Thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Arts, SPD was able to feature books from some sixty publishers at the 2009 Guadalajara International Book Fair, better known in Mexico as the Fil (Feria Internacional del Libro), the world’s second largest book fair and an impressive event in many ways. While the fair focuses on Spanish language books, each year the FIL celebrates a particular country or city from abroad. This year Los Angeles had that honor, and so along with a handful of other independent publishers (including The Getty, Children’s Book Press, Heyday, Red Hen, Tia Chucha and Cinco Puntos), SPD books (related in some way to LA) were the very first books most visitors saw upon entering the LA Pavilion, which also served as the main entrance to the entire expo. A magnificent presentation put on by the NEA and Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs included a uniquely designed open bookstore space, under giant floating balloons upon which independent art films were projected, by a giant wall where an interactive display of LA writers’ names were projected, by a dazzling display of Chicano lowrider vehicles (compliments of Tia Chucha), and of course, groovy music and various lounge seating areas.
The FIL goes on for an astounding nine days, running on selected days from 9am straight through to 11pm. The focus is on literary titles and it serves both the trade (librarians, booksellers, agents) as well as the general public. In addition to innovative displays and a huge roster of readings and panel discussions, one strolling around the FIL can enjoy wandering mariachis, tequila and many other surprises. Many of the booths feature attractive young women striking enticing poses (apparently in Spanish they are known as edicones—“hostesses”—though we dubbed them “booth bunnies”). Despite the absence of booth bunnies in the LA pavilion, crowds perused our wares and showed considerable interested in these here rare English language literary offerings.
Live events throughout the day featured such Latin American literary luminaries as Carlos Fuentes and the poet José Emilio Pacheco, and such USA writers such as Ray Bradbury and Jane Smiley. I was able to enjoy several of these programs, despite my remedial Spanish, through live, simultaneous translation provided through free headsets. I particularly enjoyed when Pacheco (who was there for a 70th birthday tribute) was asked if he thought there was an audience for poetry. His response: “No, there is no audience for poetry, but there are readers.” Ray Bradbury, just on the cusp of 90 years old and now nearly blind, appeared through a video simulcast, with translators in both countries. A young writer asked for advice to those just starting out. His reply, as best as I can recall: “It’s simple. Do what you love and love what you do. If your friends don’t support you, call them up and tell them they’re fired! You must jump off the cliff and then your wings will grow.” These sessions were packed with readers, including many high school and college students. Nighttime at the FIL the exhibition halls fills to overflowing with readers buying books—quite a sight to see. Perhaps one day our own BEA (Book Expo America, North America’s largest trade show) will also welcome individual readers in this same way.
All of Guadalajara seems to participate in the FIL. Whereas those not working in publishing here would scarcely know what BEA even was, let alone if it were taking place in their own city, nearly anyone in Guadalajara knows about the FIL. All of the museums featured related exhibitions (in this case, shows on loan from the Getty, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and other California art institutions), the University of Guadalajara featured a series of LA noir films, and every night there were free or low-cost dance, theater and music performances, some large enough to fill circus tents. These culminated on the final Saturday night with a performance by Los Lobos (which I was able to enjoy from backstage, while snacking on los chips de Los Lobos and enjoying their generously offered tequila). But the FIL overall really is about books, and mostly literary books. The folks at the NEA, particularly Jon Peede, the Director of Literature there, worked tirelessly in maneuvering all of the red tape and complicated trade permissions necessary for us to feature our books. The NEA staff missed Thanksgiving with their families to arrive early and make sure all the books had arrived and were displayed correctly. They made it possible for us to showcase not only SPD books at a major international fair, but to have them in the absolute place of honor in the expo halls. It was a thrilling experience to have SPD titles featured in this way and to have so many readers from another country spend time with our books and purchase them. If you ever plan a trip to Guadalajara (and I strongly suggest you do!), be sure to go during the FIL.
—Jeffrey Lependorf, SPD Executive Director