In October 2022, Spain was Guest of Honour at the Frankfurter Buchmesse, thirty-one years after it was previously awarded the role in 1991. The 2022 theme was Creatividad desbordante, translated for the fair as ‘Spilling Creativity’. Spain’s Guest of Honour programme was clearly a thoughtful, deliberate (and, one assumes, at times fraught) curation of the country’s literary constellation, but the ‘Spilling Creativity’ theme suggests something more – a strategy, perhaps, for how Spain chooses to represent itself, and, to some degree, what it aspires to be.
Key to the Guest of Honour pavilion’s design were two circular stages. Each stage and its audience seating area was separated from the rest of the pavilion by a semi-diaphanous cloth curtain, which was hung from the ceiling and created a cocoon-like effect, a sense of intimacy inside a space that was actually quite porous. A space that, in effect, was conducive to ‘spilling over’, as the audience did during Inés Martín Rodrigo’s animated interview with writer Rosa Montero. I myself sat on the floor just outside the curtain during this event, along with a large group of German university students; we managed to duck beneath the curtain and tucked it behind our backs. The whole space seemed to expand like a great big breath as more people lifted the curtain-boundary between the stage area and the rest of the pavilion, and found their way in. There was a beautiful sense of expansion; a place, as it were, for all.
This sense of expansion and inclusion is key to understanding Spain’s creative sector as overflowing, abundant, uncontained – overrunning its borders. To this end, the delegation included more than two hundred writers and artists in the programme, and the line-up was a testament to the changes that have taken place in the Spanish cultural scene and book industry since its last appearance as Guest of Honour in 1991, highlighting as it did, in broad strokes, general trends in contemporary writing: writing by women across genres, Spain’s linguistic plurality, bibliodiversity, the Spanish language as a bridge to Latin America, sustainability and ecology, and a healthy tension between established literary figures and new generations of writers with their own stories to tell.
Indeed, the pavilion was a place where you might run into well-known, even famous, authors – pillars of Spanish literature and the darlings of both publishers and the culture pages of the main newspapers; figures such as Irene Vallejo, Enrique Vila-Matas, Javier Cercas, Sara Mesa or Antonio Muñoz Molina, or the above-mentioned Montero, who truly packed the house. But casual visitors were just as likely to bump into some of my own personal favourites – writers on the rise, many of them women, like Lara Moreno, Aroa Moreno Durán, María Sánchez, Cristina Morales and Katixa Agirre; some of whose work is available in English, often from small or independent presses. Writers in Galician, Basque and Catalan were also represented, and many of them, and the writers I list above, are present in these pages too.
The trends seen at the Buchmesse certainly resonate within the pages of this Riveter. The general shape of the magazine had been decided before Frankfurt, so it was heartening to find a clear synergy between what we hoped to share with anglophone readers and what was on display at the Spanish Pavilion. Like the Guest of Honour programme, this Riveter endeavours to deepen the appreciation for key writers from the last quarter of the twentieth century to the present, as well as introduce readers to writing by authors who identify as queer, writers of colour, immigrants, and a whole wave of female writers whose talent, though long a constant in Spanish letters, is now swelling to visible, unignorable heights.
And while in many ways this issue of the Riveter looks towards the future, towards innovation, plurality and diversity, no exploration of the literatures of Spain would be remotely complete without a look backwards as well. As readers of this issue will perceive, the repercussions of the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship are very much present – whether directly, or obliquely – in literature from Spain, particularly the trend that deals with historical memory, a fact of Spanish history and life that continues to touch Spanish society and citizenry today. Nor can we forget the fact that authors who write in Catalan, Galician and Basque (as well as other regional languages, like Asturian or Valencian) do so under the shadow of the official persecution and repression previous generations of writers in their languages suffered under Franco. Today, however, the literatures of Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country are revindicated, fostered, and supported, both institutionally and by their readerships. To a greater or lesser extent, writing in Spain’s co-official languages is flourishing.
While the picture may look relatively rosy, I would be remiss if I did not mention the subtle and not-so-subtle challenges we faced when commissioning and editing this issue – the balance we tried to strike as we selected books to review and extracts to include. This dance is not unlike the slightly awkward choreography that the literatures of Spain, and the cultural organisations that support them, perform at book fairs and festivals around the world. Castellano, what we know as Spanish, represents the overwhelming majority in terms of writers, original works published, readers and translations into English. This of course reflects Spanish’s actual majority in terms of speakers and its general cultural hegemony. And yet there is the sense that Spain’s other languages, while perhaps still on the back foot, so to speak, are experiencing growth in the book sector, with more institutional support, as well as a greater appetite from readers both within and without the Spanish territory.
Yet for each institutional act of inclusion, for each celebration of plurality and diversity of all stripes, there is often the accompanying concern with performative representation, the fear of ‘ticking the boxes’. For every writer or text included, dozens are necessarily left out. This absolutely essential winnowing-down of material was for me, a (first-time) guest editor, Spanish translator and avid reader of Spanish literature, the most hand-wringing part of this (wonderful) experience. If you have five minutes – or an hour or two – we can chat about all the writers and books and stories I think are exciting, important, illustrative and downright fabulous but couldn’t include in this magazine. That said, I know that the issue you hold in your hands came together organically and offers readers a compelling starting point from which to explore contemporary writing from Spain.
So, ‘Spilling Creativity’ indeed: such is the treasure trove of Spanish writing available in English that this issue could have easily been one thousand pages long (if not for printing costs and your editors’ sanity). Like all curators, we were limited by time, space, and resources, but not ganas – the desire or will. In fact, we were left with ganas de más and we expect that you, dear reader, will be too. And fortunately, we’re all in luck: when it comes to writing from Spain, the cup runneth over.
Read The Spanish Riveter here or order your paper copy from here.
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