With his customary elegance, Simon Leys reminds us of certain literary truths that, in these times of juvenile skepticism, we might simply call “opinions.” One of them can be found in a John Steinbeck quote: “The profession of book-writing makes horse-racing seem like a solid, stable business.” It is not hard to tell that the results produced by literary professionals are just as unpredictable as works signed by writers who disbelieve in literary equestrianism. The same is the case for books’ individual fates. It is impossible to predict their success, in terms of either sales or prestige. Coming closer to passion, affliction, or—let’s be honest—insanity, literature is a wager in which the laws of economics often err. Without preconceived formulas, writers go about their work with an obstinacy that would be difficult to justify from a psychiatrist’s couch. This might be its touchstone; literature, in the end, seems to emerge quite gratuitously, and this is perhaps its deepest-laid precept. Literary critics, all manner of editors, and writers—both secret and public—take part in this chancy wager on what and whom we should read.
It is within this context that Latin American Literature Today comes to suggest a few readings, with all the wonder and pleasure that come from hearing new voices in Latin American literature. On this issue’s cover, we present Ecuadorian writer Mónica Ojeda, in a feature prepared by Andrea Armijos Echeverría. The feature includes an interview by Andrea herself, as well as a collective text with reflections from various Latin American writers, editors, and cultural organizers who had something to say about Ojeda’s work: the reader will find breadcrumbs and crossed paths in this text, as miscellaneous as it is enlightening. And we share another text that represents a never-before-seen meeting of the minds, organized by translator Sarah Booker and our Translation Editor, Denise Kripper, in which an important group of translators share their stances on their own translations of Mónica Ojeda’s work into various languages. “My writing comes from fear and desire,” says the author herself: drives that touch the bottomless fibers of the human condition in all its mystery.
We are also proud to present in this issue three never-before-published poems by Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas, specially authorized for this issue of LALT. We share these poems in celebration of Cadenas’ receipt of the 2022 Miguel de Cervantes Prize for Spanish-Language Literature. LALT has been taking note of Cadenas’ journey in this direction for some time. In 2019, we published the speech given by the Venezuelan poet when he won the twenty-seventh Reina Sofía Prize for Ibero-American Poetry. On that occasion, LALT dedicated a whole dossier to Cadenas. Later, in 2021, we published his text entitled “Gracias,” composed of his comments (made online from Caracas) during the launch of his book The Land of Mild Light, edited by Nidia Hernández and published by Arrowsmith Press in Boston. This coming twenty-third of April, in the assembly hall of the University of Alcalá de Henares, King Felipe VI of Spain will bestow upon the Venezuelan poet the Cervantes Prize. It will mark the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one. We can only be happy that Latin American poetry continues to enjoy good health in the old continent.
It is worthwhile to bring secret connections to light, as Baudelaire once told us. Until March 9 of this year, the sixtieth edition of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair was taking place in Italy. LALT did not want to be left behind, and thanks to our Argentina correspondent, Gustavo Valle, we put together a dossier dedicated to Latin American children’s literature, with two new essays on the subject: one by Franco Vaccarini of Argentina and the other by Fanuel Hanán Días of Venezuela. Our Managing Editor, Arthur Malcolm Dixon, also interviewed prolific American author and translator Lawrence Schimel, who is widely recognized for his long and productive career in children’s literature. Our Colombia correspondent Alejandra Jaramillo, with the same enthusiasm as ever, brings us an essay by Natalia Ramírez Reyes on children’s literature and the boom of the picture book in Colombia. We all know that children’s literature has a centuries-long tradition, but only recently, in our current world of myriad censorships, cancellations, and erasures, have we seen books for children so profoundly affected by political correctness. The recent scandal over alterations to books by Roald Dahl left no one indifferent; the new outbreak of censorship in this post-pandemic world is truly shocking. LALT, as always, will continue to promote children’s literature and all others in the spirit of absolute freedom.
The other sections of this new issue are likewise chock full of new things to read. Our Ecuador correspondent, Victor Vimos, interviewed Bolivian writer Edmundo Paz Soldán about his latest book, La mirada de las plantas (Almadía, 2022). Poetry is never left behind, and our Book Reviews Editor, Néstor Mendoza, interviewed Juan Gabriel Vásquez, who just published his first verse collection, Cuaderno de septiembre (Visor, 2022). It has been a fruitful year for the Colombian writer, who was recently awarded France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger for his novel Volver la vista atrás. Mexican researcher Krishna Naranjo Zavala contributes again to LALT with an interview of Zoque poet and translator Mikeas Sánchez. In this interview, we hear Mikeas speak about her book Mojk’jäyä / Mokaya, which means “corn flower” in her language. The importance of her work is reflected in the many translations undertaken of her writing into languages including Catalan, Italian, German, Maya, Portuguese, and English.
The essay by Venezuelan writer Miguel Gomes in this issue, “Letter to a Friend on Criticism and the Essay,” returns to a central theme of LALT’s editorial project: the essay as a form of exploration and knowledge. This essay is itself a warning sign regarding the role of academia and the proliferation of a solipsistic brand of criticism that turns its back on the everyday reader. It is not enough to repeat this; it must be shown by example. The present-day essay has nothing to do with the writing of intricate scholarly reports with which an enlightened elite might earn its stripes in the job market. The pedestrian reader, Miguel Gomes seems to tell us, is still left waiting.
Black voices are present and accounted for in this new issue of LALT. This time, we shine a spotlight on Venezuelan poet Miguel James, born in Trinidad in 1953 but residing in Venezuela since the age of six. Venezuelan essayist María Antonieta Flores reflects on James’ poetic trajectory and affirms, with no two ways about it, that this author’s literary approach “played a role in achieving the freedom that poetic expression enjoys today, particularly during the 1990s and the first decade of the twenty-first century” in Venezuela. LALT continues to pay heed to the voices that, from the periphery, remind us that the distance between the borderlands and the center is also a question of attention and interest. This distance, oftentimes, is born of illusions or, more roundly, of blindness.
Our preview section is always full of novelties, and sparks immediate curiosity among those who read our literature in translation to English. In this issue of LALT, said readers will find Frances Riddle translating Ecuadorian writer María Fernanda Ampuero, Samantha Schnee translating Mexican writer (and friend of the journal) Carmen Boullosa, and Wendy Call translating Zapotec poet Irma Pineda. In our “On Translation” section, we feature Denise Kripper’s interview with Bolivian translator Joaquín Gavilano, who was recently awarded a 2022 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant. Ariel Dilon, in an essay in memory of Argentine writer Marcelo Cohen (1951-2022), reminds us that, while we may not frequent a writer’s personal spaces nor participate in his projects, simply reading his work turns us into a sort of long-distance friend of his—a close, expectant friend, we might say. The losses of such literary friendships can be as devastating as those of the loved ones who surround us.
LALT’s twenty-fifth issue sticks to a wager in which we still heartily believe. A wager that is an invitation from the most gratuitous of literature, but also from its political and literary urgencies. Latin America never ceases to surprise us with its incessant crises and setbacks. Even still, its literature keeps coming, and we want to shine a light on this phenomenon in the broadest, freest way possible. To wager is also to invite, to suggest, to point out pathways of reading. Perhaps the gratuitous stands for something else: the shiny little ball that bounces around the maddening roulette wheel of literature is unpredictable precisely because its fate is guided only by the laws of freedom and the game itself. For this reason, little is gained by any effort to regulate literature on the part of the ultra-correct censors who are currently at the helm. Time also plays its part in all of this. I return to the question from the start: what and whom should we read? Let us leave the answer to the readers of today and tomorrow. LALT, to paraphrase Chilean poet Pedro Lastra, is here to share the news from abroad. Freedom, taken seriously, should mean something, right?