By Maria Fernanda Rodrigues
Throughout the year, Brazilian authors travel from one book fair to another, as many cities in Brazil have their own literature festivals and book events. All of them have the same goal: yo instill the pleasure of reading and (of course) sell books. One of these literature festivals, however, goes further than all others: FLIP – Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty [The Paraty International Literature Festival]. This article presents FLIP to our international readership and will be the first of a PublishNews Brazil series that will cover Brazilian book events that are helping to improve literacy and enabling a close and productive relationship between writers and readers in the largest South American country.
Since the 1970’s, Paraty, located at the coast of Rio de Janeiro state, has been one of the top destinations for Brazilian and foreign tourists. This seaside harbor town features many attractions: mountains, islands, a beautiful sea, cobbled streets, historical sites and some of the best cachaça in Brazil. Cachaça, in case you haven’t had a chance to try it yet, is the typical Brazilian sugar cane liquor used to make the world-famous caipirinha cocktail.
Then, eight years ago, a different crowd started to visit the colonial town, one in search of a more than fun in the tropical sun. Since 2003, every July (or, in the case of a World Cup year, August), writers from all over the world join Brazilian publishers, agents, authors and readers for FLIP – Paraty International Literature Festival. Few festivals worldwide are able to gather so many, and such a diverse great authors year after year in the same venue as FLIP.
Over the past eight years, FLIP has hosted António Lobo Antunes, Gay Talese, Salman Rushdie, Elisabeth Roudinesco, Richard Dawkins, Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, Ian McEwan, Cees Nooteboom, Orhan Pamuk, Tom Stoppard, Robert Crumb, Neil Gaiman, Robert Darnton, Enrique VilaMatas, William Kennedy, Isabel Allende, J. M. Coetzee, Amos Oz, Nadine Gordimer, Jim Dodge and many, many others (see the full list of FLIP authors).
This year’s FLIP, which will take place from July 6th to 10th, will feature Antonio Tabucchi, Joe Sacco, Claude Lanzmann, Valter Hugo Mãe, Pola Oloixarac, Andrés Neumann and Emmanuel Carrère. Still, despite this who’s-who list of notables, FLIP co-founder (and founding director of Bloomsbury UK) wants more. Her dream is to have Gabriel Garcia Marquez attend — and she won’t stop until the programming director, journalist Manuel da Costa Pinto, goes crazy!
FLIP consists of an opening conference and 20 panel discussions that include guests from a wide variety of backgrounds (writers, filmmakers, cartoonists, historians, journalists and artists, among others). FLIP’s Main Programme takes place at the Authors’ Tent, an 850-seat auditorium. Each event is accompanied by simultaneous translation in English, Spanish and Portuguese and it is broadcast live in another tent, with seating capacity for another 1,400 literary-hungry souls, and is streamed live on the Web.
Some 20,000 people visit Paraty during the festival, but not all manage to watch the discussions live. The tickets for the Authors’ Tent are expensive — last year they cost US $24 for a single panel — and they were sold out in a couple of hours. If you are willing to just watch them on the big screen, you can pay as little as US$6 for each.
The festival caters to local schools with special activities for children throughout the year, but it is at FLIP that they can talk to authors, watch plays and concerts or read some books that “grow from the trees.” There are also several events catering to teenagers as well.
Book sales are brisk at FLIP and publishing houses rush to publish translations of the guest writers’ books prior to the festival. Of all the writers who have appeared at FLIP, Neil Gaiman was the most popular. When he came in 2008, he signed a total of 600 books over five hours. Isabel Allende nearly matched this record, selling 400 books (though she did not sign them all.)
In many ways FLIP has helped raised Brazil’s literary status across the world. “By bringing writers from other countries to Brazil, Brazilian literature is becoming better known abroad,” says Liz Calder, who adds, “At the same time, readers in Brazil will become better acquainted with a wide range of international literature and with the writers themselves.”
Calder has been overjoyed to work on the festival, despite all challenges her team faces every year. “Each festival brings its own challenges and that never changes, but on the whole the writers we invite seem eager to accept the invitation if they are free and able.”
No one who visits Paraty during FLIP will ever regret it. There’s the world-class literature, the wonderful colonial atmosphere and fantastic seafood — even if the restaurants won’t always accommodate the festival’s irregular scheduling. All of it adds up to one great time.
And, honestly, where else in the world could you listen to Paul Auster or J.M. Coetzee read while sipping the most perfect caipirinha? Nowhere.