There is no reason to be optimistic. The pandemic numbers grow steadily worse. Many countries seem to still be adrift. Some governments seem peerless in their incompetence; others are not only failures but also corrupt. The fact is that there is still no date set on which to recover the life we all lost at the end of March.
This pandemic has not only revealed how hard it is to beat back nature; it has also exposed our most evident fragilities and weaknesses. Latin America is no exception. The pandemic has simply confirmed what we all already knew: our political, social, and economic institutions rest on shaky ground. The media has persisted in denouncing the increasing inequality in our countries. Survival has become not just a health issue, but also an economic issue. The least protected and most vulnerable often pay for their lack of the means to quarantine with their lives.
At the same time, another disaster seems to be brewing in silence. No one sees it, it doesn’t appear in the media, but it’s there nonetheless: the runaway destabilization of the literary world.
Traditionally, most Latin American governments have granted either little or much financial support to the work of literature: competitive funding, project grants, subsidies, cultural events, book fairs, etc. In a curious paradox, just as investment in culture has increased, literary supplements have not ceased to diminish, and some have disappeared altogether. Those that have resisted this trend have had to reformulate themselves with solutions that are more commercial than literary. Literary criticism, as a result, has suffered the consequences of the constriction of traditional literary spaces. Many factors come together to explain this process, from the well known effects of neoliberal economics, always eager to fence in culture with its agenda of instant profit, to the modification of traditional forms of reading due to new technologies. The problems are many, and first among them is the poor distribution of our books in Latin America. It is true that we can buy online, but prices are often still prohibitive. On the other hand, the option of electronic formats seems not to have had the desired effect. Many literary readers still seem to shun the screen. It is also true that there are thousands of blogs on which enthusiastic writers talk and write about literature, but the general sensation is far from one of literary effervescence, rich in dialogue and exchange. The ultra-specialized academy also plays a part. It is unusual to see writers on university campuses today—they exist, of course, but they are the exception to the rule. Wherever we look, the symptom seems to repeat itself: the sale of literary books is still in freefall.
This review of the facts is anything but encouraging. Nonetheless, many of the disasters we are now suffering were already on the cards before the pandemic. What are we to do about this problem in particular? First and foremost, we must put it in words. If anything positive has come of this crisis, it is the fact that it has now become ridiculous to try to minimize our problems. Another positive effect of this forced lockdown is that people have begun to come together, to converse, to read poems via Zoom (who would’ve thought!). Little or nothing will come from our governments, engulfed as they are in their eternal social and economic crises. Today, our most pressing needs are elsewhere. And so we must work so as not to find ourselves, after this crisis, in a wasteland even worse than the one we knew in 2019. This is why the initiatives of independent and institutional journals, publishers, cultural promoters, alternative presses, translators, journalists, and committed readers is now more important than ever. One of these initiatives is particularly relevant to us, as it relates to literary translation undertaken by women. In this August issue, we extend a special greeting, and our gratitude, to those who are joining us in celebrating Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth). Suffice it to say here that this project is crucial in order to create space for literature written and translated by women. Latin American Literature Today has always hoped to play a part in this effort, opening its digital platform to women who write and translate. We are far from bringing balance to the numbers that dominate the market, but we are happy to affirm that women translators have a permanent place in LALT, and we are proud to share their work.
I was saying that the literary panoramas of our countries do not seem particularly promising in these times of Covid-19. For this very reason, it is always a good idea to look back, to converse with our literary memory, to refuse to forget. This is precisely what we’ve done in this new issue. Ten years ago, on August 21, 2010, we lost Argentine writer Rodolfo Enrique Fogwill. Today, LALT remembers him with a dossier prepared by our Translation Editor, Denise Kripper. Fogwill wrote against the current, and many of the testimonies we publish here lend credence to his unique personality and talent. Now that Fogwill is no longer with us, all we can do is keep reading him. We hope this dossier will help Fogwill’s name gain the recognition it deserves outside his native Argentina.
The second dossier, prepared by Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza, one of our journal’s content editors, focuses on a rare and wonderful coincidence: four women who came to Latin America not speaking the language and became writers of renown in Spanish. Here, we explore the tension between languages, belongings, and nationalities. What to call this phenomenon? Arturo tells us in his introduction of the discomfort he feels when speaking of a “stepmother tongue”; for this reason, it would be better to speak of a mother tongue, a space of welcoming, subjectivity, and literature written by women and in Venezuela. I would add the following: to speak of women writers and women translators, coming together in this wonderful and unusual dossier this August, just in time for Women in Translation Month.
Another section—one of LALT’s signature features—is devoted to Indigenous literature and coordinated by another member of our team, Arthur Dixon. This dossier includes a varied sample of the work of Hubert Matiúwàa, along with an introductory text by José Ángel Quintero Weir. This leads us to another necessary reflection. Today, more than ever, the literary production of original peoples is of pressing importance in Latin America, where the conflicts between these communities and local governments are still many miles away from any resolution. Recent events in southern Chile sadly prove that the list of historical failures in this regard is still growing longer, and with ever greater violence.
As always, this new issue of LALT is chock full of previews, poems, stories, essays, and interviews, as well as a set of reviews of books published throughout “our America.” We hope you will enjoy reading this issue as much as we enjoyed putting it together over these past three months of isolation.
I would be remiss to end this note without sending a special greeting to our readers. A few weeks ago, we were happy to see we now have over five thousand followers on Facebook, and almost as many on Twitter. This would have been impossible without the persistence of our Media Manager, Claudia Cavallin, along with Arthur Dixon. We thank them for their work. And we send un abrazo to all our readers, wishing you the best in these pandemic times and, above all, thanking you for following and reading us over these past three years. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to recall an obvious fact: we must never forget who reads us. And, with that, I return to the start of this note with a question that is, more than a question, a statement of perplexity: Will these impassioned readers be able to return our continent’s literature to the place it occupied just a few decades ago? For now, we shall leave the question echoing in the air.
Translated by Arthur Dixon