Reading can transform everything. This is an idea that I keep turning over in my mind. Like in the story of that king: everything that reading touches is turned, not into gold, but into something much more valuable. But reading is elusive; at first, it may sound even selective, but is not that proud; it is just that reading waits and waits for the best time to change a life. And as soon as it is given the chance because of a moment of boredom, because of a chance encounter, reading enters and gets its way. In Medellín, reading is getting its way thanks to the Book Events: Feria Popular Días del Libro(Book Days Popular Fair) Parada Juvenil de la Lectura (Youth Book Festival) and Fiesta del Libro y la Cultura (Book and Culture Festival).
Little by little the city is filling up with books and the idea is not to stop it, but to strengthen it so that, in Medellín, we breathe books, we take refuge in them when anguish or fear try to dominate us. And why am I convinced that we are on the right track? Because, in the last Parada Juvenil de la Lectura, young people showed their interest in several things, but what really grabbed my attention was the line they made to take a couple of free books home. They released a book while freeing their imagination. When young people line up to take a book, something is happening.
I do not know exactly which book it was, but I remember a teacher that came into the classroom and asked, “Do you know Joyce? You don’t? Then you are an ignorant.” I was upset, I do not like literary superiorities, I do not like people who boast about knowledge. But later I understood that the teacher said it jokingly and used the word “ignorant” in its etymological sense, not as an insult. Ignorant is a person who ignores, and I liked that because it is not wrong to ignore a lot of literary universes, but it is fascinating when we slowly enter them and feel that humanity can be different.
Now that the 11th Book and Culture Festival is coming, whose theme is identities and guest of honor is Brazil, the idea is that we feel together the pleasure of the encounter, the wonderful experience that a word written in someone’s imagination can be enough to believe that reading is coming true in our city.
About 300 national and international guests will arrive in Medellín for this Festival. Among them, there are three international guests that we would like to mention.
Gioconda Belli (1948, Managua, Nicaragua)
She has reclaimed the role of women in society through literature. Her texts show a strong political commitment and have become a tool to give voice to women and to challenge patriarchal, androcentric and heteronormative societies around the world. Some of her collections of poems are Línea de fuego, Amor insurrecto and Fuego soy apartado y espada puesta lejos. Besides being a poetess, she is also a narrator: she has written novels such as El país de las mujeres, El infinito en la palma de la mano, El país bajo mi piel: memorias de amor y guerra, among others. She has been translated into more than 14 languages and received multiple awards. Gioconda, who as a child wanted to be an archaeologist, can only write when she is happy and reflects her privacy in poetry making it a chronicle of her life.
Alejandro Zambra (1975, Santiago, Chile)
He began as a poet, when he studied and worked answering phones, in libraries or as a postman. Today Alejandro holds a master’s degree in Hispanic Philology and a PhD in Literature, and works as university professor, critic and columnist for different media. He was recognized by the Hay Festival 2007 as one of the 39 most important Latin American writers under 39. Some of his works, which clearly reflect images of his own life, are the poems Bahía inútil, Mudanza and Facsímil, the novels Bonsái, La vida privada de los árboles and Formas de volver a casa, and the tales Mis documentos and Fantasía. His books have been translated into more than ten languages and received awards such as best novel of the year in the Chilean Critics’ Awards 2007 and the National Book Council 2007 and 2012, and the Altazor Award 2011 for best narrative work. He emphasizes the use of audiobooks because, to him, prose must have a surprising rhythm that causes specific effects.
Ana María Machado (1941, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Sure that few literary genres have readers as aware of the magic power of words as children’s and young adult literature, Ana María opened the first children’s bookstore in Rio: Malasartes. Millions of them have been able to travel to different worlds through books such as Historia medio al revés, Al otro lado hay secretos and Un pajarito me contó. She has also written novels such as De carta en carta, Fueron los días más felices and Ayer la ví. Her work is considered by critics as one of the best in contemporary Brazilian literature and has been translated into several languages.
Before being a writer, she dedicated herself to painting. She has a degree in Romance Languages and a PhD in Linguistics and has taught literary theory, children’s literature and Brazilian literature courses. She is also a journalist and has collaborated with media such as Elle, BBC and Jornal do Brasil. She received the Prince Claus Award in 2010 for the positive impact that her work has had; won the Jabuti Award in 1997; the Andersen Award in 2000; the Machado de Assis Award in 2001 and the Iberoamerican Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award in 2012. Ana María makes us treat words as inexhaustible toys and encourage us not to forget the power they have to break chains and make us fly.