The 27th International Book Fair has toured the entire Cuban territory. After concluding his Havana chapter last February, the texts traveled throughout the country, with the Fair finally ending on May 13 in the city of Santiago de Cuba.
To gauge the progress of the most popular of the country’s cultural events, Juan Rodríguez Cabrera, president of the Cuban Book Institute (ICL), was pleased to talk with Granma International, to put forward his impressions and experiences.
“This year, the Hurricane Irma situation made it difficult to think about the Fair. The country has made an extraordinary effort to guarantee a Fair that has been presenting, both in the Cabaña (in Havana), and the provinces, more than 600 new releases.”
So we can speak of a Fair with a good supply of books?
We have managed to ensure that all the books that were in the Cabaña arrived to the rest of the country, which depends on the Fair organizing committee, the efficiency of the province and its institutions. In recent months, we have been able to appreciate a very interesting response in the provinces. I can tell you that, with the new releases that have come out, as well as previous stocks, and a huge price reduction, there has been an important presence of books in each territory.
Despite the hurricane, and a year in which we had to conclude the production of books in May, we have not been obliged to regret that there are no books to offer the population, even when we know the population wants more new titles, more variety and quality. And we are already working on the battle to ensure the 2019 Fair is better supplied. We have already approved the corresponding 2018 plan. The country has acquired the necessary paper to support not only the production of what remains pending, but also the productive continuity for the next Fair.
What could characterize the 2019 edition?
We are already fighting to ensure new releases reflect a Fair that will be dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the Revolution, and Havana’s 500th anniversary. Fifteen books in the 500th Anniversary of Havana collection have already been produced, and there will be a special boost to production to complete the more than 35 books dedicated to commemorate this celebration, which is not only for those of us who live and work in the capital.
How is the organization of the provincial chapters of the Fair advancing?
The provinces choose their moment, seeking not to coincide with other events, and there is planning with a view toward the participation of other bodies, since that the Fair surpasses book and cultural institutions.
The level of organization has been achieved through the quality of the programming, in the ability to hold forum-debates on topics that can strengthen book quality, and this year, much importance has been given to recovering those levels of reading that our people always had. We know there are many things that affect it, but we are not at war with the digital book. We are giving it its space. That’s why in this Fair, in the Cuba Digital space, more than 18 of the country’s institutions put all their resources into ensuring that young people and children could download digital products, interacting, so that they can contribute to their culture and learning. This has also reached the provinces. Not to keep them in centers, but to encourage debate and reading, and continue struggling against all that distorts real culture. Despite all the threats that vulgarity and pseudo-culture favor today, we work so that people don’t lose sight of the main objective of preparing themselves as better human beings and preserving the essences of their culture, which are in these works.
The role of the Territorial Publishing System is invaluable…
Cuba has a wealth of publishing. That Cuba can say it has publishing houses in every province, some with more than one, is a real strength. The Territorial Publishing System (22 publishing houses) has allowed 4,500 authors to publish their books, which they would not have been able to do otherwise; and that 4,500,000 copies have been published, which is a great merit.
The Cuban Book Fair is very special…
I recently participated in a virtual forum by the Regional Center for the Promotion of Books and Literature in Ibero-America, made up of 24 countries. It was revealed that the big fairs of the region do not reach the countryside, the small towns. And this offered us the possibility of stating that, although Cuba doesn’t have a perfect formula, here books travel throughout the country, and that beyond the Havana Fair, all provinces have the right to hold their own.
And once the provinces finish, we are already immersed in the Book Festival in the mountains, where the titles, together with the authors, reach the most remote sites. Then follows the Summer Festival, and behind it, the University Book and Reading Festival.
We are already fighting to ensure there are more new releases next year, more books than people expect. We are struggling to have the books in time, bearing in mind that the arrival of paper to the country has stabilized. We are very clear on what needs to be worked on. Delays are not always due to resources, but to failures on the part of those working on them, and not doing what is required, and we are dissatisfied in this regard.
How can better fairs be achieved in the provinces?
By advising the provinces in time, they can have the budgets prepared for their fairs; they can better manage financial resources. While before there was a single distributor that received the books and then became a spokesperson for the entire publishing system, to sell the books in the provinces, today everything has been reorganized such that each publishing house and its editors, authors and promoters, must work across the entire country, until the books reach the hands of readers. When the UH (University of Havana) publishing house sells its books to Guantánamo, it can’t just be satisfied that the Provincial Center has paid for those books, it needs to interest itself in the cultural activities held in Guantánamo to ensure the texts reach their final destination. One of the best forms of doing this is for the author to accompany the book, or for it to be taken to where it is awaited.
More than 4,000 titles
More than 600 new releases
1,292,000 books were sold during the Fair
2,147,000 visitors to the Fair, 30% more than in 2017