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PEN World Voices Festival: Celebrating Anagrama at Instituto Cervantes

By David Varno

PEN World Voices Festival As the venerable Spanish publishing house Anagrama turns 40 this year, they have many triumphs and achievements to look back on, and currently are central to the regeneration of Latin American fiction, most notably of course with the success of Roberto Bolaño.Publisher Jorge Herralde is in town from Barcelona, and this past Wednesday he presented five of his authors, including Daniel Sada, from Mexico, and Enrique Vila-Matas from Spain.The other three were American, published in Spanish translation: Francisco Goldman, A.M. Homes, and Siri Hustvedt.

Anagrama's mission, according to Herralde (whose off-the-cuff speech required a tag team of translators to relate to non-Spanish speaking attendees), is to rescue and hopefully discover classics, and in the process they have fought governmental as well as corporate censorship.

Goldman noted a particular characteristic of the Latin American writers chosen, and suggested why they might be successful with Anagrama: they are íin between languages and cultures, which is representative of Anagrama.ë

A.M. Homes read from her story íA Real Dollë (from the collection The Safety of Objects), about a teenaged boy's erotic fascination with his sister's doll to explore the fact that though she writes primarily about the American consciousness, something in her work is understood universally.She said that to receive recognition in other countries is an even greater honor than success in the US.

Siri Hustvedt, according to Herralde, came across as ía little snootyë when they first met, because he had first neglected to publisher her.He explained that she didn't seem to need Anagrama's help getting published in Spain, and that the house prefers to bring out authors who aren't otherwise available (Goldman also stressed the value of Anagrama's habit to publish èauthors,' not èbooks').But Hustvedt, driven by her admiration for the press, eventually brought Herralde to terms.

Daniel Sada, whose latest novel, Casi nunca, is his first book with Anagrama, spoke softly about his influences and what he hopes to accomplish as a writer. íVirginia Woolf said that a novel usually has one or two interesting characters,ë he said, íand that who cares what happens to them?ëHe also said that he would like to ítranslate poetry into the novel form,ë but that íthis may be a stupid dream.ë These quotes moved me to read him, but there is very little available in English.

Enrique Vila-Matas, who spoke yesterday with Paul Auster in an entertaining talk that left a lot to think about (check later this week for coverage on that), was introduced by Herralde as having first aspired to the writer's persona, à la Marcello Mastroianni's character in La Notte, before he became an author.Herralde compared his work to Sebald, for the blur between fiction and nonfiction, and declared that the sixteen books he's published by Vila-Matas so far is representative of the house's policy to carry through from the beginning.

Vila-Matas, speaking in Spanish with a unique deadpan, said that Herralde was right in regard to the fantasies inspired by the Antonioni film. íI continue writing novels under this conceit,ë he said, and cited his 1984 novel Impostura--which is centered on a fiction writer.

Published May 4, 2009   Copyright 2009 David Varno

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