Latin American Writers and the Crisis in Spain Pt. 2

by  and translated by Sam Cogdell  /  March 28, 2013  / No comments

Part Two of a column on the future of literature in Spanish and Spain’s literary market.

The Instituto Cervantes, a non-profit organization in Madrid, promotes the study of Spanish literature and culture. Photo: M. Peinado on Flickr.

In my previous column, I referred to the possibility that the economic and social crisis in Spain might affect the current roles of the two leading Spanish cities (Madrid and Barcelona) as literary metropolises for Latin American writers. I also mentioned that for that to happen there would have to be a significant breakdown in the Spanish-language publishing industry.

  1. Corkscrew, a column by Horacio Castellanos Moya
  2. Corkscrew is focused on Latin American issues. Literature, journalism and politics are the main concerns of this column. A corkscrew is useful only if it opens a bottle, hopefully full of something that would enlighten our spirits, but we could also set loose a cruel Genie or a rotten wine. The author will follow this principle: look for topics that open debates, new perspectives, and controversy. Cheers!
  3. Horacio Castellanos Moya
  4. Horacio Castellanos Moya is a writer and a journalist from El Salvador. For two decades he worked as a journalist in Mexico, Guatemala, and his own country. He has published ten novels, five short story collections and two books of essays. He was granted residencies in a program supported by the Frankfurt International Book Fair (2004-2006) and at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh (2006-2008). In 2009, he was a guest researcher at the University of Tokyo. Currently he teaches at the University of Iowa.

But so far, events in the Spanish publishing world show no signs of a breakdown, only the same trends experienced by other Latin American countries when they fell victim to similar economic crises (especially Argentina and Mexico at the end of the last century)—the same that Spain itself has been facing for several years now. On one hand, there’s the tendency toward consolidation among the large corporations. That means independent publishers, especially the medium-sized operations, either enter alliances with the corporations to safeguard their viability, or they’re out-and-out devoured by them. Everything seems to indicate that those corporations which, so far have controlled the lion’s share of the Spanish-language literary market from Spain, will continue to do so. They might even be more aggressive in seeking to impose their standards of value and taste. Things are currently running in their favor: The sign of our times is the trend toward consolidation and uniformity in all domains of life; homogenization until the whole model breaks down, if in fact it ever does.

On the other hand, parallel to this tendency toward consolidation, another trend marked by dispersion and diversity is emerging (as it always does in the game of opposites). Recently, there has been a surge in the number of smaller, alternative publishers with prestige and a national presence, that also have great freedom to risk publishing new authors, or those who don’t fit the criteria of the larger publishing groups. However, these publishers have very little, if any export capability or capacity to compete in the larger regional market. Latin American writers whose work is launched from a national-level publishing platform will continue to suffer the effects of the balkanization of the regional market, although the Internet may be making up for this situation somewhat by making information more accessible. In other words, I may find out online that a small publisher in Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Spain, or any other country has published a book that interests me, but getting a copy will still be just as difficult as before, if I’m not in that country.

While it seems that the Spanish economic crisis will not alter these publishing trends, there’s no doubt that Latin America will contain a greater percentage of the Spanish-language book publishing market; not so much because of its own growth, but because of the contraction of demand in Spain.

The crisis will also affect the productive exchange that has developed over the years between Latin American and peninsular Spanish writers, thanks to the active involvement of Spanish institutions such as the Casa de América, the Instituto Cervantes, and the Residencia de Estudiantes, among others. Drastic cuts in the budgets of these institutions have put an end to this exchange. Madrid will still be Madrid, but it will go back to being a faraway place for Latin American writers who have not yet been celebrated for their commercial success in the market. And for now, no Latin American capital appears ready to take its place.

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