella Pogolotti (Paris, 1932) presented her eagerly awaited book En busca del unicornio, a collection of her brief articles (around 90 lines long) published in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde.
Pogolotti is the author of countless essays, among them, “Examen de conciencia” (1965); “El oficio de leer” (1989); “Experiencia de la crítica” (2003); “Alejo, el ojo crítico” (2007) and “Dinosauria soy” (Memorias 2012).
Thanks to her speciality, Pogolott, a member of the Cuban Academy of Language, includes numerous literary references and personal anecdotes (she is the daughter of Marcelo Pogolotti one of the key figures of Cuba’s artistic vanguard during the first half of the 20th century) in these short, but through provoking essays.
Every article is a class on Cuban culture, art, literature and even coexistence. In 2005, Dr. Pogolotti received the well-deserved National Art Education Prize, and was awarded the National Prize for Literature the same year, while in 2008 the 17th edition of the Book Fair was dedicated to both her and novelist and poet Antón Arrufat.
Speaking at the presentation of her book En busca del unicornio Graziella Pogolotti, current director of the Alejo Carpentier Foundation, stated that “I would like everyone to undertake their own personal reading of the book, for everyone to find themselves within these pages.”
And what better image than a unicorn for the fair, stunning, sought after, mythic and pure…just like a book…