By Chad W. Post, publisher, Open Letter Books
Last month I was fortunate enough to be the sole American representative to take part in the Brazilian Publishing Experience 2013, a specially organized cultural exchange program designed to help promote Brazilian literature to the rest of the world. We spent ten days total in Brazil, both in Rio de Janeiro and in the unbelievable city of Paraty, where we were able to attend FLIP — the Greatest Book Festival in the World. (No, seriously. Not only was the line-up loaded with stars—Geoff Dyer, Karl Knausgaard, John Banville, Lydia Davis — but it took place in one of the most beautiful spots on earth.)
The vast majority of our discussions centered around the details of the Brazilian market. There are approximately $4 billion in sales every year, a quarter of which is government purchases for schools. Ebooks make up like 2% of the market, but this will grow thanks to the increased presence of Amazon and Kobo and Apple in Brazil. Most bookstores are in São Paulo and Rio, which is what one would expect, but there are publishers throughout Brazil, many of which will be at the Frankfurt Book Fair this fall.
In addition to simply learning about the Brazilian market, this trip also served as a opportunity for the Brazilian publishers to unveil some of the things they’re planning for Frankfurt—the attending authors, the cultural and literary programming, etc. As frequently happens to me after one of these trips, I’ve been on a Brazilian lit bender ever since I got back. (Well, a literature and caipirinha bender. Not to mention a newfound love for soccer superstar Neymar Jr.)
Anyway, for anyone interested in learning more about Brazilian literature, below is a bit of an overview of some classic Brazilian texts (available in English) and some highlights of what’s being planned for Frankfurt.
Brazil doesn’t get nearly the amount of literary respect it deserves. First and foremost, it’s the birthplace of Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, one of the greatest world writers of all time. His novels The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (a.k.a. Epitaph for a Small Winner) and Dom Casmurro are ingenious, playful books that bring to mind the meandering meta-fiction of Tristram Shandy. Also worth checking out is the new edition of The Alienist that Melville House recently published.
Thanks to the success of Benjamin Moser’s biography of Clarice Lispector, Why This World, there’s been a resurgence of interest in her work. In the States, New Directions recently reissued five of her books in new translations — The Hour of the Star, Agua Viva, A Breath of Life, Near to the Wild Heart and The Passion of G.H. — all of which are worth reading.
On a slightly more contemporary note, the third author I’d like to mention is Rubem Fonseca, not just because Open Letter publishes his collection The Taker and Other Stories, but because he was one of the first authors to write about the dark, twisted, violent aspects of life in Brazil. His faux-detective novels, like High Art are really brilliant, as is the recently translated collection, Winning the Game (Tagus Press).
The recent Granta special issue on the “Best Young Brazilian Novelists” is the best source of information about the younger generation of writers in Brazil, several of whom will be attending the Frankfurt Book Fair, including Michel Laub (who has a novel coming out in the UK), Daniel Galera, and Carola Saavedra.
Two of the authors I’m most excited to meet in Frankfurt are Ignácio de Loyola Brandão (Zero, And Still the Earth, The Good-Bye Angel) and João Almino (The Book of Emotions, Five Seasons of Love). Both have written books in which the city serves as a primary character—São Paulo for Brandão and Brasilia for Almino—and the lives described are less than ideal. Brandão will participate on the “Polyphonic View” panel at 10.30 on Saturday, October 12th, and Almino will be appearing in a panel on “Allegories and Utopias” at 14:30 the same day.
The Graphic Novelists
Another panel that I’m personally excited about is the “Meeting of Generations” graphic novel event taking place on Sunday, October 13th at 10:00. This panel brings together a couple traditional comic artists—Ziraldo and Maruicio de Sousa — along with the newer generation, including Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá, the twin brothers behind Daytripper (Vertigo).
In addition to all the prose writers mentioned above (and a couple dozen more that will also be in attendance), Brazil is sending over a bunch of poets, including Adélia Prado and Hector Ferraz Mello, who will discuss their ironic and metaphysical approaches to poetry (“Perplexed Contemplations,” Thursday, October 10th, 16:30) and Affonso Romano de Sant’Anna and Nicolas Behr who will share their experimental, satiric poems (“Cannibal Satire,” Saturday, October 12th, 16:30).
This is just a sample of what Brazil is planning for their presence as the Guest of Honor. They’re bringing 70 authors in total, and putting on 32 literary events — a perfect opportunity to introduce Brazilian literature to the world, and show everyone that there’s more to this country than “The Girl from Ipanema.”