‘[Queerness)] made me a better person because I had to find different angles to the world. I couldn’t just accept what was there.’
— Ocean Vuong
Finding queer literature in today’s Spain is as easy as it is in many other countries around the world. It’s heartening to see this literature in mainstream bookshops, read reviews of it in mainstream newspapers and see queer writers taking part in TV debates and winning established literature prizes. And it’s all the more impressive when we consider where we have come from in terms of queer visibility.
Over the last thirty years, Spain has made huge leaps forward in terms of LGBTQI+ rights. In 2005 same-sex marriage was legalised, making Spain the third country in the world to give this right to queer couples. And more recently, in December 2022, a transgender rights bill was approved. These bills, along with the debates they have sparked, and despite continuing prejudice, have helped make today’s Spanish society a more accepting and respectful one than it has been in the past.
Queer literature, in its modern form, first emerged in Spain in the 1990s. The decade saw Berkana, the first bookshop dedicated exclusively to LGBTQI+ work, opening its doors in Madrid. A few years later Berkana’s founders launched Egales Press, a pioneer in Spain because it only published queer literature – a mission to which it still adheres.
Now, in 2023, queer writing in Spain has reached a point where it’s being exported to other countries. The Festival of Queer Spanish Literature in London, organised by the bookshop I run, Romancero Books, with support from the Office for Cultural and Scientific Affairs of the Spanish Embassy in London, and other organisations, has been celebrated annually since November 2021.
When asked what the main reasons are for organising this festival, I always say that we generally only see one or two events dedicated to LGBTQI+ literature in the programmes of the mainstream festivals, so I felt it was time for queer Spanish literature to have a room of its own. But I want that room to be as inclusive as possible, so I have tried to curate programmes as diverse as queer society. I don’t want to say I choose a writer, a book or a publisher for every letter of the LGBTQI+ acronym, but it is important for me at least to use the festival as a manifesto for global queer representation. I believe that when you curate, programme or select a list of names for any festival, you have a social responsibility to include as many different voices as possible; that way you can be a facilitator for change.
Each year, the festival invites important queer writers and activists from Spanish-speaking countries to take part in its programme. Each edition of the festival has a different set of objectives around which the festival events are curated. For the most recent edition, we wanted to use the festival as a platform where we could discuss the roots of queer writing and support writers who have been subject to censorship and suppression. We invited the festival curator, Joaquín García Martín, to give a lecture about the queer Madrid of 1920, and programmed two podcast episodes featuring work by Terenci Moix and Manuel Puig.
In a bid to build connections between British readers and queer literature written in Spanish and Catalan, and to promote the translation into English of this work, we invited editors from UK-based publishing houses to take part. And we also talked about queer Spanish books already translated into English, including the short-story collection Here Be Icebergs by Katya Adaui, published by Charco Press, or Boulder, the second book of Eva Baltasar’s trilogy, published by And Other Stories.
Most of us queer people grew up without the possibility of reading queer literature. We had very limited access to books that talked about our feelings, our ways of thinking, our stories, and our experience. So it is crucial that we keep writing, reading, discussing and promoting the books that tell our stories; those that convey our emotions and recount our everyday lives. And it is also crucial to ensure that new generations are never without those referents we once needed.
Queer literature can help us create a more accepting and loving society. But it cannot do so without the support of institutions. With their help we can make a diverse and pluralist society a reality.
By Jorge Garriz
Buy books from The Spanish Riveter through the European Literature Network’s The Spanish Riveter bookshop.org page.