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.

REDIAL : creating European networks for Latin American research information

As summer is fading away and the new academic year takes off, I’d like to share with ACLAIIR some notes from REDIAL’s annual meeting in June. This year we celebrated our 24th annual conference in connection with CEISAL’s 7th Congress at Universidade Fernando Pessoa in Porto, June 12th-15th. REDIAL co-organized with Elda González, researcher at Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales, CSIC in Madrid, a symposium on migration at the Congress:  “Los que van, los que vienen y los que regresan. Los movimientos migratorios transoceánicos en el siglo XX y XXI: fondos documentales e investigaciones” – a joint venture between researchers, librarians and archivists with participants from Argentina, Brazil, United States, Norway, Germany, Italy and Spain. Papers from the Congress will be published Open Access later this year. In relation with the Congress, the Universidade Fernando Pessoa’s center for Latin American studies,  Núcleo de Estudo Latino-Americanos, inaugurated their new Latin Americanist collections space “Espaço Carlos Fuentes”. Being members of REDIAL, their librarian Carla Azevedo was our local organizer.

Carla Azevedo, librarian at the Universidade Fernando Pessoa, presents to REDIAL on Portuguese Latin American Studies.

Carla Azevedo, librarian at the Universidade Fernando Pessoa, presents to REDIAL on Portuguese Latin American Studies.

CEISAL (Consejo Europeo de Investigaciones Sociales de América Latina) elected a new board with Carlos Quenan at the Institut des Amérique in France as the new President. CEISAL partners REDIAL in running the website on European Latinamericanism, America Latina: Portal Europeo and the journal Anuario Americanista Europeo.

The central theme for this year’s volume of the journal is “Gender and Migration”. October 1st is the deadline for articles in the peer review sections, including the one REDIAL is managing, “Documentación y comunicación americanista: análisis e investigaciones”. For the other REDIAL section “Fondos, recursos y publicaciones“, that welcomes shorter and more descriptive contributions, we can receive articles until December. We welcome articles in Spanish, Portuguese or English. The 2014 volume will have “Digital Latin Americanism” as the central theme, with Aquiles Alencar Brayner and Luis Rodríguez Yunta as editors for both the CEISAL and REDIAL sections. The idea is to explore how the concepts of Digital Humanities and Digital Social Sciences are handled in European research on Latin America.  From the 2014 volume Frank Egerton will be a member of the Editorial Board.

Other good news related to the UK and REDIAL is that the Institute of Latin American Studies has rejoined as members. Do not hesitate to contact us if you’re considering joining us as well!

REDIALeros with Fernando Pessoa!

REDIALeros with Fernando Pessoa!

During REDIAL’s working sessions a lot of our discussions circled around the Portal and the development of its different databases. The main UK Latin Americanist journals are indexed by the editorial team, but if you find that there are journals or articles missing, your participation is always welcomed.  In our thematic sub-portal “Migraciones” we’re building a resource on migration between Latin America and Europe from Independence to present times with publications published from 1990 onwards. In this sub-portal we also register articles on the theme from non-Latin Americanist journals and also books. One database where there used to be UK participation is the dissertation database that contains 1778 thesis from the UK from 1980-2002, would that be a database that would interest you to keep updated from a UK point of view? For the database on researchers it’s always a big help if the persons closest to home could help in updating. We also of course welcome any academic news and information on new publications.  Any news entered in our Portal is disseminated every fortnight in our electronic bulletin Puentes  that reaches over 3700 subscribers. There’s a special page for cooperation or otherwise just mail us. Our blog IguAnalista is another option open for your contributions.

During this autumn we hope to finally finish the translation of the portal’s interface into English and Portuguese. One of our new areas of interest that we plan to explore during the coming year is how our portal could be a resource for finding digitalized Latin Americanist collections at a European level. This will probably be one of the themes when our Spanish members meet for their annual reunion in Madrid in November, and certainly when we meet for our 2014 conference and 25th anniversary in Bordeaux and Saint-Émilion in late May or early June next year!

Anna Svensson
President of REDIAL 2012-2014
Gothenburg University Library, Sweden

Women and Independence in Latin America: Databases, Debate and Dissemination

Between 2001 and 2006, researchers at the universities of Nottingham and Manchester constructed an online database of women involved in the processes of independence in Latin America.  The database was created as part of a five-year AHRC funded project entitled ‘Gendering Latin American Independence’. The digital resource contains over 2500 biographical entries and provides details of women’s and men’s political and social participation between 1790 and 1850. The overarching aim of the project was to rethink Latin American Independence in terms of gender.

Latin American guerilla military leader, Juana Azurduy (1780-1862), on horseback.

Latin American guerilla military leader, Juana Azurduy (1780-1862), on horseback.

Dr Claire Brewster, who is now a senior lecturer in Latin American history at the University of Newcastle, spent five years inputting references to women whose names were registered during this period. Focusing especially on Spanish South America, she input data from 266 publications and consulted 28 archives. The database is searchable not only by name, place and date, but also by groups of women. For example, users can search for women who belonged to specific tertulias, women who were executed by those who opposed Independence, women who were patriot spies or women who supported the royalists.  There are around 500 groups or links of this kind. From a researcher’s point of view, this is the most valuable aspect of the database as it shows the complex relationships between individuals and between their families. Loyalties were usually to families and loved ones, rather than to political ideology, but there is no doubt that the social upheaval created opportunities for women to operate more independently than in the ‘ancien regime’.

In May 2012, Professor Catherine Davies and her team at the universities of Nottingham and Edinburgh embarked upon on a new phase of the project entitled ‘Women and Independence in Latin America’. This new stage, which lasted for a year, was funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council, as well as contributions from the Centre of Advanced Studies and the Horizon Hub at the University of Nottingham. The team transformed the ‘Gendering Latin American Independence’ website and its database into an interactive, community-driven resource, which will allow academic and non-academic audiences alike to exchange ideas and information about the Independence struggles and their contemporary relevance. This database can be consulted at www.genderlatam.org.uk.

One of the key goals of this stage of the project, which finished in July 2013, was to involve Latin American women in the UK and in Latin American countries in the recovery of their shared history, cultural heritage and identity, increasing their awareness and understanding of the contemporary relevance of women’s protagonism during Independence. For this reason, the team worked on several community knowledge exchange programmes and cultural initiatives. In August and September 2012, Catherine travelled to Buenos Aires with Dr Iona MacIntyre from the University of Edinburgh (the project’s Co-Investigator) and Dr Maria Thomas from the University of Nottingham (the project’s research assistant) to collaborate with the Museo de la Mujer, a women’s history museum, on the ‘Libertadoras’ programme. This month-long series of cultural events featured plays, discussion groups, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours on the theme of the contemporary relevance of women’s contribution to Independence in Latin America.

Southwark exhibition

Southwark exhibition of Empowerment through Art.

Through the London-based Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), a charity which supports Latin American female migrants in the UK, the team worked extensively with a group of teenage girls from Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador. They participated in a series of drama workshops on the theme of the nineteenth-century ‘Libertadoras’ and in a photography project which explored the girls’ identification with Latin America community in London and asked them to address concepts of freedom, liberation and independence.

The ‘Empowerment through Art’ photographic exhibition, which was presented at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham in March and April 2013 and at the premises of Southwark Council in London in May 2013, featured the girls’ own photographs alongside portraits of the participants taken of each participant by Mexican-British photographer Pablo Allison. The girls from LAWRS also presented a play which emerged from their drama workshops, entitled ‘Razones por las que luchar’ (Reasons for Fighting) at UCL’s Institute of the Americas on May 15 2013.

thomas 3

Drama workshops with teenagers from Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador.

These events were exciting and timely because they provided a snapshot of how young, female Latin Americans see their adoptive country at a time the UK Latin American community is growing steadily. In 2008 there were around 186, 500 Latin Americans living in the UK and the numbers are rising. Although the community is now a large, dynamic and important presence in London, its experiences are often overlooked.  As representatives of this community, these girls presented themselves as empowered young women in the play and the photography exhibition. As Carolina Gottardo, the director of LAWRS, comments: ‘they are not victims; these are young women who can stand with their heads held high, looking toward the future. They are young women with ideals and potential, even though their situation as Latin American migrants in an unfamiliar country with little knowledge of the language and the customs is not easy;  even when they have to face up to stereotypes about young women immigrants from an ethnic minority.’


Dr Maria Thomas was the research assistant on the project Women and Independence in Latin America, and is now a lecturer in Hispanic Studies at the University of Exeter.

21st Century Fiction from Spain

The joint ACLAIIR/IGRS/IC seminar on 18 April brought together researchers, literary critics, translators, librarians and publishers to explore the world of 21st century fiction from Spain. After a warm welcome from Julio Crespo MacLennan, Director of the Instituto Cervantes in London, Geoff West (Chair of ACLAIIR) thanked all the organisers and participants for attending what was sure to be an interesting and enjoyable day.

For anyone involved in researching or purchasing Spanish fiction, it is clear that the publishing scene in Spain is one of very few Spanish industries holding its own in the current economic climate. Although booksales have dropped in number across Spain, Portugal, and the UK, fiction writing from Spain is very much alive and well, and breaking into new markets thanks to the increasing number of translated titles available.

Librarians' panel, L-R: Sonia Morcillo-Garcia (University of Cambridge), Andrea Meyer Ludowisy (IGRS), Geoff West (ACLAIIR Chair/British Library), Joanne Edwards (University of Oxford), Mayte Azorin (Instituto Cervantes, London).

Librarians’ panel, L-R: Sonia Morcillo-Garcia (University of Cambridge), Andrea Meyer Ludowisy (IGRS), Geoff West (ACLAIIR Chair/British Library), Joanne Edwards (University of Oxford), Mayte Azorin (Instituto Cervantes, London).

Librarians responsible for acquiring fiction from Spain know only too well the challenges of selecting from a plethora of new authors and titles, whilst remaining within tight budget allowances. How to navigate this sea of new writing? For those in academic institutions, research trends, conference programmes and taught courses were the main influential factors, with information from publishers, book fairs, literary magazines and blogs all playing a vital part in keeping up to date. The availability of English translations was also a good marker of the popularity of certain titles. With research trends and reader appetites growing ever more diverse, it was necessary to make use of a wide range of resources to keep track of developments.

It became clear from Stuart Davis’ presentation and ensuing discussing that the notion of a fixed literary canon was difficult to apply to the current wave of literature. With the Internet providing more opportunities to publish (or even self-publish) literature and literary criticism, readers and writers are forming their own online communities to disseminate and discuss their work. Some academics are also moving towards writing in newspapers rather than confining their work to scholarly journals.

Fiction in Spain today: current trends. Julio Crespo MacLennan (Director, IC), Juan Angel Juaristo, Stuart Davis (Girton College, Cambridge), Peter Bush.

Fiction in Spain today: current trends. Julio Crespo MacLennan (Director, IC), Juan Angel Juaristo, Stuart Davis (Girton College, Cambridge), Peter Bush.

Juan Ángel Juristo also noted changes not just in the canon, but in the reader. With the increase in female authors mirroring the greater participation of women in Spain’s public life, there has also been a stronger definition of the Spanish reader; female, a middle-class city-dweller, between thirty and forty years old, and with a preference for the novel over other types of literature. Whilst the traditional Spanish literary canon has often focused on male authors writing in Castilian, women writers and authors writing in other peninsular languages have staked a significant claim on the Spanish literary scene.

Spain’s literary landscape cannot be easily separated from its economic, political, and social history. In a recent talk at Oxford, Eduardo Mendoza highlighted the Civil War and relations with Latin American boom writers as two of the most important factors affecting the development of Spanish writing. Both Daniela Omlor and Frank Lough spoke about the growing amount of literature and research around memory, particularly of the Spanish Civil War. The way in which the literature addresses the Civil War depends much on the time it was written. There are now four distinct generations of writers involved with Spanish Civil War novels, ecompassing a wide range of writers. Firstly, there are those who have memories of the war, then those who have no memories of the war but do have adult memories of the Franco dictatorship. These writers are quite different to younger generations, who may have childhood memories of the dictatorshop, or have known only democracy.

Our panel on Trends in research in 21st-century fiction from Spain. Jennifer Rodríguez (University of Liverpool), Daniela Omlor (Exeter College, Oxford) and Frank Lough (University of Birmingham). Geoff West (ACLAIIR/BL) and Rocio Rodjter (KCL) look on from the audience.

Our panel on Trends in research in 21st-century fiction from Spain. Jennifer Rodríguez (University of Liverpool), Daniela Omlor (Exeter College, Oxford) and Frank Lough (University of Birmingham). Geoff West (ACLAIIR/BL) and Rocio Rodjter (KCL) look on from the audience.

Writing memory does not only cover the Spanish Civil War. Juan Ángel Juristo mentioned a recent trend of nostalgia amongst writers and artists to look back to the movida of 1980s Madrid, an era  that has become emblematic for a generation. The protagonist in Almudena Grandes’ novel Castillos de cartón  is reminded of her hedonistic youth as an art school student in Madrid. Pedro Almodóvar’s most recent film, Los amantes pasajeros, is a comic farce that harks back to his more lighthearted earlier works, a stark change from his darker more recent offerings. It is no surprise that during times of recession and crisis, people are tempted to look back to days that seemed more hopeful.

Whilst Europe may be in crisis, there could well be second boom in translation of fiction from Latin America. The major publishing countries of Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil have attracted greater focus in recent years. When asked to choose authors they would like to have translated, our publishing panel chose Mexicans Lolita Bosch, Elena Poniatowska, and Carmen Boullosa. However, there is great diversity to be found in the Peninsula itself, with writing in Galician, Catalan, and Basque on the increase. Jennifer Rodríguez spoke about the growing prominence of women writers in the Basque language, mirroring an upward trend in Basque publishing in general since the end of the dictatorship and the acceptance of Basque as an official language. School education in Basque is also common now, which has helped to push the development of Basque literature. Basque writers such as Bernardo Atxaga and Laura Mintegi are being translated into English, and Basque language and literature is taught at universities in the USA (Nevada) and the UK (Liverpool). Catalan and Galician literatures are also booming, with Jordi Puntí’s Maletes perdudes (Lost luggage) a hit at the recent European Literature Night at the British Library, and a growing number of anthologies of Galician poetry and fiction translated into English.

Rocio Rodjter (KCL) takes the microphone during the Q&A session.

Rocio Rodjter (KCL) takes the microphone during the Q&A session.

The study of translation itself is also becoming popular, as are courses on comparative literature, where the emphasis is not necessarily on reading texts in the original language as is the case with traditional modern languages degrees.  Although the decision to translate foreign fiction into English rests with the publisher, translators are influential and can help to bring attention to new writers. Although the English market is traditionally very closed to literature in translation (according to New Spanish Books it accounts for less than 5% of the market in the UK), some boutique publishers with significant financial backing are able to pick and choose without having to worry exclusively about commercial success. However, despite the low numbers, translated fiction from Spain is on the increase in the UK, and there are many individuals and bodies such as the Institut Ramon Llull and similar that are concentrating their efforts on promoting literature from the Peninsula. The success of other European writers in extremely popular genres such as detective fiction has also helped pave the way for other literature in translation for the Anglophone market.

The panel of publishers and translators, L-R: Amanda Hopkinson (City University), Rowan Cope (Little, Brown; Abacus; Virago), Jorge Postigo (ICEX), Kirsty Dunseath (Orion Books), Jennifer Arnold (University of Birmingham).

The panel of publishers and translators, L-R: Amanda Hopkinson (City University), Rowan Cope (Little, Brown; Abacus; Virago), Jorge Postigo (ICEX), Kirsty Dunseath (Orion Books), Jennifer Arnold (University of Birmingham).

Whilst the economic crisis may be hitting hard in Spain, we can certainly say that fiction from the Peninsula is  on an upward trajectory.  Interest in the literary and cultural output of Spain continues to flourish in the UK and beyond, whether in academic institutions or amongst the general reading public, in the original language or in translation. We hope that events such as this seminar will continue to highlight the strength and diversity of literature from Spain, and look forward to more insightful presentations and discussions at our next fiction seminar, this time on Latin America – details to be confirmed later in the year!

In the meantime, don’t forget to sign up for the ACLAIIR AGM & Seminar on 18 June. The theme of the seminar is e-books, and we have some great speakers lined up. See www.aclaiir.org.uk/events to register – it’s even free for postgraduates!


All photographs used in this post are by kind permission of the Instituto Cervantes, London, and are not to be copied, saved or reproduced. This post was compiled by Joanne Edwards, Hispanic Studies Subject Librarian (University of Oxford) and ACLAIIR Committee member.

Direct travel experience versus photography storytelling

Being a photographer, researcher, and keen traveller at the same time, often puts me in a difficult situation. Seeing an exciting scene, my natural instinct stubbornly prompts me to take my camera out and start shooting. But then afterwards I realize, that it makes me poorer in fully experiencing the event. Even the widest camera lens considerably limits one’s scope. By focusing my attention on the camera’s viewfinder, I put myself on ‘the other side of the camera’ – like the future spectators of my work. By doing this, I deprive myself of the direct, fresh and instant encounter with the situation I choose to document. How far is it possible to create an engaging series of photographs and at the same time fully experience the situation? Or is it always about some kind of compromise?

How do we experience a situation of a travel, a visit to a new place? We do it by our five senses: we see what is around, we hear the sounds, we smell, we can taste (if we decide to eat or drink something) and we feel through our skin: if we touch, if we feel the heat or the cold, or the humidity, or tiredness, or the breeze, or the sunshine etc. When I travel, what I remember most is what I feel in my skin. I lie on the beach on a sunny day, squeezing warm sand in my hands, feeling the sunshine on my face and a slight breeze on my skin. This is the memory I want to ‘freeze’, capture and re-use once I am back in cold, rainy London’s morning, waiting for a train on my way to work. These elements are obviously combined into complex interrelationships. The variations are endless. And it all combines into dynamic sequences, as these experiences are happening over period of time, with fluctuating conditions, and constantly changing impression and interpretation of what is going on.

Whenever we use any of the technologies to capture this experience, we start to ‘translate’ it into different language, and it always is a huge simplification. Having thought about it, especially having visited so many wonderful places, I felt completely impotent when it comes to sharing this experience with my family and friends. As a result of this realization, I started to collect a growing number of non-existing images. Situations of amazement, so often experienced when traveling, deeply engraved in my head, but without an attempt of any physical ‘translation’. Situations I might speak about, and try to give some justice to the complexity of the experience, describing not only what I have seen, but how I felt, if it was a pleasant experience or not, what was the most intense sensation.

Sometimes taking a photo might be simply impossible for various reasons, even if we are willing to take one. In September/October 2012, I was in the Colombian jungle, climbing Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on my way to the Ciudad Perdida, Lost City from the extinct Tayrona culture. On my way, I was interviewing some Kogi people, who live in the mountains. Kogis and Arhuacos are descendants of Tayrona, they both wear traditional white clothes and beautiful, dark, long hair. As I was there, there were many situations which I wanted to photograph, but I did not. Sometimes, because I was too slow to take out my camera. Sometimes, because I was too amazed seeing what I could see, which paralyzed me from doing anything else. Other time – and this is the most common reason I regularly collect non-existing photographs – because I was too intimidated to take the picture. Sometimes it was a question of protecting my camera in extreme weather conditions. Sometimes, it was a combination of all the reasons.

An example: I climb the mountain, sweating more than I could ever imagine I would, feeling really tired, and wondering why my backpack weighs more and more with every step I make. It is the same morning when two people get bitten by a scorpion, and an elderly Kogi man I interviewed warns me about the number of snakes in the area. I got into the trans of the walk, not feeling much more but the monotonous rhythm of my steps: left, right, left, right. I am surrounded by a tropical forest, a very dense flora of the jungle. Suddenly I am thrown out of my meditation by an unexpected scene: a Kogi family, parents and two kids, all dressed in white and all barefoot, cheerfully run down the hill to energetic rhythms of bachata, flowing from a small transistor radio the father of the family carries on his shoulder. I stop in amazement to watch that. The bachata and the barefoot jog was so surreal, that I didn’t even reach for my camera.

Non existing photographs are very personal and very subjective. We all know people who build up on their memories so much, that the imaginary parts melt into the real memories to the point, that after a while it’s impossible to tell them apart. That’s how the legends of one’s past emerge. We become stronger/weaker, older, more or less resistant, and a long walk might seem a short stroll after a while, or a five day trek in a jungle – an impossible physical task. Also, the question of objectivity and subjectivity comes into importance here. What might seem a lovely place for me, for example a great adventure of climbing in the jungle, admiring the abundance of nature, for some of my friends might seem a nightmare full of snakes and unnecessary physical exhaustion. Also – a regular trip to Colombia, a beautiful and welcoming place, for someone fearing the dangers of so-called third world, might be a synonym of insecurity and threat. These subjective emotions are also part of the non-existing photos, but you cannot include them in the real images. Or at least it’s a very hard task.

I would argue there is no way of creating satisfactory translation of the richness of travel experience in any known medium. It might well serve as a memory preserved in the image, but it will never replace the complexity of all senses of the direct experience.


Agata Lulkowska is a photographer, filmmaker, and Researcher of Indigenous Cultures of Colombia, pursuing her practice-based PhD at Birkbeck, University of London and regularly exhibiting her photographs in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bologna and other places in Europe. Central point of her research is the power of the visual media to create meaning.