‘Internationalizing Portuguese Literature’The director of the Portuguese delegation to the Guadalajara International Book Fair, which closed Sunday (December 2), goes right into dream talk when asked how being the fair’s Guest of Honor has gone for Portugal.
“Coming to the fair was a dream for us,” Paulo Ferreira tells Publishing Perspectives. “We’re very aware of the importance of the fair as a way of internationalizing Portuguese literature—[and] Portuguese culture and its creative figures—and we’ve made a huge effort over the last two years to be here with writers and publishers, artists and musicians.”
Ferreira is the director of Booktailors, a Lisbon-based publishing consultancy, and a director of the literary agency Bookoffice.
Guadalajara organizers have announced that this year’s book fair attracted 819,000 visitors overall this year, with the participation of 2,280 publishing companies from 47 countries. Some 750 invited authors were on hand, and an overall 630 books were presented.
The fair’s rights center—featured here—drew 140 publishers and 328 literary agents, say fair officials, for a reported 19,740 meetings.
The children’s section of the fair, FIL Niños, is said to have had 160,373 visitors.
In thanking the Portuguese delegation, fair director Marisol Schulz said, “We were accomplices in this adventure, which made us acknowledge each other as sister nations, of related literatures and cultural manifestations.”
‘A Modern Portugal’
Portugal’s team comprised more than 300 people, including around 50 authors. Four Portuguese publishers were holding meetings in the rights center: Orfeu Negro, Pato Lógico, Maratonas de Leitura, and Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra.
Especially effective, Ferreira says his team discovered, was the Portugal pavilion’s auditorium, which accommodated some 60 people and sometimes had overflow crowds standing nearby to listen to a program.
“We wanted to bring a modern Portugal” to the fair, Ferreira says, “the country that exists today.
“We have 900 years of history, but we’re also a country that always looks to the future. Portugal has made great advances in recent years, it’s a country of science and technology and innovation, and which has its doors open to the world.
“In addition to being a country of writers and artists,” he says, “we have the world’s best soccer player, the best soccer coach, a Nobel Prize laureate [José Saramago], and two Pritzker prizes.”
The elephant in the room, however, is that Portuguese is the language of only one Latin American nation, and everyone else is working in Spanish. “Spain has a greater connection with Spanish-speaking Latin America because of the language,” Ferreira concedes, “with the volume of Spain’s book exports to Latin America being larger than Portugal’s book exports to the whole world.”
But while Portugal and Brazil share a language, he said that there isn’t the awareness you might expect in Brazil and Portugal about each other’s authors.
“Although we’re sister countries, and there is great mutual admiration between Portugal and Brazil,” he said, “there are few writers from one country that are well-known in the other, which is a shame. We don’t need translation” to read each other’s books “and we should publish more books by writers from Brazil.
“Sometimes it’s easier to get Portuguese books into other Latin American countries in translation than it is to distribute them in Brazil,” he says.
Pressure on Portugal’s Bookstores
Ferreira praises the government book-buying program implemented by Brazil’s former president Lula de Silva, and says he’d like to see Portugal implement something similar. What’s more, he describes Brazilian publishers as heroes because of their years of economic struggle.
By contrast, he says, Portugal’s market is doing well.
“We’re a country of many readers,” he says, “and there have been a lot of government efforts over the past few years such as the national reading program and support for libraries, as well as book fairs and literary festivals. There’s at least one literary event per month featuring foreign authors somewhere in the country.”
Lisbon holds its annual book fair in May and June, Porto’s Feira do Livro is held each September, and the Folio International Literary Festival takes place in Óbidos in September and October.
Even as fairs and festivals help keep books prominent in Portugal’s culture, however, Ferreira says that bookstores there have undergone a serious crisis, with the independent shops taking the main impact, as in other parts of the world. Ferreira says that 80 percent of books sold in Portugal are bought at about 20 percent of the retail outlets.
“Outside the cities of Lisbon, Porto, and Coimbra,” he says, “there are probably around 20 bookstores run by professional booksellers,” as distinguished from less specialized retailers such as newsagents and department stores. “There’s been a decline in sales in recent years, and smaller publishers are being forced to change their distribution channels.”
But Ferreira does credit the work of the governmental agency Direção-Geral do Livro, dos Arquivos e das Bibliotecas (DGLAB), the general directorate for books, archives, and libraries, which provides grants for translation. DGLAB also awards an annual illustration prize, and this year gave 12 grants to writers, of six- and twelve-month duration in narrative fiction, drama, poetry, graphic novels, and children’s books. DGLAB, of course, also has a presence at the Frankfurter Buchmesse and London Book Fair, as part of its promotional role for Portugal’s content, and works in literacy campaigns at home.
More on the Guadalajara International Book Fair is here.