Where is 21st century Latin American fiction heading?

A screenshot of the collaborative online translation project “Palabras errantes” presented at the seminar.

A screenshot of the collaborative online translation project “palabras errantes” presented at the seminar.

What are the new trends in Latin American fiction? Can we go beyond the general conviction that, after the ‘60s “boom”, Latin American fiction experienced a steady decline both in the quality and quantity of literary works produced? How are researchers, librarians and publishers reacting to this in the UK? These and many more questions were answered at the seminar 21st Century Fiction from Latin America  held on Wednesday 12th of February 2014 at Senate House, London.

The panorama of 21st Latin American fiction is hugely vast and exciting, as was evidenced by the very stimulating contributions presented at the Seminar. Here we mention some of them.

Dr. Joanna Page, Lecturer in Latin American Studies at CLAS, Cambridge, proposed an innovative syllabus for university students, with the aim of bringing to light lesser-known writers that deserve a place in the literary canon. Dr. Page structured her talk around five main topics featuring literature from Argentina and Chile.

–      Liberalism and crisis (Mano de obra by Diamela Eltit [C203.c.1557] and El año del desierto by Pedro Mairal [C203.c.120])

–      Dictatorship and memory (Los Topos by Felix Bruzzone [C205.c.8739], Formas de volver a casa by Alejandro Zambra [C207.c.3075], Los conejos by Laura Alcoba [English translation at C201.d.4962], Soy un bravo piloto de la nueva China by Ernesto Semán [on order], El espíritu de mis padres sigue subiendo en la lluvia by Patricio Pron [English translation at 2013.8.2850, Spanish original on order].

–      “Ficciones guerrilleras” or writings about militant experience during the 20th century (Un yuppie en la columna del Che Guevara by Carlos Gamerro [C208.c.1835], Montoneros o la ballena blanca by Federico Lorenz [on order], La vida doble by Arturo Fontaine [C205.c.4566])

–      Rewriting history’s myths and heroes (1810: la Revolución de Mayo vivida por los negros by Washington Cucurto [2009.9.545], and Espejos, una historia casi universal by Eduardo Galeano, the only Uruguayan on the list [C201.d.875])

–      Violence and philosophy in the 21st century (Nocturno de Chile by Roberto Bolaño [C200.c.8085], Las Teorías salvajes by Pola Oloixarac [on order])

–      New technologies and new subjectivities, portraying characters between the real and the cyber world (Trinidad by Jorge Baradit, El juego de los mundos by César Aira; Casa de Ottro by Marcelo Cohen).

[If you are interested in any of the titles that are currently on order or not available, please contact us].

 A hot topic of the seminar was the view that English-language translations of Latin American fiction are not adequately represented on the British book market. The discussion highlighted the lack of dynamism of the UK publishing market in sharp contrast with that of other European countries, such as France. Reasons for this were given, as well as some very interesting suggestions to work around this problem.

Speaking from personal experience, Bill Swainson, commissioning editor at Bloomsbury, explained how the publisher’s emphasis is consistently placed on Latin American authors who are alive and relatively young, with more than one book published and with a built reputation. For the publisher, the sense of being able to create a name for a writer is also a major drive and the selection process aims to cast the net wide.

But however wide the net is cast, major writers still fail to make it into English translation. To counteract the market’s lack of dynamism, Cherilyn Eltson presented her collaborative online project “Palabras errantes”. The project, launched by Cambridge students in 2011, grew from the small number of Latin American literary titles available in English and the realisation that the internet could play a part in making this literature more accessible. Although English translations of Latin American literature have been steadily proliferating in the UK, there seems to be a lack of information regarding what is being published in Latin America. The site is bilingual: it presents the original texts in Spanish with parallel English translation. So far, the project has 87 writers from across the continent, and 47 translators represented.

Another exciting contribution came from Dr. Claire Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at the University of Liverpool, with her talk entitled From print to hypertext: digital media and new literary genres in Latin America. Dr. Taylor presented her project Literary Heritage and Digital Media, which aims to speak back to the rich Hispanic literary tradition by exploring new hybrid forms such as twitter poetry, electronic ballads and blog aphorisms. She stressed the possibilities and also limitations of the media, the need for a continuing dialogue between print and digital formats, and the role of the user in activating works.

Capturing these works before they vanish into the void will be a major challenge for librarians in the coming years. Here are a few very interesting examples of this ephemeral literature:

 Twitter poetry: Eduardo Navas’ Poemita

Electronic ballads: Belén Gache’s Radical karaoke

Blog aforismos: Eduardo Nava’s Minima Moralia

More examples available from Dr. Taylor’s Delicious account at https://delicious.com/latamnetart

Finally, Dr. Edward King, affiliated Lecturer in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Cambridge, also presented an imaginary syllabus for a course on Latin American graphic fiction. Because interest in this field is growing massively, we are going to dedicate a later blogpost specially to this topic. So watch this space!

Sonia Morcillo and Clara Panozzo

One thought on “Where is 21st century Latin American fiction heading?

  1. I would like to thank the contributors for creating this list, which I will most certainly study thoroughly. It’s a shame that Brazilian readers have almost no knowledge about what is happening in the literature scenario of the neighboring countries. I hope that my humble contribution can be a grain of sand contributing to change this reality.

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