In these dizzying times we live in, there is hardly a spare moment to sit down and calmly read a book. Messages arrive in droves and as soon as one is answered we are called away by other duties, other urgencies. At the same time we hear in the press, on social media, and in classrooms that we no longer read, that the youth were born into a world of cell phones and social networks, that books take too much time and too much effort. We hear that technology is here to stay, and reality only corroborates this fact. And yet, writers, poets, essayists, and playwrights do not lose their spirits—they keep on writing. Does everything that gets published get read? It’s hard to know, but if there were no readers then books, journals, and blogs would not keep on coming out. The ebook, in the end, could not defeat the print book. Good. This is a sign that sometimes changes bear with them a certain hope. Sometimes it is better to stay where we are, at risk of being deemed old-fashioned. Books and reading, against all predictions, have not disappeared. Can we live without books? “Of course we can live without books, but then we run the risk of the worst things in the world taking power over us: avarice, tumult, rage, and, foremost, tedium,” writes Colombian writer William Ospina. The enemies of reading, as is evident, are everywhere and ever-menacing. Perhaps this is our greatest impulse to carry on the endeavor of Latin American Literature Today (LALT). The path is still open: there will be new readers tomorrow, the same accomplices as ever.
And so we open this new issue of LALT with a cover feature dedicated to Black author Mayra Santos-Febres: a Puerto Rican, Caribbean writer, whom it is no exaggeration to call a writer “in resistance.” “I write so they can’t erase the memory and history of my people,” she states in conversation with writer Jotacé López in this dossier. Her literary work tells the stories of bodies and how bodies bear a story full of scars and injustices. “I am a woman and I am black, and so I know that power operates by controlling bodies and resources. Nobody has to explain that to me. I am a descendant of people who were stripped away from their homelands and sold as products. […] And I come from a nation that became a possession of another nation,” Mayra tells us. Literature and politics intermingle, one becomes indistinguishable from the other, and they point toward the creation of a body of work that seeks to arouse social and cultural change; to create other, more habitable realities.
This issue’s second dossier is dedicated to Argentine writer Sergio Chejfec (November 28, 1956 – April 2, 2022). This dossier represents a posthumous homage to a great writer, organized by our Associate Editor, Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza, and including texts by Matías Serra Bradford and Victoria de Stefano, as well as Arturo himself, who writes of Chejfec’s work: “Perhaps, at first sight, one of the most puzzling features of Chejfec’s work is precisely its contrast between the sophistication of its verbal endeavor, the confection of a writing style not meant for all audiences.” This is true—Chejfec’s work is unusual and, in many senses, unique. His friends join us in this homage. We are happy to feature brief but moving notes on Sergio and his work from writers including Martín Kohan, Cynthia Rimsky, Patricio Pron, and Mercedes Roffé, among others. Now, when Sergio Chejfec is no longer among us, it is worthwhile to ask, along with Mercedes Roffé: “How will friendship be now, without him? How will it be to write? How will it be to remember him?” These questions have no answers; they hang in the air, for the future. And I wish to note the following: Sergio Chejfec was a member of the editorial board of Latin American Literature Today since the journal’s founding in 2017. We ask ourselves the same questions, and we bid him farewell by inviting our readers to read and reread him. His books are still with us.
The rest of this issue, as always, is laden with new writing. Articles, presentations, introductions, and translations on all sides. An interview with Argentine writer Ariana Harwicz on her book Desertar, written alongside French translator Mikaël Gómez Guthart. Mexican critic Christopher Domínguez Michael introduces us to the great Chilean essayist Martín Cerda; Brazilian literature is present and accounted for with an interview of writer PJ Pereira and an excerpt from the work of writer Maria Valéria Rezende. Our permanent section dedicated to Indigenous Literature continues with a selection of writing from the Peruvian Amazon—an area whose authors are seldom recognized outside their region. In translation, there is much to explore: previews of Juan Pablo Villalobos, Jorge Enrique Lage, and Brenda Lozano, as well as new translations by Luis Guzmán Valerio and Brendan Riley. As always, our poetry and fiction sections are full to the brim. In the former, we feature a brief selection of Cuban women poets assembled by Indian professor Indranil Chakravarty. All in all, we hope time spent with this new issue of LALT will impassion and refresh the readers who follow us.
We never forget that this issue is for them, for the readers, to carry on the friendship that has grown between us. In every issue of LALT, we wager on the readers of today and tomorrow. This is clear. We wager on books, on literature. I’ll end this note with another quote from William Ospina (one can never do enough to defend reading and books). Ospina says: “One of the inevitable experiences of life is solitude, another is friendship, another is happiness. But in our relationship with books, all three come together.” This is true, but books also offer another experience: the experience of freedom. Freedom that every totalitarian state has always feared, the freedom that drives our imagination and that cannot be crushed by any censorship or cancellation. Freedom, in the end, is always equal to itself, like books, like all good literature.