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Àngels Gregori, poet and member of the Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua (Valencian Language Academy)

“There have never been as many translations as there are now”.

Poet, director of the Francisco Brines Foundation, member of the Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua, creator of the Poefesta and president of PEN Català, a platform for the international projection of literature and writers from Catalan-speaking territories. We talk to Ángels Gregori about the importance of Valencian literature and its international projection at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Could an essence of Valencian literature be defined, something that makes it unique with respect to literature created elsewhere?

At the moment, three generations of authors coexist in Valencia, with different styles and trends, and this vitality, in all genres, means that we are going through a marvellous time. In Valencia we had a Golden Age, with authors of the highest European level, such as Ausiàs March or Joanot Martorell, and this happy continuity with respect to our literary tradition is being assured and strengthened. Sorolla’s light, the skyline of corruption left to us by Calatrava’s landscape and a city in full bloom, as Valencia is now, allow us to conceive this city as an open novel, which is constantly being rewritten.   

Who are the best-known Valencian authors outside Spain?

Names like March, Martorell, Rafael Chirbes, Joan Fuster, Brines, Miguel Hernández, Max Aub, Blasco Ibánez or Lluís Vives are our best passport. What is important is the work of internationalisation that is being done: there have never been so many translations as now, writers are regularly present at international festivals and fairs, and their works work very well outside the territory in which they are written. I am thinking of names like Manuel Baixauli, Carlos Marzal, Josep Piera, Paco Roca, Joan Francesc Mira and Teresa Pascual.  

It is common for efforts to be focused on exporting certain attractions aimed at encouraging tourism, such as beaches and gastronomy, and not so much on cultural and literary aspects, but there are institutions that do this. However, there are institutions that do this. Do you think that the country’s own culture is cared for and sufficiently supported?

Until a few years ago it was like that, a landscape of beaches and paellas. But things are changing and institutions in Valencia are realising that there is no better way to export a brand than through culture. And the other way around too: generating an economic impact from culture is, for a territory, the greatest luxury in the long term. This is what builds the narrative of a city and the best tourism to which it can aspire. Valencia is experiencing a moment of great effervescence: it has first-rate cultural facilities, such as the Centre del Carme or the IVAM, a theatre and music circuit like never before, festivals such as the Poefesta and an enviable muscle in its network of bookshops and publishing houses.

Although it is true that many of the cultural initiatives that work and attract a large number of people have been born from the margins, without institutional implications. Almost twenty years ago we created the Poefesta, a poetry festival which has attracted the most important poets in Europe in different languages and which is attended by almost a thousand people every year. At the beginning, without institutional support. But success also comes when, without losing the essence and freedom, institutions make these projects their own. Culture can never be supported enough. There is a long way to go, but if we look back at the landscape, we have reason to be optimistic. It is true that we have never been as good as we are now, but at the same time I am reluctant to think that this is the best situation to which we can aspire.  

What aspects of Valencian literature reach further because they are more easily received?

Valencia is experiencing the graphic novel phenomenon, with artists such as Cristina Durán and Paco Roca, who have an incredible reception abroad. Here, language is not an obstacle. The success of a good reception often depends on the translation. When you go to an international festival, nobody asks you why you write in your own language, and that’s what success is all about: getting writers from different languages to talk to each other on the same level. 

How can the Frankfurt Book Fair help to overcome the barrier of language differences that prevents understanding between peoples and work to disseminate Catalan literature in other languages?

Frankfurt is an opportunity. Beyond the Fair itself and the official programme of guest authors, there are the parallel actions, which are just as important, if not more so, as the programme itself, such as the support for the translation of works into German or the translation residencies. And that’s a long-term journey. When Catalan culture was the guest of honour in 2007, it marked a before and after in the reception and presence of Catalan authors in Germany, and it had its effects. I am thinking, for example, of the readership won by the work of Jaume Cabré. The Frankfurt Book Fair is an event with enormous repercussions, but the parallel work that is being done and the fruits that will come, although they are not so visible right now and it is a work in depth, is extremely important, because that is what will really remain. Years will pass and other countries will be invited, but if these foundations are built, there will be continuity for a long time to come. 

Is there a bridge between Valencian and German literature?

There are good German translators and Valencian professors at German universities. Frankfurt presents us with a challenge: this year we are inviting a country with all its linguistic manifestations, and that is an immense opportunity to build these bridges.

The poet Francisco Brines, the first Valencian writer to receive the Cervantes Prize, wanted his legacy and his work to remain in time, and to this end he set up the foundation that bears his name and which you head as director. How is this task going? Brines’ dream was that the literary, architectural and landscape heritage of l’Elca would remain intact. L’Elca, the house that the poet knew in all his ages and the current headquarters of the foundation, contains one of the most important private libraries in the country, an impressive collection of paintings and spaces that allow us to understand all of Brines’ poetry. Now we have started to carry out literary activities that are being very well received, in a few months the house will be open for visits, we are working on a project in schools to bring the poetic genre closer to the youngest through a route around l’Elca and the second edition of the literary prizes that bear his name has been announced. We are in the process of declaring l’Elca a BIC, and this is very important to safeguard and guarantee, also from the institutions, this territory as one of the most important written landscapes of Castilian poetry. Brines left us a wonderful space that summarises his essence, his poetry and his passage through life, and our responsibility, as well as protecting it, is to make this space a cultural reference point. 

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