Edel Morales, poet, novelist and Vice President of el Instituto Cubano del Libro and one of the key players on the organizing committee of the Havana Book Fair explains that the purpose of the Book Institute is to organize and implement Cuba’s publishing and literary policies. The Institute organizes weekly book events and runs eight publishing houses that release more than 300 titles per year. The Institute also arranges the distribution of several million titles around the country, through a network of more than 300 bookstores. It promotes Cuban books and authors internationally through the Cuban Chamber of Books and the Latin American Literary Agency. Cuba participates annually in about 30 international fairs mainly in Latin America, but also in Europe, Asia and Africa.
“It’s part of our book policy,” explains Morales. “It seems natural that the book should move around the country, around our linguistic community and then, through translations, [throughout the world.] The book is the main [channel] of communication and human knowledge, so it is important for the country to participate and promote our books and authors in the international arena. We have an important presence in Latin America, a relatively important presence in Spain, and in other parts of the world we try to be present.”
Maintaining a dominant presence in their linguistic community is a key part of the Cuban government’s focus. The Havana Book Fair is one of the main fairs in the Spanish speaking community. As part of the Centro Regional para el Fomento del Libro en America Latina y el Caribe (Regional Centre for Book Promotion in Latin America and the Caribbean -- CERLALC), it participates in a network of Latin American book fair organizers. CERLALC is an inter-governmental agency under the auspices of UNESCO, headquartered in Columbia. It coordinates state policies on the promotion of books and reading. Through their participation in CERLALC, the fairs throughout Latin America are planned in succession, creating a circuit of events in which all countries can participate and reducing the transportation and coordination expenses of moving books, authors and publishing representatives around the region.
Morales notes that the fairs throughout Latin America are organized in many different ways. For example, the Havana Book Fair is run by the Instituto del Libro, a state organization, whereas the Guadalajara Book Fair in Mexico is organized by the University of Guadalajara. The Buenos Aires Book Fair in Argentina is organized by La Fundación del Libro, a private institution. Morales notes that in all cases, there is a mix of private and state entities and that strong communication exists between the organizing entities throughout Latin America.
That communication allows organizers to learn best practices in book fair hosting from each other as well as to learn the policies and practices that affect book marketing, distribution and sales in each country, such as customs policies, tariffs and taxation. “The ultimate goal”, says Morales, “is to have higher levels of reading across Latin America. It’s both a cultural interest and a commercial interest.”
Edel Morales’ top three tips for hosting a successful book fair:
1. Focus on the readers. The goal is to have a vivid, dynamic book fair, with intelligent dialogue between authors and readers. Morales notes that Cuba’s highly educated population gives it a distinct advantage in programming book-related events.
2. Focus on the books. Morales underscores that content is what matters. Publishers should focus on creating books that transmit knowledge, culture and pleasure.
3. Focus on the writers. The writer should feel that the fair is their space, says Morales. They should be happy to participate. These are the main pillars on which the fair is built. Morales notes that buy-in must be sought from the government and private companies, but in all cases, they should understand that the main pillars are the readers, the writers and the culture.
Translation by Vladimir Dominguez.
Major Latin American Book Fairs
Bógota International Book Fair
April 18 – May 1, 2013
Buenos Aires Book Fair
Buenos Aires, Argentina
April 25 – May 13, 2013
Sao Paolo International Book Biennial
Sao Paolo, Brazil
August 9 - 19, 2013
Guadalajara Book Fair
November 30 – December 8, 2013
Havana Book Fair