By Adam Critchley
MEXICO CITY: A delegation of independent Central American publishers and short story writers will visit the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, the first time the region has been represented at the event, and present an anthology of contemporary short stories.
The five publishers form part of the Central American Independent Publishers Group (GEICA), and which have collaborated on the co-publication of Un espejo roto (A Broken Mirror), an anthology of 27 writers from six countries of the region and from the Dominican Republic.
GEICA comprises Arcoiris Ediciones from El Salvador, F&G of Guatemala, Guaymuras of Honduras, Nicaragua’s Anamá, and Uruk Editores of Costa Rica.
The German-language edition of the anthology, Zwischen Süd und Nord: Neue Erzähler aus Mittelamerika (Between North and South: New Narrators from Central America), published in Zurich by Unionsverlag, will be presented in Frankfurt and Berlin in October.
The idea for the book emerged in 2013 at the first meeting of Centroamérica cuenta (Central America Narrates), a gathering of the region’s writers and intellectuals convoked by Nicaraguan author Sergio Ramírez, editor of the anthology and director of Central American literature and arts magazine Carátula.
The meeting took place at the 2013 Central American International Book Fair, organized by the Nicaraguan Book Publishing Chamber and supported by the Goethe Institute in Mexico and the French and German embassies in Managua.
Centroamérica cuenta aims to promote the region’s art and literature via the gatherings and a blog on the institute’s website and is based on the same tenets as Carátula, providing a showcase for Central American, Latin American and universal literary expression, according to the magazine’s editor, Ulíses Juárez Polanco, who also contributed a story to Un espejo roto.
Region of Broken Dreams
The title of the book, Ramírez explains in its prologue, is a reference to the region’s common history and identity that has been divided by national boundaries.
“Central American countries appear to be different from one another despite their geographical proximity and their common past that goes back to pre-Hispanic times. That history remained shared throughout colonial times and even until independence in 1821, before the catastrophe of separation that put an end to the dream of a Federal Republic of Francisco Morazán, who was executed in 1842 for wanting a united Central America,” he writes.
“Since then, we are a broken mirror. Marginal and powerless, divided by mean prejudices. But even though it’s a broken mirror, it is still a shared mirror.”
The anthology, printed in Honduras and distributed across the region, was launched at the Costa Rica International Book Fair on August 25, and features writers from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Dominican Republic.
“The inclusion of the Dominican Republic obeys a tendency in recent years for the island nation to involve itself in Central America, both politically and culturally, and we didn’t want to exclude it,” Óscar Castillos Rojas, the coordinator of GEICA and director at Uruk Editores, told Publishing Perspectives from San José.
The idea for the anthology was to publish younger writers who may be known within their own countries but not across the region and who were born after 1970. The three exceptions are Mauricio Orellana Suárez (El Salvador, 1965), Jessica Clark Cohen (Costa Rica, 1969) and Juan Dicent (Dominican Republic, 1969).
While the theme of the stories was open, the final selection was based on texts that portrayed the everyday reality and the “big themes” of the region; migration, poverty, violence, the contradictions between tradition and modernity, isolation, drug trafficking, and the relationship between the countries and their people,” according to Carátula’s editor Juárez Polanco.
“The contributors are narrating the present but also the majority of them are cultural promoters working – in magazines, publishing houses, writing workshops and universities – to break down those frontiers between our countries that not only prevent someone in Nicaragua from reading the most recent writing from Guatemala, but that also isolate readers from other latitudes such as Mexico, South America and Spain,” he said.
“More than local politicians, it corresponds to Central America’s writers to unite that broken mirror.”
And it is writers’ social responsibility that gives the anthology its vital importance, according to Salvadoran writer Vanessa Núñez Handal, one of the contributors to the anthology.
“The anthology is the product of the gathering of writers on the initiative of Sergio Ramírez and which was the most important literary event in Central America since the 1960s, because intellectuals were disappeared or murdered or exiled during the war in the 1980s,” she told Publishing Perspectives from Guatemala City, where she now lives.
“We are reconstructing the intellectual life of the region and the anthology is not only important on a literary level, but also socially and politically.”
“It is also important because it shows that there is a lot of very good quality and powerful literature being produced that talks about the violence and the poverty and which has not been published,” she said.
The anthology will also transport those writers’ stories beyond the region they write about.
“Despite the unquestionable quality of Central American poets and fiction writers, few manage to transcend their countries’ borders, let alone the region as a whole,” Juárez Polanco said.
The book, running to almost 300 pages, also contains a brief text by each author on what it means to write from a Central American or Dominican perspective. The Spanish-language and German-language editions will be launched simultaneously.
Óscar Castillo Rojas, Director, Uruk Editores, Costa Rica and Salvadora Navas, Executive Director, Anamá Ediciones, Nicaragua, will be speaking at the International Rights Directors Meeting of the Frankfurt Book Fair on October 7.