Eyes on Latin American Literature: Jonathan Franzen Opens the International Book Fair in Guadalajara

There was much to talk about during the 26th edition of the world’s largest Spanish language book fair, and it wasn’t just limited to discussions about books.

An anxious crowd of young book lovers forms a line outside the FIL an hour before the public opening.

The Feria International del Libro, (FIL) for short, a world-wide recognized commercial and public book fair hosted by the University of Guadalajara in the city’s Expo convention center, was marked this year by substantial controversy over the selection of Peruvian novelist Bryce Echenique as the fair’s annual awardee. Echenique has been widely accused of plagiarism on numerous accounts by many in the literary world who, in turn, were outraged upon hearing he had been selected by the FIL jury. The FIL and its president Raúl Padilla were subject to harsh criticism in the weeks preceding the fair, and until this past weekend, it had been unclear if they were going to revoke their decision, as it threatened to tarnish the fair’s prestige among the literary community.

Long-standing President Padilla decided to proceed with honoring Echenique but opted to do so in a discrete ceremony, canceling the traditional opening-day ceremony in Guadalajara and instead presenting the author with his prize in his native Peru (which includes a $150,000 cash award.)

In place of the traditional award ceremony, the FIL instead choose to honor the literary great late Carlos Fuentes (an ALOUD guest in 2011), in a ceremony that included his wife Silvia Lemus and American novelist Jonathan Franzen. Lemus bestowed upon Franzen the newly inaugurated “Carlos Fuentes award,” and the author remarked that it was “personally meaningful to be here [in Guadalajara],” having met Fuentes and Lemus just months before Fuentes passed.

Jonathan Franzen, Silvia Lemus, Jorge Volpi

When asked about his interest in Latin American literature, Franzen admitted that after having paid attention to some of the great authors of the 1970s during the “Latin boom” (Fuentes, Márquez, Llosa) he hadn’t been keeping tabs on authors coming out of Latin America. Speaking from the stage of the expansive and diverse FIL, he said he is now ready to change that. Recently, he has been reading Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vasquez and mentioned that his decision to participate in the fair was a testament to his interest in keeping a close eye on Latin American literature.

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Other authors to keep your eye on:

Juan Villobo (Mexico)
Diamela Eltit (novelist, Chile)
Guillermo Calderón (playwright, Chile)
Angel Ortuño (poet, Mexico)

Here’s a video clip produced by Kattia Hernandez that follows my experience at the fair.

-Reporting from Guadalajara, posted by Maureen Moore

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