Book Fair opens in Queens Museum of Art

The NY Book Fair 2011 begins this week at the Queens Museum of Art and the Spanish Benevolent Society (Centro Español) in Manhattan. “This event lets us enjoy and celebrate our culture,” Jacqueline Donado, founder and director of the fair, said (interview below).

The NY Book Fair 2011 celebrates the diversity of languages spoken in New York City and recognizes its many authors. Activities will take place at the Queens Museum of Art on October 6 and 9, and on Saturday, October 8, at the Spanish Benevolent Society on 14th Street. All activities are free.

Book Fair 2011: Quixotic work

Literature, like journalism, serves to create ideas. The ideas encourage people to think and act. For Hispanic Heritage Month, we interviewed Jacqueline Donado, founder of the NY Book Fair, which takes place this year on October 6 and 9 at the Queens Museum of Art and on October 8 at the Spanish Benevolent Society (Centro Español) in Manhattan. It is not easy promoting books in the age of the Internet.

(This interview was first published in the print edition of QueensLatino.com)

What does it mean to write in Spanish in the United States?

A major challenge, an assertion of diversity. From an editorial point of view, it is something that the major publishing companies have been slow in grasping: that there is in an audience interested in quality texts and that those texts exist among Hispanic writers.

Have we passed the generation of Magical Realism or are we still seeing its influence in writing?

The new generations have been–very slowly–wiping out traces of magical realism, although the legacy of that generation of literary heavyweights is very difficult to surpass. I think that the recent trend in the United States is more oriented towards Anglo journalist-novelists.

There is also a trend towards historical research. That is the case with Esmeralda Santiago and Conquistadora, or Jaime Manrique and Our Lives Are the Rivers, or the new production by Gerardo Piña-Rosales, director of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language,  Gabriela Mistral y los Estados Unidos (Gabriela Mistral and the United States).

Will there come a time in which Spanish-language writers in the United States surpass Latin American writers in terms of ideas and amount produced?

If we do the math, no. The United States is home to almost 50 million Latinos, which would only be slightly more than the population of Colombia or Spain. There’s much more to consider–countries with literary tradition and discipline like Argentina and Chile. Not all Latinos in the United States are old enough to read, and a large number do not have Spanish as their mother tongue. Ideally, we would go beyond book industry and readership figures in Latin America, but we must be realistic and take more decisive initiatives. This, however, does not rule out that here in the United States, you can write great books.

How can one characterize the themes and style of Spanish-language writers in New York?

To respond objectively, let’s talk about the most recent decade.  Every day, a large group of writers join academia. We see writers who have grants or assistant professors in Hispanic-American studies who have very fruitful literary work, as is the case with Gustavo Arango, Antonio Muñoz Molina and Claudio Ivan Remeseira, who tie their profession and writing together with much New York influence.

The themes are so varied, ranging from the generation of the “Golden Boys” of Wall Street, the gondolas in Central Park, pizza deliveries, neighborhoods, immigration and the historic development of the many diverse communities in New York’s metropolitan area. We find books about Mexicans, Hondurans, Panamanians, Colombians, Argentinians. Then there are also novels, investigative journalism, poetry, the list is long.

How are Spanish-language writers organized in New York?

There are several organizations that revolve more around nationalities, such as the Comisionado de Cultura Dominicano, university research centers like New York University and the group that’s studying Quechua and its literary impact–but an official association I haven’t seen on the scene.

What role does your publishing house Book Press NY and the Book Fair play?

In 2006, the New York Book Fair Expo was founded to organize a book fair and invite local writers to participate and have a meeting point where they can make themselves known to promote and sell their work; and also to give regular people the opportunity to meet writers and have a conversation with them.

That year, there were more than four bookstores selling books, including Lectorum, which has already disappeared from the market. As time went on, the fair has turned into an important meeting ground for authors to strengthen their relationships with libraries, universities and through these relationships, present and sell their books.

The fair this year is celebrating its sixth year and is open to all languages and literary genres, all coming together at the Queens Museum of Art. Our slogan is “Languages of New York” (“Idiomas de Nueva York”), since the city is home to many languages, and each year, we invite a select group of writers, who publish in different languages, to talk about their experiences as creators in the Big Apple. The first volume of Languages of New York (published by Book Press NY) brought together writers from Brazil, Korea, Colombia, Cuba, United States, France, the Philippines, Iran, Italy and Russia. 2011 should be very diverse.

What has been the growth process of the Book Fair?

It has gone slowly but surely. We started in St. Demetrios Astoria School and from there, we moved to the Queens Museum of Art. This change allowed us to expand our programs and use their theater for conferences, book presentations, and their gallery for displaying and selling books.

In terms of help, we also see a large growth and this year, we expect an increase from adding an extra day to the fair, and extending to Manhattan and using the facilities of the Spanish Benevolent Society, the oldest cultural center of the Hispanic world in New York, founded in 1868.

This year, for the first time, we have the support of Scholastic, the large distributor of children’s book, and there will be a section for kids, complete with all kinds of activities and gifts, plush toys, face painting and souvenirs.

And do people read books in the age of the Internet and entertainment?

People don’t read a lot, but motivation is important in attracting people who come with family and have the opportunity to meet writers.

Visit the NY Book Fair site for the program and a listing of participating authors.

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