By Javier Castro Bugarin
Buenos Aires, Apr 28 (EFE).- Unprecedented levels of enthusiasm and expectation surrounded Thursday’s inauguration of the 46th edition of the Buenos Aires International Book Fair, after the event was canceled the past two years due to the coronavirus crisis.
Over the next 19 days, the spacious La Rural fairgrounds in the Argentine capital will be a meeting place for writers, publishers and the general public attending one of Latin America’s leading cultural events.
This prestigious festival of letters will boast more than 1,500 cultural activities on this occasion, including hundreds of book presentations, literary workshops and roundtable discussions.
“There’s a lot of expectation and anticipation. There’s book fair withdrawal syndrome. People felt the fair’s absence,” Ezequiel Martinez, director of the entity that organizes the event, Fundacion El Libro, told Efe.
To encourage the highest possible turnout, organizers have put in place numerous health-safety measures, including widening the fair’s walkways, setting up an open-air space for book signings by the most popular writers and reducing the length of activities to allow time for disinfecting and ventilating the different rooms.
Held for the first time in 1975, attendance at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair rose steadily despite a long period of economic stagnation in the late 1970s and 1980s and a severe recession around the turn of the century, hitting an all-time high of 1.2 million visitors in 2019.
But the event was canceled for the first time in 2020 and then again in 2021 due to coronavirus restrictions.
The health emergency had a major impact on Argentina’s publishing sector, which had already been on a downward slide on account of a socioeconomic crisis that began in 2018.
Since then the amount of books published and books exported abroad has fallen sharply, and the adverse situation was greatly exacerbated by the pandemic restrictions.
Nevertheless, with the health situation having improved since the start of the year there is “renewed enthusiasm among all the fair’s exhibitors,” the president of Fundacion El Libro, Ariel Granica, told Efe.
Argentine writer Guillermo Saccomanno will deliver the inaugural address at this year’s fair, whose guest city of honor is Havana.
Nearly 200 foreign authors will travel to Buenos Aires to take part in the event, including Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian-born recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature.
Vargas Llosa will present his latest book – “La mirada quieta” (The Quiet Gaze), about the life and work of Spanish novelist Benito Perez Galdos.
Also in attendance will be John Katzenbach, an American writer of psychological thrillers; Chilean National Prize for Literature recipient Diamela Eltit; and Spanish poet Luis Garcia Montero, who will preside over an activity in honor of late Spanish writer Almudena Grandes.
Several commemorative activities also will be held in honor of a pair of late Nobel Prize in literature recipients: Portuguese author Jose Saramago (1922-2010) and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014).
The optimism of the fair’s organizers is palpable. With no capacity restrictions, it will be one of the first mass-audience cultural events to be held under conditions similar to those in place prior to the pandemic.
“It’s a lengthy fair, with a big supply (of books) and a large audience. For us, it’s a very significant moment,” said Granica, who expressed confidence that a new attendance record can be achieved once again this year. EFE