What’s the goal of a book fair? Selling books, promoting book culture, and creating a motive for international participation and investment in localities. Often, however, bookfairs are jam-packed events where the famous make their appearances, boast their accomplishments, and then disappear as quickly as they can.
La Feria de Libro de Manizales is different. It’s a place where writers want to stay and go into deep conversation with their colleagues. It is a community of creators where new collaborations and ideas are born.
In part this is because it’s on a magical mountaintop in the famous eje de café, the beautiful coffee-growing region of the Department of Caldas, Colombia and, while it’s well-attended, it’s not a mob like the bigger book fairs. The other reason is bookfair director and novelist, Octavio Escobar Giraldo, who invited me (I am his translator) and who chooses bookfair participants with a vision: to create a vibrant community of writers, translators, and publishing houses that will interact dynamically with the students and citizens of Manizales and each other, and who — this is important — “saben estar” (know how to be with others). Octavio is a master at orchestrating an international pop-up community of creators that runs as smooth as the clear mountain streams of Manizales. This year, he and his excellent team emphasized women, who were the strong majority of all invited participants.
The Manizales bookfair is a grand experiment in literary investigation and friendship that has left me limp from sheer joy.
Holding such a major event way up in the cloud forests of the Colombian mountains is a bit of a geographic stretch for many. Getting there requires a flight to Pereira and then a drive up the vertiginous two-lane highway that wriggles along the mountain’s curves like a water snake. But there in the sky are the University of Caldas, a thriving and friendly citizenry, eco-hotels, nature parks, and the Centro Colombo Americano de Manizales, which all cooperate to help facilitate, organize, and financially support the fair which is held at the beautiful Centro Cultural Universitario Rogelio Salmona at the University.
I had the privilege of discussing “La ilusión de traducir” with writer, translator and Pessoa scholar, the wise and delightful Jerónimo Pizarro, a conversation moderated by the smart and engaging editor from Panamericana Editorial, Julián Acosta Riveros. I taught a class in literary translation at Caldas University and held a session on the purpose of reading at the Centro Colombo Americano. And of course there were many other marvelous events that are too numerous to mention here featuring authors, editors, artists, and comic book creators.
After a day at the fair, we spilled out into the hotels and nearby cafés, sandwich shops, and bars. We gathered, talked, laughed. We were happy.
As Chilean screenwriter Julio Rojas recently remarked to journalist and novelist Karen Codner in her excellent podcast, Espiral: “Entrar en afinidad con alguien es la experiencia humana más hermosa y es un torbellino de euforia y belleza, y también dolor.” (To develop a rapport with someone is the most beautiful human experience and is a whirlwind of euphoria and beauty, and also pain.) I have been in that whirwind for eleven days. A lot of us pretty much fell in love with each other.
Now comes the pain. Because tomorrow I have to go home.
While I will be overjoyed to see my husband and dogs again, I am wistful. My little pueblo mágico de las letras has broken up, each one going their own way. When the last hugs were exchanged today here in Pereira and people headed off to the airport or back up the mountain to a now quieter Manizales, I went to my room at the Hotel Don Alfonso, drew the curtains, closed myself into the bathroom, and had a little cry.
I blame Octavio Escobar.