Guadalajara International Book Fair

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Raquel Laniado has worked in the Jewish and Mexican nonprofit sectors for the last ten years. She is currently doing research about narrative structures, and works as a freelance editor and copywriter.

Thanks to ROI’s Go Network Micro Grant I was able to attend the Guadalajara International Book Fair, one of the most important publishing gatherings in Iberoamerica.

34,000 square meters held close to 2,000 national, international, scholar and independent book stands. There was a children’s area, an auditorium for cultural events, and a designated space for Argentina, this year’s “guest of honor.”

Almost 800,000 attendants were able to enjoy more than 50 daily activities during the nine days the Fair lasted. Some of the activities included award ceremonies, book presentations, debates and discussions, forums and conferences dealing with a variety of subjects such as journalism, education, diversity, science, mass media analysis, e-books, editorial design and illustration; as well as academic activities, activities for professionals, young adults, and kids.

Besides the opportunity I had to network with authors, literary agents, librarians, booksellers and other editors. I participated in various activities like the ones mentioned above and learned much about the editorial, academic and cultural worlds.

One of the panels that especially caught my attention was one titled “Literature and Memory.” In it, four Argentinian writers conversed about the forced disappearances during the Argentinian dictatorship in the 70's and 80's, focusing on the difficulty of including this subject in the country’s literature. “The people’s demands are made on the streets,” one of the panelists argued, “but writing opens up a space for critical questions.”

The panel reflected upon the power that literature (and arts in general) can have to heal social trauma by becoming aware of it as part of the collective memory. The conversation of the panel continued on the subject of how to cover such a complex and meaningful theme, without it becoming a static, oversimple image of the “official” history, that is generally played by stereotypical roles. The discussion made me think about the history of the Jewish people and, sure enough, eventually the panelists discussed some facts about the Jews and World War II. “The past needs to be periodically questioned in order to maintain its relevance (today and in the future),” concluded one of the panelists.

Another panel I particularly appreciated discussed the evaluation and education of various indigenous Mexican groups. The panel focused on the complications that arise regarding their identity and continuity, since their language and worldview is in a process of extinction due to different factors. One of these factors—the most important—is the stereotype rooted in the social imaginary, which links material poverty to a supposed lack of cultural values. This has caused the indigenous groups in Mexico to perceive themselves with a sense of no pride for their culture, resulting in them giving little to no intention of continuing their traditions and—in an equally unfavorable, yet more tangible reality—getting fewer opportunities to create and carry out an educational program that allows them to develop their roles both as members of their particular ethnic community and as Mexican citizens.

I attended a third event, where four panelists and workshop facilitators talked about whether writers are born or taught. The title of the panel was: “Can you teach/learn how to write?” The panelists talked about the literary writing process and the different necessary traits that are essential in such an emotional, yet logical occupation. They talked about the two seemingly contradicting forces a writer must have: the sensitive force—the one that generates unique worlds and deals with the creative nature of the writer—and the rational force—the one that is in charge of shaping their work with the purpose of correcting these worlds, thus making them approachable and comprehensible to their fellow readers.

After a healthy debate in which various opinions were shared, the concluding comments mentioned how the material review/correction—the one in charge with a constant rewriting—is fundamental in the creative process. That is: deleting paragraphs, rewriting them, substituting one sentence for another, and yes, erasing words, is writing. This simple insight was a powerful reminder to reexamine not only the outcomes but the process itself and the will to take risks in the entrepreneurial field or any other creative initiative in which the work has to be functional as well, in order to succeed.