“Just in time!” In my opinion, that’s the phrase that best sums up the appearance of Latin American Literature Today (LALT). At a moment in the history of the United States when the future seems plagued with uncertainty and hopelessness, LALT emerges to celebrate literature written in Spanish: one of the principal languages of “Latin America,” which for decades has been the term used to define a culture that undeniably forms a crucial part of this country’s history. I use the term “Latin America” to indicate the roots of a tree whose leaves are called Latino, Latina, Hispanic, Chicano, and Chicana, among many other denominations and variables, all of which are inextricably linked to the legacy of the language of Cervantes. Nonetheless, LALT does not limit itself exclusively to the Spanish-speaking world; as a literary journal, we aspire to recognize the plurality of Latin America, serving as an inclusive space for Brazilian literature just as we hope to recognize and advertise the diverse literary expressions of the Indigenous peoples of Latin America. The sky that covers and illuminates us is for everyone, regardless of race, creed, gender, or social class. LALT hopes to be a bridge. Or, better yet, an irrigation system to connect all of these distinct trees, from Patagonia to the northern border of the United States.
We are not alone in this adventure. Latin American Literature Today is an editorial project associated with World Literature Today (WLT), published from the University of Oklahoma. WLT is one of the oldest and most prestigious literary journals in the United States. The journal was founded at the University of Oklahoma in 1927 by Roy Temple House (1878-1963), who then served as the director of the Department of Modern Languages, under the name Books Abroad. Similarly – and in keeping with tradition – LALT is born in 2017 as an initiative of writers, professors, and students from that same house of learning: OU’s Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics.
It might seem unusual to a Latin American reader that a journal born in Oklahoma should dedicate so much attention to international literature. But, on the contrary, this spirit of curiosity, inclusion, and openness to the world is a vital part of the spirit of the University of Oklahoma. It always has been. For that reason, apart from its print and digital editions, World Literature Today also oversees the biannual publication of a journal of Chinese literature, Chinese Literature Today (CLT), which has appeared since 2011 in collaboration with Beijing Normal University. And that’s not all: WLT also sponsors the Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the Puterbaugh Festivals of World Literature and Culture. The Neustadt Prize is often called “the American Nobel,” since thirty individuals involved with the prize (including winners, candidates, and jurors) have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. A few of the writers who have won the Neustadt Prize are Gabriel García Márquez, Octavio Paz, and Álvaro Mutis. Among past Puterbaugh Fellows are such prestigious writers as Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Manuel Puig, Luisa Valenzuela, Roberto Fernández Retamar, and Andrés Neuman. A glance at this impressive list is enough to prove that Latin American literature has had a permanent space in the pages of WLT and at the University of Oklahoma.
For this reason, LALT will seek to reflect the new realities of Latin American literature through a quarterly digital journal, circulating not only in the United States but also in Latin America and Spain. Apart from original material, LALT will also include translations to Spanish of material previously published in the pages of WLT. Of the 500 million Spanish-speakers in the world, 90% live in the Americas. By the year 2050, one of every three U.S. citizens will be of Hispanic descent. There are currently 57 million Spanish-speakers living in the United States alone. We hope to be able to represent, on the electronic pages of LALT, this vast literary reality written in the Latin American continent.
In this, our first issue, we feature a dossier dedicated to the recently deceased Argentine writer Ricardo Piglia. Without a doubt, his death represented a tremendous loss for Latin American literature. We will miss his diaries, his conversations, his courses on Borges, and his passion for analyzing the Argentine literary tradition. Now and forever, we tell him “goodbye and hasta siempre.” We also feature a dossier dedicated to the young Mexican writer Nadia Villafuerte, whose work is gaining recognition outside of Mexico. From the start, LALT hopes to serve as a platform to share the works of writers who are emerging, forgotten, or simply marginalized. We firmly believe that to read literature is also to discover, to re-read, and to take chances. In this context, LALT will also seek to be a space for a genre whose importance is often underestimated in our countries: the literary book review. In this first issue, our readers will find a significant collection of book reviews and notes on writers from various parts of Latin America. Nevertheless, LALT is something more: as a bilingual publication in English and Spanish, it is a space for translation, since there can be no doubt that translators are also an indispensable part of the process of exchanging, promoting, and sharing literature.
What’s more, we can often get to know ourselves through translation; the world grows richer as more people speak more languages. If we think of the history of world literature, the poems, stories, and essays that we have read have helped us to know not only that others exist, but also that these others have other sensibilities, other beliefs, other ways of seeing and understanding the world. Anaïs Nin once wrote that she doubted that a person carrying a book in the street would be able to attack her. The metaphor is suggestive; there is a connection we ought not forget. Perhaps the true readers are those whose occupation is understanding, through books, the world of others, what’s theirs and what’s different: the connections that exist between every human being.
On January 31, 2017, LALT’s birthday, the University of Oklahoma once more reaches out its hand to the world, to greet it, to invite it in. This time it reaches toward the south, toward Latin America, toward its people and its writers.
We hope that LALT will be understood as such: as a bridge, a highway going both directions, a territory in which the only entry permit you need is imagination and a love of great literature. In the end, maybe it’s not an exaggeration to say that LALT is “just in time”!
Editor in Chief