Guadalajara International Book Fair: Ruminations
I attended the first edition of the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) in November of 1987 for the purpose of inviting Mexican publishers to a Latin American Book Fair that I co-directed in New York City. Though there were the usual problems of a first time event, it was obvious to me that the FIL would only continue to grow and expand. The directors were Maricarmen Canales and Margarita Sierra, two women who were committed to making FIL the best book fair in all Latin America: they were passionate, well-organized and determined to succeed. They had developed a team comprised of exclusively young women who were being trained to consider the book in all its permutations as one of the most successful expressions of Latin American culture. What I discovered also is that a book fair could be both professional and cordial at the same tim- business didn’t have to be a dry affair. I came away convinced that the FIL would in a few short years become an event of international dimensions. As the fair approaches its 30th anniversary in 2016, FIL is considered among the leading cultural and professional events produced anywhere in the world.
Since its inception in 1987, the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) has had two mandates: to be the best and most professional Spanish-language book fair in the world and to present the most talented authors writing in any language to a Mexican audience. To accomplish the former, FIL gathers together publishers, distributors, editors, librarians, booksellers and translators under one roof to conduct the kind of book business that cannot be accomplished in London, Frankfurt or New York; and for the latter, FIL features close to 750 writers who present their latest books and a dynamic cultural program–art, dance, theater, music–over a nine day period.
But much else happens in Guadalajara. Over 70,000 school children visit the fair to take part in workshops and performances or to meet with established authors, many of them Nobel prizewinners. In a country like Mexico, a book fair has to be involved in literacy and in building new audiences for books. And while large swaths of FIL are devoted to children, there are also approximately 2000 square meters of space devoted to university publishers; together with these houses, there are at least half a dozen professional programs for academics: sociologists, medical practioners, and translators.
Since the middle 90s, FIL has partnered with the American Library Association to bring Latin American collection development librarians to Guadalajara by offering them 3 nights hotel and up to $200 for the airfare. We believe that this program is fundamental to our interests: we want librarians to come and see the books that they might be purchasing for their communities. To this end, we ensure that large collective stands exhibit from Central America, Ecuador, Colombia and all the Southern Cone nations. It’s important that librarians see not only the content, but the quality of the books being produced in Latin America. This is particularly of interest to children’s book librarians who are selecting titles for their communities. We believe that FIL has played a role in developing great children’s book publishers such as Mexico’s Tecolote, CIDCLI, El Naranjo, Petra and South American publishers including Kalandraka, Ekare and Amanuensis.
To conclude, we at FIL want to create a world class event that focuses on literacy, reading and the publishing industry in an atmosphere that is both entertaining and productive. We want to convey to both audiences and professionals the pleasure, knowledge and excitement that books bring to our lives, especially those books written by Latin American authors.
About the author
David Unger is International Representative of the Guadalajara International Book Fair.