Category Archives: 21st century

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.

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.