OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
Canadian author Maya Ombasic’s book Un día después de babel, written for children was presented by Editorial Gente Nueva in their Colección 21. Photo: Juvenal Balán

THE Havana International Book Fair is a special moment of the year, with the presentation of new works and editorial events taking place. It is a marvelous occasion. People suddenly feel inspired to buy books, read, participate in colloquiums, and speak with authors.

The Fair could quite rightly be considered a marathon event, with a vast program of presentations, panel discussions, and the Big Tent Bookstore; but it is also a space where readers find books, meet writers, and speak with guests - making for an enriching experience.

IN SEARCH OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

Granma International spoke about the importance of the book fair with Enrique Pérez Díaz, novelist, critic, researcher of children’s literature; member of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY); and author of a wide array of books for children and young people, including ¿Se jubilan las hadas?; Inventarse un amigo, and Escuelita de los horrores, among over 40 titles.
“In my case, I have a direct public which are children, and adults, who are mediators. That’s why I always attribute so much importance to the Fair, and this contact serves as a channel to negotiate rights, revisions, changes in perspectives.”

As advisor to the President of the Cuban Book Institute and an author, Pérez Díaz maintains close links with children’s literature.
Is children’s literature still thought to be a lesser genre?

This has always been a false concept. It’s the most difficult kind of literature, and is now the most popular, the most lucrative, researched, and controversial form of literature. I think it is a concept held by the most elitist writers. We write for children, and so are read by everyone. Books written for children help people to grow.

Children’s literature is receiving special attention at the Fair, with spaces dedicated to this genre alone, such as the Tesoro de Papel Hall and the Dora Alonso conference and presentation room.

This year, to celebrate 10 years of two large collections by Gente Nueva (also celebrating its 50th anniversary): Colección 21, contemporary literature, and Colección Ámbar, the publishing house is offering many new and reprinted works, including titles by Pérez Díaz himself, such as Escuelita de los horrores, a popular book ever since it was first published almost 20 years ago, and two-times winner of the National Library’s most requested book prize.

“I’m very happy with the edition because young people that read Escuelita… as kids now write children’s literature, such as Layne Vilar and Mikel José Rodríguez, who have both spoken about the significance of what reading this book meant to them in the lives, and as writers.”

THE REFINED HUMOR OF MARGARET ATWOOD

Works by Margaret Atwood are one of the great attractions at the 26th Havana International Book Fair. Photo: Mireya Castañeda Photo: Granma

Children’s literature is also present at the pavilion dedicated to this year’s guest country of honor: Canada. There readers can purchase two books from the northern nation: Un día después de Babel by Maya Ombasic, who has written a beautiful yet sad story based on her experience as a young girl living inBosnia and Herzegovina; and Un verano de amor y cenizas; a novel about young love by Aline Apostolska.

While appreciating works in the Canadian pavilion, following its inauguration, Cuban Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto - speaking alongside the Speaker of the country’s Senate, George J. Furey - noted that the influence of the hegemonic cultural industry, above all that of the United States, is still strong in Cuba, but the fact that Cuban readers have the opportunity to become more familiar with a culture as rich as Canada’s, with a group of exceptional writers, is very important.

The Minister also highlighted the social and cultural similarities between the two nations, “For example, Canada’s struggle to construct and defend its identity based on different components is similar to the history of our culture which has elements from Africa, different regions of Spain, China, and various Caribbean islands. The intellectual vanguard has to fight hard to defend this identity.”

It is very important that Canada has accepted this invitation and has come with this number of artists and authors, and has brought all these books, stated Abel Prieto.

Meanwhile, George J. Furey, speaking briefly to GI stated that he was “very pleased to receive the invitation, as Cuba and Cana not only enjoy an over 70-year diplomatic relationship, but most importantly, a longstanding, continuous friendship.”

Regarding the Fair, Furey said, “I think it’s fantastic, a great opportunity for Canadian authors to be here and show the great diversity of books written in Canada.”

These authors include Margaret Atwood, a literary icon who needs no introduction. A prolific poet, literary citric, teacher, and political activist, Atwood’s works have been translated into some 30 different languages. She has also been awarded 16 honorary degrees, and the Prince of Asturias Award, among many other distinctions. Strangely enough, in the world of literature, despite having been nominated for a Nobel Prize, the Canadian author is yet to receive the prestigious award.

Atwood’s extensive body of work includes 10 titles for children, such as Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop's Wunderground Washery, which was adapted into a television series in 2011.

Works of children’s literature are in high demand at this year’s fair. Photo: Juvenal Balán

Three of Atwood’s books have already been presented at the fair, with the author herself in attendance: El quetzal resplandeciente; a collection of some of her many short stories in which readers can appreciate her unmistakable style and subtle humor.

The second book, Poetry Anthology, an English-Spanish edition, was presented by Nancy Morejón, who translated the work together with poet Pablo Armando Fernández (both National Prize for Literature Winners). Atwood thanked the two writers for their careful translation, noting that “translation is a difficult art, for which it is vital to know the right words to select given the impossibility of a literal translation.”
The third title, Desde el invierno, features works by 23 Canadian authors, written in English and was complied with the help of novelist, Graeme Gibson, who is also Atwood’s spouse. Gibson’s novel Perpetual Movementwas also presented during the fair.

Following the presentation of her works in the Canadian pavilion, which saw a large turnout, Atwood responded to three questions by GI.

Writing is a solitary task. How has success affected you?

It’s true, that as a profession, writing doesn’t attract people who fear solitude. Being a writer includes three key elements, the author, the book and the reader. The relationship between the reader and what you’ve written. Success is something different, it’s impossible to explain.

What are you currently working on?

Several projects but I never talk about them. I can say that I hope to be able to dedicate some time to several poems that I’ve been storing up.

What does the future hold?
I don’t know about my personal future, I hope that it continues to be a long one. In regards to the world, we are in a moment of transition, we don’t know what’s going to happen, everything is very unstable. I can’t say what will happen in the future.

THE MODERNISM AND MODERNITY OF ISMAELILLO

Following the trail of children’s and youth literature we arrive at the Centro de Estudios Martianos (Martí Studies Center). The institution was inaugurated on July 19, 1977, but since 1982 has been based in a building of particular significance located in the Havana neighborhood of Vedado; that of the former home of José Francisco Martí Zayas Bazán (La Habana 1878-1945), son of José Martí and inspiration behind the poetry anthology Ismaelillo.

Speaking to this publication, Center Director Ana Sánchez, noted that the institution has served as one of the Book Fair’s secondary sites since 2011, while 2017 is a special year for the establishment: “We are very happy, firstly because the Fair is dedicated to Dr. Armando Hart who has always been linked to the development of the Center and because we are celebrating our 40th anniversary.”

Sánchez noted that the Centro de Estudios Martianos is presenting six new and seven re-printed editions of works by José Marti, which she described as “very necessary texts today.” These include Cartas a María Mantilla, La edad de oro, Versos Sencillos, in both English and Spanish, and verses from the anthology Ismaelillo, all of which are dedicated to children and young people.

“In addition to presentations we also always try to offer a scientific program, which is why we have organized a panel discussion on modernism and modernity in Ismaelillo, celebrating 125 years since it was first published.”

Ana Sánchez also highlighted the presentation of two works which best represent the Center: the 38th and 26th editions of Anuario and Las Obras completasde José Martí (1853-1895), noting that the new versions have been arranged and complied by date, theme, and genre.

The annual encounter with books and authors began in the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress on February 9 and will continue in the capital through the 19th; as such this publication will continue to offer new topics and perspectives on events in this year’s edition of the International Book Fair in subsequent editions.