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Spain in Frankfurt: satisfaction after a job well done

There was a desire for a fair, to return to pre-Covid normality, to renounce the digital formats of the meetings and return to face-to-face encounters. And Frankfurt, according to its protagonists, more than delivered: with a balance of 93,000 professionals and 87,000 private visitors, the world’s largest Book Fair closed a 74th edition that brought together 4,000 exhibitors from up to 95 countries and allowed Spain to be Guest of Honour and showcase some of the potentials of our Letters.

“This year has been a great marvel because it has meant a face-to-face meeting with many publishers from around the world,” says Seix Barral editor Elena Ramírez. “For us, who dedicate ourselves to telling stories to each other and acquiring the right to translate them into other languages, a meeting point like this is of essential value because the human factor is at the heart of our profession. Creators, creative teams and readers united in a motivated forum can do more to spread enthusiasm for a book or a trend than if we put together all the zooms held during the pandemic”. 

In this festive atmosphere, Roberto Domínguez Moro, literary agent for ACER – where, since 1959, they have managed the rights of authors such as Lorenzo Silva, Elias Canetti, Zygmunt Bauman, Jean-Claude Carrière, Ernst Jünger, Herta Müller, Amélie Nothomb and the latest Tusquets Prize winner, Cristina Araújo, among many others. He remembers this year’s event as “an enjoyable fair, where you could sense in the atmosphere that for most of us it was the first post-Covid fair and that we were happy to be there. The pace has been the same as always, fast, but everyone’s good disposition has made it a lot more bearable”, he explains.

Due to the latest geopolitical events, this edition was more political than ever, with Ukraine becoming an unexpected protagonist. Spain landed in Frankfurt amid this demanding and chaotic rhythm and more than fulfilled its expectations. The program showcased our full potential in the middle of the fairgrounds with round tables, interviews, conferences, concerts and exhibitions. “The fair was also well attended,” says Ramírez, “because the programme was magnificent and the events, organised with millimetric precision by the Ministry of Culture, were full of people. I have rarely seen the pavilion of the guest country so full of life”.

A drop of sanity and beauty

Perhaps because, as Rosa Montero pointed out in one of her columns in El País, “we are capable of formidable things”. For example, the programme and the pavilion with which we arrived in the German city. “It was a magnificent piece of work that offered a modern and luminous image of our society, which is original, creative and welcoming. A drop of sanity and beauty,” said the Spanish writer.

 The venue, designed by Enorme Studio, Vitamin and with art direction by Two Points, was poured with praise. “It’s not easy to make a 2,000 square metre show attractive. However, the Spaniards did an excellent job with their pavilion,” wrote Paul Ingendaay in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, words echoed by journalist Sergio Vila-Sanjuan in La Vanguardia. “The two stages, one turquoise and the other cereza are tall, airy tents with walls made of gauze-like fabric panels printed with text and through which one can leaf through, like a giant book in thin print”. A book none other than the Grammar of Elio Antonio de Nebrija, whose 500th death anniversary is being commemorated in 2022.  

Designed by Ignacio Vleming, Julia Navarro described it as ” the cherry tree is impressive, as a tribute to Carmen Martín Gaite, who said that stories are like cherries, you take one, and from it, you jump to another and another…”. The writer from Madrid was full of praises for this space and how Spain made it shine. Thus, after her return from the Fair, she wrote in the Diario de Burgos: “A surprising, modern, imaginative pavilion, a perfect organisation, as well as the decision for plurality in the presence of Spanish writers. Different voices, consolidated voices, new voices, and voices from the four languages in which we understand each other in Spain, Spanish, Galician, Basque and Catalan. Brand new authors who have just made their debut in the world of literature, poets, essayists, consolidated authors, sacred cows of contemporary Spanish literature, illustrators, fanzine authors, cover designers, booksellers, etc. All of them working together like a precise clock”.

As the press release issued by the Frankfurt Book Fair itself at the end of the event stated, “under the slogan Creatividad Desbordante, Spain has shown its linguistic and creative diversity”. Thus, since the project began in 2019, more than 400 new books translated from Spanish into German have been published. Through its extensive programme of events, our country also demonstrated “how solid the theory once formulated by the Spanish author Martín Gaite” about stories is. 

The press release also praised the presence of “world-renowned figures such as Rosa Montero, Arturo Pérez-Reverte and Fernando Aramburu” in Frankfurt. It concluded with, “the Guest of Honour can also boast a positive outcome of its time at the Fair. We have honoured Spain’s great literary tradition and provided a stage for new and promising voices”.

From appointment to appointment in the middle of an oasis

But as it wasn’t all about the fair, the days were also filled with hard work. As Elia Barceló describes in El Correo, “in a single day, from ten in the morning to six in the afternoon, it is normal to walk between fifteen and twenty kilometres, and agents and publishers can have up to twenty appointments a day. They often eat in the corridors while going from one to another”. In this scenario, the pavilion takes on another role: “for most professionals, it is reduced to a sort of oasis in which to spend the few moments of relaxation that the days of the fair allow”, adds Domínguez Moro

The visit of the King and Queen aroused quite a lot of curiosity among the attendees from other countries. However, leaving such anecdotes aside, there is the professional side of the event. For the agent, “there are more and more publishers who can read titles in Spanish or order reading reports, that is quite positive”. Specifically, he points out, “there was interest in titles, above all by young authors, some of whom have already had momentum before like Andrea Abreu, Layla Martínez, Cristina Morales – and others who have stood out in recent days. For instance, there has been a lot of talk about Alana Portero”, he shares.

The panorama is complete because “there is more diversity in the themes and profiles. Generally, there is the impression that the image of Spain is partly recovering as a country with emerging voices that can be treated on an equal footing with those coming from other European countries. Especially when it comes to narrative, and of course in children’s books, where there is already quite a lot of export”, the agent assures us. He concludes, “On the other hand, in non-fiction, “despite some successes such as Irene Vallejo’s, it is still difficult for our books to be recognised as a safe international value”.

After a memorable edition, Spain passes the baton to Slovenia with the guest scroll. Our deployment in Frankfurt has come to an end. However, the ties strengthened will remain in the future. For the time being, our country is heading for other festivals where it will continue to promote its authors: this week as a guest country at the Slovenian Book Fair, at the end of January in Calcutta and 2024 in Guadalajara.