ACLAIIR AGM & Seminar 2014 : the report

David Lowe, Head of European Collections at Cambridge University Library welcomed ACLAIIR to Cambridge for the AGM & Seminar 2014. The year has been a good one so far for Cambridge in terms of Spanish and Portuguese collections, with the acquisition of almost 2,000 comedias sueltas from the 17th to 19th centuries, and a gift of approximately 70 titles from the library of film-maker Jonathan Gili, son of the well-known Catalan publisher and translator Joan Gili. The library also received around 400 art books from the library of the late art expert Nigel Glendinning.

In Portuguese, the library has acquired 12 original first editions of Eça de Queirós. You can read more about this collection on the library’s European Collections blog.

The department of Spanish & Portuguese at Cambridge welcomes its first ever lecturer in Brazilian Studies, Dr. Maite Conde, and is pleased to report that enrolment  figures for Portuguese are increasing, with 100 students listed for the academic year 2013-14. Catalan is also on the rise, with the recent appointment of Prof. Brad Epps to Head of Department. Amongst many other areas, Prof. Epps has a strong interest in Catalan literature and film.

In further departmental news, Prof. Alison Sinclair, Principal Investigator of the AHRC-funded project ‘Wrongdoing in Spain, 1800-1936’ is due to retire at the end of this academic year. You can find two blog posts which describe some of the pliegos sueltos in more detail on the British Library European Studies blog: ‘Orrible crimes and ghastly murders and Hell hath no fury… : More wrongdoing and further foul deeds in Spain.

OPEN ACCESS: The future of academic publication?

We were pleased to welcome some very knowledgeable speakers to our seminar on Open Access. Our first panel looked at OA from the publishing perspective, with Ellen Collins starting us off with her presentation about the work of OAPEN-UK. Ellen gave details of the ‘matched pairs’ pilot that OAPEN-UK is undertaking in order to try and provide evidence for the impact of OA on publishing models. 45 ‘like pairs’ of books have been identified, with one book in the pair being made available as an open access publication. The idea is gather information about the effect this has on the sale of the book, as there is currently very little evidence available about the impact of making a book open access. The project is focusing on the Humanities and Social Sciences, as these areas tend to use information in a different way to STEM (Science, technology & Medicine) subjects.

OAPEN-UK is working with stakeholders to help them understand the challenges and processes associated with open access publication. There has been a great deal of change over the last 3 to 4 years, and whilst libraries (particularly in academia) are following developments closely, large vendors and commercial suppliers have not been as involved. Problems with Document Rights Management and pricing coupled with a lack of incentive to change have led to inertia in this area. However, Ellen emphasised that this was a good time to try and encourage new processes and workflows in publishing culture that will allow all kinds of stakeholders to embrace open acces publications. There is something of a culture shock; for universities, the cost of publishing an OA book can be high. Quotes range from £150 per chapter to £11,000 per book. There are also issues of prestige tied up with traditional publishing models, and it can be difficult to get all publishers to be transparent about costs.

Whilst the main focus in the UK so far has been on the ‘gold’ route to open access publication, where a fee is paid to make a book available, Ellen hopes that future projects will also look at ‘green’ routes, where scholarly output is made available free of charge through an institutional or other open access repository.

Daniel Pearce, Senior Commissioning Editor for Humanities and Social Sciences journals at Cambridge University Press, stepped up to give the view from a major academic publishing house. CUP publishes around 325 academic journals and over 2,000 books a year in HSS (Humanities and Social Sciences) and STEM subjects, with a 50/50 split of content. OA is certainly a growing area, and CUP are fully committed and engaged with the topic. They offer green, gold and hybrid options, with some content being funded by APCs and others by funding bodies. CUP work closely with learned societes, many of whom are concerned about OA as a potential threat to their journal income. There is some trepidation around approaching open access initiatives, and a feeling that investment in editorial processes is paramount to preserve quality.

Currently CUP has 6 fully gold journals and 208 hybrids, although only 5% of articles published are in HSS subjects. OA is certainly growing however, and CUP are planning to launch more OA journals with two forthcoming in Economics and History of Science. However, gold is not always the answer, and CUP are investigating viable and sustainable green options.

Our final speaker of the first panel was Rupert Gatti, co-founder and the third Director of Open Book Publishers as well as a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he is a Director of Studies in Economics. Rupert firmly believes that the future of academic publishing is open access, and asked some searching questions about the role of the publisher in an OA world. He felt that it was important to prevent OA publishing models from revolving around platforms that could be monetised or monopolised. Traditional models were based around restriction, whereas open access models should be about dissemination. Rupert gave some examples of pre-peer review repositories such as arXiv and PubMed Central, post-peer review such as SciELO and DOAJ, and publisher platforms such Public Library of Science (PLoS).

Our second panel focused on the impact of open access on research and teaching from an academic perspective. Martin Eve, Lecturer in the Faculty of Media Humanities and Performance, University of Lincoln, presented an overview of scholarly economics and introduced the Open Library of the Humanities project. Take a look at Martin’s presentation for the full details:

Ernesto Priego, UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, is also Editor-in-Chief of The Comics Grid,   an open access, open peer review academic journal dedicated to comics scholarship. He highlighted some of the challenges faced by academics trying to fight the slowness and opacity of peer review processes, particularly early-career researchers or postgraduates. Ernesto also mentioned the researcher-led publisher Ubiquity Press founded at UCL as an open access publisher of peer-reviewed, academic journals. Although access and availability is key, Ernesto also emphasised the importance of appropriate licensing for academic material where one of the main issues is of restrictive terms of resuse.

Closing the session, Jenny Bunn from UCL’s Archives and Records Management programme addressed the topic of MOOCs. She pointed out that although making scholarly resources accessible is good, this alone is not sufficient: users need to be encouraged to engage with the material to really take advantage of open access. This applies to the general public even more so than academics. Jenny noted that the MOOC she ran at UCL, Introduction to Digital Curation, was an open course and participants did not have to be registered students. With 800 people on the course, this created a big problem for access to library resources as many of these are restricted to registered students of UCL.  It can be a real challenge to find accessible material that is truly open. One need look no further than the #icanhazpdf hastag on Twitter to see how academics across the globe are struggling to access the research they need for their work. Jenny echoed some of the earlier speakers when she stated that in some senses we had forgotten the reason we want to publish: to disseminate ideas, in order to share and connect with others. Jenny’s slides are available at the link below.

Jenny Bunn : Open Access Presentation

The seminar was a great forum to discuss these issues surrounding open access, and the question and answer sessions after both panels were lively and engaging. The debate continued at the wine reception and a good time was had by all. Many thanks to all those who participated in a very successful day.

Early Photography in Spain

This post is reblogged with kind permission of the author, and was originally posted on the BL European Studies blog: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/european/2014/06/early-photography-in-spain.html 

The Spanish National Library in Madrid (Biblioteca Nacional de España; BNE) has mounted a small, but representative exhibition drawn from its photographic collections, entitled ‘Fotografía en España (1850-1870)’. In that period, demand for photography grew rapidly as a means of documenting events and of capturing images of landscape, famous buildings, city landmarks, and art works. Photography also became a new medium for portraits of leading contemporary figures and of the family. It was also important for recording infrastructure projects.

Several of the photographers who worked in Spain were foreign. One of them was a Welshman, Charles Clifford (1819-1863), who set up business in Madrid in late 1850. He produced a considerable body of material over a short period of time, including the album Voyages en Espagne (1856), consisting of some 400 images of famous civil and ecclesiastical buildings and monuments.

Spanish Photos (GW) BNE CharlesClifford1
Charles Clifford. Palacio de la Reina, Barcelona (1860).  BNE.

Clifford’s success brought him the patronage of the Queen Isabel II. He recorded some of the construction projects being undertaken in her reign, notably that of the canal which brought a secure supply of fresh water to Madrid and which bears her name.  In fact ‘Canal de Isabel II’ is still the name of the water utility of the Madrid region. He also accompanied the Queen on her royal journeys around Spain.

Another leading photographer, the Frenchman Jean Laurent (1816-1886), began his career in Madrid before Clifford. He too specialised in city views, buildings and monuments, and also in photographing works of art. The BNE exhibition includes his photograph of the Congreso de los Diputados  and also of Velázquez’s Las Meninas.

Spanish Photos (GW) BNE Laurent1
Jean Laurent. Congreso de los Diputados, Madrid (1855-60). BNE.

Both Laurent and Clifford produced images of the Alhambra, considered probably the most picturesque (in the literal sense) site in Spain and an undoubted draw for the growing number of travellers in the second half of the 19th century. Another favourite destination was Santiago de Compostela, and the exhibition includes a photograph of the Pórtico de la Gloria by another British photographer, Charles Thurston Thompson (1816-1868).

The exhibition includes a number of other subjects. There are portraits, e.g. of Pedro Antonio de Alarcón (author of The Three-Cornered Hat), the actress Adelaida Fernández Zapatero and the painter José María Castellanos; a female nude; and various ethnographic scenes.

The British Library does not systematically collect photographs. However, a number of special collections are held. Among these is a relatively little-known collection of photographs of Spain by British photographers. There are 230 photographs by Clifford, gathered in three albums, two of topographical and architectural views and the other of images of armour from the Real Armería  in the Royal Palace in Madrid. It is probable however that some of the photographs contained in this last album were the work of his wife, Jane, although they are generally attributed to Charles Clifford. Jane Clifford was an accomplished photographer in her own right and maintained the studio after Charles’s death. One of the albums of views (shelfmark 1785.c.1) was part of the bequest to the British Museum in 1900 of Henry Spencer Ashbee, the noted collector of works both of Miguel de Cervantes and of erotica.

Spanish Photos (GW) Madrid
Charles Clifford. Calle de Alcalá, Madrid , with the Cibeles fountain (ca. 1857). BL, 1785.c.1, no. 57.

Spanish Photos (GW) Salamanca
Charles Clifford. West door of Salamanca Cathedral (ca. 1858). BL 1704.d.9, no. 65.

The Library also holds 39 photographs by Charles Thurston Thompson, some of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the rest of the monastery church of Santa Maria da Vitória, Batalha, in Portugal. These are held in two albums. Thompson held a post as photographer of art works at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). In 1866 he travelled to France, Spain and Portugal on a photographic expedition on behalf of the Department of Science and Art.

Spanish Photos (GW) Portico 2

Charles Thurston Thompson. Pórtico de la Gloria, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, with the statue of the Saint (1866).  BL 1811.a.18, no. 4.

Geoff West, Lead Curator Hispanic Studies, British Library

Bibliography

Lee Fontanella, La historia de la fotografía en España (Madrid, 1981). LB.31.b.6876

Lee Fontanella, Clifford en España. Un fotógrafo en la Corte de Isabel II (Madrid, 1999). LF.31.b.5746

See also the British Library’s historic photographs feature: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/features/photographicproject/index.html and the  online catalogue of photographs: http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/photographs/

- See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/european/2014/06/early-photography-in-spain.html#sthash.Jh6bUPzL.dpuf

Launch of The Cambridge Companion to Jorge Luis Borges

On Wednesday 14 May, a large audience of specialists and non-specialists gathered at the Residence of the Argentine Ambassador in London for a round-table discussion to greet the launch of this recent volume on Jorge Luis Borges. The editor, Edwin Williamson (Oxford) and three of the contributors, Evelyn Fishburn (London), Robin Fiddian (Oxford) and Philip Swanson (Sheffield) were welcomed by the Ambassador, Her Excellency Sra. Alicia Castro.

Borges launch 2

Ambassador Castro opened proceedings with a very personal recollection of Borges and his comments on the fate of the military junta in the wake of the end of the dictatorship in the 1980s. Professor Williamson then introduced the Companion, a work that aims to bring together an international group of Borges scholars to discuss all aspects of the writer’s oeuvre, including stories, poetry and essays, in their historical and biographical context.

The other panellists then spoke about their own contributions to the volume. Evelyn Fishburn assessed religious themes in Borges’ work, including his interest in kabbalah and mysticism. Robin Fiddian presented his recent work on the relationship between post-colonial theory and the Argentine’s cuentos and poems.

Borges launch 3

Philip Swanson continued this insight into the Companion with a presentation on the presence of popular culture in Borges’s writing. Although widely regarded as an erudite writer divorced from the masses and contemporary forms of entertainment, one cannot overlook the importance of film, detective fiction, and tango in the Argentine’s work.

Edwin Williamson then gave a summary of his own chapter in the volume, a periodization of Borges’ literary career with reference to his socio-political engagements. A lively round of questions and answers followed, linking the biographical to the literary, and these exchanges overflowed into informal discussions during the drinks reception.

Borges launch 4

Details of the Companion can be found on the Cambridge University Press website.

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Ben Bollig, St Catherine’s College, Oxford.

All photographs kindly provided by the Argentine Embassy Press Office. 

Travel, culture, language and libraries: Queen Sofia of Spain visits Oxford and London

On Tuesday 29th April, Oxford welcomed Queen Sofia of Spain as part of the 700th anniversary celebrations taking place at Exeter College, of which the Queen is an honorary fellow and patron of a Junior Research Fellowship bearing her name. The King Alfonso XIII Chair of Spanish Studies has also been held at Exeter College since 1927, cementing the link between Oxford University and the study of Spanish language, literature and culture.

Queen Sofia meets Oxford students studying Spanish.

Queen Sofia meets Oxford students studying Spanish. Copyright Matthew Baldwin, Exeter College.

The Queen attended a colloquium at the Taylor Institution, where academics and students spoke about their personal interest in Spanish language and literature as well as their current research. Queen Sofia joined students at Exeter College for lunch, and was later introduced to current and former members of the Sub-Faculty of Spanish and guests at a reception.

Queen Sofia attends a seminar at the Taylor Institution, Oxford.

Queen Sofia attends a seminar at the Taylor Institution, Oxford. Copyright Matthew Baldwin, Exeter College.

The full set of photographs of the Queen’s visit to Oxford is available on the Exeter College Flickr stream. All copyright remains with Matthew Baldwin, Exeter College.

The following day the Queen visited the Cervantes Institute in London to inaugurate the new library which will bear her name.  Take at look at the video of her visit, courtesy of the Instituto Cervantes London (link below)

Queen Sofia inaugurates the Library at the Instituto Cervantes, London (VIDEO)

The Reina Sofia Library was inaugurated on the 30th of April 2014 at the Instituto Cervantes in London by Queen Sofia of Spain with the presence of the Director of the Instituto Cervantes D. Victor García de la Concha, the Spanish Ambassador in the UK, Dr. Federico Trillo Figueroa, The Director of the Instituto Cervantes in London, D. Julio Crespo Mac Lennan and the, Ministry of Culture, José María Lasalle.

In his speech, the Ambassador stated that “it is especially appropriate that the library of the Instituto Cervantes in London should take her name as the Reina Sofía library. It is above all a tribute to Her Majesty the Queen in recognition of the support that both Her Majesty and the rest of the Royal Family have given the Instituto Cervantes and Spanish culture in general”.

The Director of the Instituto Cervantes, Victor García de La Concha stated that “it is tradition that libraries of the Cervantes Institutes are named after a famous writer or a prominent figure in the culture of the Spanish-speaking world. The New York one is dedicated to Jorge Luis Borges, the one in Paris to Octavio Paz, the one in Berlin to Mario Vargas Llosa, and the one in Manchester has the privilege of being named after Jorge Edwards. In the case of London, as one of the leading Instituto Cervantes centres, we considered that the library should be called the Reina Sofia Library in recognition of the continuing, tireless and vital support that Your Majesty lends to our culture. In recognition too of your support for the Instituto Cervantes itself, where you have participated in many events that have been held in the Institute’s branches and Aulas Cervantes across 43 countries and have presided over the inauguration of the Juan Carlos Onetti Library in Athens. Your Majesty, it is a great honour that you are pleased to grant that this library should bear your name”.

Queen Sofia address the gathering at the Instituto Cervantes, London.

Queen Sofia address the gathering at the Instituto Cervantes, London.

After the Inaugural Unveiling of the Plaque, Her Majesty addressed the guests and declared that she felt very honoured and delighted that this wonderful library would be named after her.

Following the speeches in the library, Her Majesty inaugurated the exhibition of travel books on Spain written between the XVIII and the XX Century, one of the special collections that the library has. These books can be also found in a virtual exhibition in the Centro Virtual Cervantes. This project was launched in Madrid on 12th October 2013 in collaboration with Google.

Although royal visits still generate excitement and interest, it’s interesting to compare our modern reception of these to those in the early 20th century. The Spanish royal visit of August 1926 occasioned the publication of a special Spanish Supplement in The Times (viewable by readers with access to the Times Digital Archive), with articles about Spanish trade, history, famous sights, food and even a column about the national character by Aubrey Bell. This focus on Spain must in part be attributed to the presence of Victoria Eugenie, Queen Victoria’s grand-daughter and Queen Consort of Spain as the wife of King of Spain Alfonso XIII.

The Times 'Spanish Number' 10 August 1926, celebrating the visit of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie.

The Times ‘Spanish Number’ 10 August 1926, celebrating the visit of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie.

If the content of the newspaper piques your curiosity, you might also be interested in a forthcoming conference at the British Library on 30 May, Beyond the Black Legend: Spain through British Eyes, 1898-1936. The conference explores the extraordinary transformation in British knowledge about Spain and Spanish culture that took place between 1898 and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Changes in travel, publishing and education meant that ordinary British people had unprecedented opportunities to tour the country and learn its language. Hopefully our continued interest in the Hispanic world will ensure that people continue to study and engage with Spanish language and culture for many years to come.

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by Joanne Edwards, Subject Librarian for Hispanic Studies, Taylor Institution Library, Oxford, and Mayte Azorín, Head Librarian, Instituto Cervantes London

21st Century Fiction from Latin America : the report

The seminar 21st Century Fiction from Latin America, which took place on Wednesday 12th February 2014 at Senate House, was organized by ACLAIIR (Advisory Council on Latin American and Iberian Resources), the Institute of Modern Languages Research, the Institute of Latin American Studies, and the Instituto Cervantes in London. It discussed current trends in Latin American literature, translating Latin American fiction, the contemporary Cuban novel, digital media and new literary genres, alternative literary formats such as the graphic novel, and the landscape of the UK market for Latin America. 

Some of the contributions aimed to challenge the literary canon, presenting new approaches to literary tradition with a wider range of authors and new literary genres.

Dr. Joanna Page, Lecturer in Latin American Studies at CLAS, Cambridge, centered her talk around Argentina and Chile. She talked about a growing body of 21st century literary works depicting the following themes:

  • degeneration of society, chaos, crisis and its aftermath (Damiela Eltit, Mano de obra; Pedro Mairal, El año del desierto)
  • memory and the coming of age of new generations moving away from testimonial approaches, where the past becomes a reinvented fiction and autobiography is mixed with fantasy (Argentinan film Los topos; Alejandro Zambra, Formas de volver a casa)
  • writings about militant experiences during the 21st century (Carlos Gamero, Un yuppie en la columna de Che Guevara; Federico Lorenz, Montoneros o la ballena blanca; Arturo Fontaine, Vida doble)
  • rewriting of the myths and heroes of history (Washington Cucurto, La revolución vivida por los negros and Eduardo Galeano, Espejos)
  • violence and philosophy in the 21st century (Roberto Bolaño, Nocturno de Chile and Pola Oloixarac, Teorías salvajes)
  • new technologies and new subjectivities, showing characters between the real and the cyber worlds, strange worlds that are familiar to us in some way (Jorge Baradit, Trinidad; César Aira, El juego de los mundos; and Marcelo Cohen, Casa de Ottro).
Click on the image for Joanna Page's full presentation.

Click on the image for Joanna Page’s full presentation.

Cherie R. Elston talked about her collaborative online project Palabras errantes. The project grew from the current lack of Latin American literature in English and the realisation that the internet could play a part in making it more accessible. Although English translations of Latin American literature have been steadily proliferating in the UK publishing market, there seems to be a lack of information regarding what has been published in Latin America.

The Palabras Errantes project was launched by Cambridge students in 2011 with the aim of publishing contemporary Latin American literature in translation, trying to keep away from celebrated authors and topics. The project aims to explore how Latin American literature has been introduced across the world (e.g. in New York). Writers are asked for original work which is then selected for translation. The site is bilingual: it presents the original texts in Spanish with parallel English translation. The internet has allowed the network of translators and writers to expand. So far, the project has 87 writers from across the continent represented, and 47 translators.

Dr. Maria E López explained how homosexuality still exists in Cuban literature as a destabilizing weapon against the regime. The authorities see homosexuality as a social problem, a pathology that needs fixing. Homosexuals are marginalised and accused of being extravagant and strange. Some representative works include El rey de La Habana, by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, a good example of “dirty realism” reflecting a culture with no sense of belonging, without voice. Secondly, Látigo, an example of the literature of disenchantment; and finally, Máscara, illustrating the isolation and stigma suffered by homosexuals.

Dr. Claire Taylor presented her project Literary Heritage and Digital Media, which aims to speak back to the rich Hispanic literary tradition by exploring new hybrid forms such as Twitter poetry, electronic ballads and blog aphorisms. She stressed the possibilities and also limitations of the media, the need for a continuing dialogue between print and digital formats, and the role of the user in activating works.

She indicated that Twitter poetry is growing and becoming popular. This type of poetry uses the formal aspects of Twitter (e.g. message restricted to 140 characters). An example is Eduardo Navas’ Poemita.

She then moved on to talk about electronic ballads, a new genre exemplified by the work of Belén Gache, a Spanish/Argentinian novelist and experimental writer. Her work Radikal Karaoke  re-mixes voice, sound, images and special effects drawing on Hispanic heritage.

Finally, in the category of blog aphorisms she showed Eduardo Nava’s Minima Moralia (2011-), a selective remix of Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia collection of aphorisms.

Other new genres include hypertext short fictions, exemplified by Belén Gache’s WordToys (2006).

Click on the image for the full presentation from Claire Taylor.

Click on the image for the full presentation from Claire Taylor.

 Dr. Edward King, affiliated lecturer at the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Cambridge, presented a syllabus for an imaginary course of graphic fiction, mostly drawing on examples from Brazil. He arranged the syllabus in four broad topics:

  1. Word and image : characterized by an interplay between text and image, where literary texts carry the image as the image helps frame the text. Two examples: Mário de Andrade’s Turista fotógrafo aprendiz (1993) and Julio Cortázar’s Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales (1975).
  1. Space and time: shows how visual and textual strategies are employed in the narrative. The construction of space and time was exemplified by O catador de batatas.
  1. City comics: the great structure of comics mimics the great structure of the city. Techniques of collage may be used to present the city. Examples: André Diniz’s O morro da favela (2011); Operación Bolivar (2010)
  1. Comic book culture in network society: exemplified by Turma da Mônica Jovem

The final panel of the day was chaired by Rory O’Bryen and discussed issues of translation, publishing and marketing.

The literary agent (Laurence Laluyaux). The aim of the agent is to get authors translated in as many languages as possible. The network of contacts is essential for the agent. The publisher develops trust with the reader or translator, and the agent involves publishers, readers and translators.  Translators tend to be actively involved, but the question is how to create an actively involved readership. The problem is finding a readership and raising its expectations. UK publishers have tended to follow other European publishers regarding what they translate. This is gradually changing.

The translator (Nick Caistor). The chain a translation follows before entering the UK market starts with the author, followed by the agent, and then the foreign publisher (translations rights from foreign publishers are bought by UK publishers). France and Italy have helped the dissemination of Latin American literature in the UK. Unfortunately, there is a lack of communication between all intellectuals of the trade, and some degrees in UK universities don’t necessarily require reading literature.

The publisher (Bill Swainson, Bloomsbury). Literature is international and interesting authors can be found anywhere in the world. Bloomsbury tends to focus on authors who are alive and relatively young, with more than one book published and with an established reputation. The sense of a network of contacts as a source of writers is essential. For the publisher, the sense of being able to create a reputation for a writer is also a major drive. The selection process aims to cast the net wide, but always having a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve.

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Sonia Morcillo is the Hispanic Specialist at Cambridge University Library and a member of the ACLAIIR committee.

Finding Venezuelan literature online

When I tell people I research Venezuelan literature, the most common response is ‘I don’t know any Venezuelan literature, is it actually any good?’ Unfortunately, potential readers just don’t know where to get access to Venezuelan literature, especially as very few books make it into the UK market. Thankfully, the Internet is making literature much more widely available across borders, giving some great writing the chance to find the audience it deserves. I wanted to share with you some of the best places online to discover Venezuelan literature.

Ficción Breve Venezolana is the ultimate resource for anyone interested in Venezuelan literature. Founded in 1999 by writer Hector Torres, whose Caracas Muerde was one of the biggest successes of 2012, and currently run by Lennis Rojas, the site hosts not only the short stories from which it takes its name, but extracts from novels old and new, non-fiction and opinion pieces, news, interviews and useful links. The site is updated with new stories almost every day, and is so respected by Venezuelan authors that some even chose to publish sneak peeks of their upcoming works there, as Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles did with his latest novel Jezabel.

Another great introduction to contemporary fiction from Venezuela is the Voices from the Venezuelan City project by Palabras Errantes. Created by Cambridge University students, lead by Cherilyn Elston, Palabras Errantes aims to raise awareness of contemporary Latin American literature in the UK by publishing collections of short stories and book extracts in both English translation and the original Spanish. The Venezuelan edition, edited by Rebecca Jarman, brings together established and emerging voices, and looks beyond the political divisions that plague the country to focus on very human relationships, frailty and failings. One of the translators involved in the project, Guillermo Parra, is also one of the most restless, determined promoters of Venezuelan literature abroad. He has run his blog Venepoetics for over ten years now, providing translations (particularly of poet José Antonio Ramos Sucre), book synopses and interviews in English.

If all that whets your appetite for whole books, you should visit Monte Ávila for a diverse range of eBooks to download for free. Among non-fiction texts about 21st century socialism, the State publishing house offers a literary cross-section of the last century, from classics like Teresa de la Parra’s Las memorias de Mamá Blanca (1929) to Raymond Nedeljkovic’s brilliant 2010 short story collection Los impresentables.

If you have slightly more of a budget, I can’t recommend Sudaquía Editores enough. The New York based company began a few years ago, but their catalogue is increasing exponentially and they have ambitious plans for 2014. Their recognition of contemporary Venezuelan writers (as the predominance of Venezuelans among a collection that also includes Chileans, Colombians, Argentineans, Mexicans and even a writer from Panama) is an absolute miracle, as for the first time UK readers are finally able to get hold of Venezuelan books easily and cheaply. Sudaquia sell via Amazon UK, who print the books for them, meaning extortionate delivery costs and endless waits are a thing of the past. They have already published some of the most critically acclaimed contemporary authors – Slavko Zupcic, Gisela Kozak-Rovero, Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles, Israel Centeno, to name but a few – and are constantly finding new gems. Among 2014’s output will be one of my favourite books, not just by a Venezuelan but in general, Liliana Lara’s Los jardines de Salomón.

Selection of titles from Sudaquía Editores

Selection of titles from Sudaquía Editores

Finally, I hope you’ll forgive some shameless self-promotion. In an attempt to help the writers I love find an audience in the UK, I started Venezuelan Literature. The site – which is still very much in the early stages of development and needs a lot more work than my full-time PhD allows – features news, interviews, profiles of authors, and book summaries. I also believe translation is fundamental in building up an international audience, so, as well as posting my own translations, I’m trying to create a list of all published translations, with links to where to buy them.

I hope you find some enjoyable and inspiring reading through these sources. There is some really captivating, beautiful, funny, daring and provocative literature out there just waiting for readers.

Katie Brown is studying for a PhD in Contemporary Venezuelan Fiction at King’s College, London. She blogs about literature, languages, and all things cultural at katiebrownonculture.blogspot.com.

The Everyday Library of Babel

As scholars and students of literature we are in the privileged position of having turned our love for books into a profession. That means it is very likely that we will be reading every day. At the same time, in our daily lives certain books will have to be prioritized over others in order for us to keep up with the scholarship in our chosen field.  Often, I find in hindsight that I have wasted valuable reading time on articles and analyses that prove utterly devoid of insights, even though the work’s title seemed to promise a plethora of valuable information. Who doesn’t know that feeling of finishing some literary criticism only to regret that one didn’t spend the time reading a decent novel instead? At times I can’t help but wish for Borges’ ‘libro total’ from the ‘La biblioteca de Babel’.  Borges’s book would contain within itself all possible books aka the universe and, although I say this tongue-in-cheek, that would mean I would be well over and done with identifying good reading material for the foreseeable future.

As a result of my being led astray in the world of scholarly publications, leisurely reading time is also often encroached on by the demands of the profession. Thus, I find that I am rarely up to date with the latest bestsellers coming from Spain, let alone those appearing elsewhere. Out of this professional deficiency grew the idea for the Contemporary Spanish Reading Group ‘Freshly Baked’ at the University of Oxford. My colleague María Liñeira and I felt that we wanted to at least try to remain a little bit in the loop by reading books that would not necessarily form part of the literary canon or academic syllabi, including translations into Spanish from Basque, Catalan and Galician.

The reading group meets informally twice a term to indulge in ‘obras recien salidas del horno’, as well as some freshly baked cakes. Prose has thus far dominated our reading, despite us being open and welcoming to poetry and drama as well. Not every chosen text has been an instant hit but that is the surprise effect of this group. Discovering that books I might have formerly discarded as ‘not up my street’ can actually be enjoyable. At the same time, there might be appraised novels that I personally prefer to stay away from.  It all yields ample material for group discussion though – the positive and the negative….

When compiling the programme for the forthcoming academic year we realised with shame that we had only been discussing the works of men in the past year. For the new season we really wanted to strike a balance and decided on an all-female cast. After all, if nobody noticed the male over-representation why should it be any different with a women-only line-up? Thus we are aiming for a wild mix of Galician poetry, Spanish-Moroccan short stories and female perspectives on the Civil War amongst others. Always in the hope that one page of Borges’ ‘total book’ has at least been started…


Dr. Daniela Omlor is the Queen Sofia Junior Research Fellow at Exeter College, Oxford, and co-organiser of the Freshly Baked reading group.