Buenos Aires is a book town. Choose a street and walk: you’re bound to pass a book store. If you’ve chosen Corrientes, you may pass 30. They say there are something near 350 bookstores in town, each one catering to who knows how many readers. The vibrancy of the literary culture, however, does not end at the city’s borders, but is fed by Argentina’s vast interior, where stories of gauchos and farmers, immigrants and indigenous peoples have inspired a long and varied literary tradition spanning back nearly two hundred years and including writers of international renown and consequence – the most emblematic and celebrated being Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar.
This year, in recognition of the importance of literary culture to Buenos Aires – and to Argentina as a whole – UNESCO has chosen to honour it with the title World Book Capital City. The honour took effect last week at the 37th annual Buenos Aires Book Fair (Feria del Libro de Buenos Aires) and will be celebrated all year long with special readings, events, publications and programming. Here, at the Argentina Independent, we’ve decided to use the honour as inspiration to launch an initiative of our own: a Literary Section.
From our vantage within Buenos Aires, but on the English speaking periphery, we’re excited by what we see as an increased profile for Argentine writing abroad: ‘Granta’ magazine naming eight Argentines among their 22 ‘Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists’ (the most of any one nation); Dalkey Archive Press reissuing the work of Manuel Puig in English; Cesar Aira, Juan Jose Saer, Alan Pauls and Sergio Chejfec gaining international exposure through a number of new translations.
We hope to further stoke these flames of interest by offering, every month, a new piece of writing in translation, selecting both work by overlooked Argentine writers of the past and those younger writers telling the Argentine story of today. Alongside these short fictions, poems and excerpts from novels and plays, we will run reviews of Argentine books in translation, interviews with authors, critics and literary figures and coverage of literary events in Buenos Aires and around Argentina.
We hope to offer a lively mix of educational and entertaining, original and historic; to create a stable English-language outlet for Argentine writing; to take part in the contemporary conversation Argentine literature is having within itself and with the literature of the world. We hope to share work that is little known outside of the Spanish language as well as to provide exposure for authors who ought not to be.
Last week, when Argentina lost one of its great humanist voices and authors, Ernesto Sábato, who died at 99, many spoke of him as the last of a generation of writers who typified a literary rigor and cultural standing unmatched by Argentine writers before or since. We hope to honor Sábato’s legacy not by mourning a lost generation of literary greatness, but by celebrating, proliferating, translating and discussing those who have inherited it.
If you’re a writer, translator or publisher and are interested in being involved, please get in touch. If you’re a reader, visit next week for our first installment: an original translation of the short story ‘The Train Robber’, written by Angela Pradelli and translated by Andrea Labinger.
It will be our first dispatch from the nation of Sábato and Borges, Martín Fierro and the gaucho epic, the beginning of our celebration of the World Book Capital City of 2011 and of Argentine writing as a whole. We hope you’ll join us.
Literary Section Editor