If you want to get to this year’s Guest City stand at the Feria del Libro you need only follow the mates in a sort of Latin American Hansel and Gretel adventure. Chances are you’ll see more than one avid reader holding the thermos and the mate in her hands, taking it wherever she goes, as if they were glued to her extremities. That’s how you know she’s from Uruguay, and that’s how you find your way to the stand of Montevideo.
Since 2013, the Buenos Aires International Book Fair has opened its doors to a different guest city every year. The cities of Amsterdam, São Paulo, Mexico City, Santiago de Compostela, and Los Angeles have all been invited to previous editions; on each occasion they showcased the best of their literary culture. The Guest City stand is a chance to represent the metropolis, not only by inviting some of the region’s most prominent writers, but also by creating a space that does justice to the spirit of the city as a whole.
This year, it is the turn of the Uruguayan capital. The proximity of Montevideo to Buenos Aires already makes this an exciting ordeal. It offers a chance to take a closer look at the literary production of our brothers and sisters from across the River Plate, and to explore our differences and similarities. The stand’s architecture is simple but precise, and certainly in keeping with the chosen slogan. Montevideo has decided to call itself an “Open City” (Ciudad Abierta), and created a wide access ramp to access which illustrates the very Uruguayan urge to kindly open their doors to all.
“We chose to use the slogan ‘Open City’ because we want to be inclusive not only in terms of accessibility, as is the case of the ramp, but also from the point of view of gender diversity, for instance, and coexistence in general,” Gonzalo Gómez, in charge of press for the City of Montevideo, told The Bubble. “As a leitmotif we chose to represent public and open spaces, which is why we used a ramp to reflect the Rambla of Montevideo, which is our most iconic and emblematic space.” Extending for over 20 km alongside the water, the boardwalk winds around all of the city’s neighborhoods, be them rich or poor, and is often host of free events open to all. It is a democratic space at its finest, and it is precisely that openness which the organizers of the stand have chosen to portray at the Fair. Plus, kids love using it as a slide – probably not the intended effect, but efficient to get them excited about grabbing a book nonetheless.
The stand’s activities are also in keeping with this spirit. Writer and journalist Gabriel Peveroni was in charge of curating and scheduling all the book presentations, poetry readings, discussion panels and music shows that would go on both at the stand itself or in any of the nearby halls at La Rural. To take on this colossal task, he separated the programming into three sections: Contemporary Narratives, Montevidean Poetics, and an homage to Mario Levrero.
“The first theme came up as an answer to the question of what to do with Montevideo’s long literary tradition, with authors such as Benedetti, Galeano, Onetti, and Felisberto,” Peveroni told The Bubble. “And we decided to take a break from said tradition, and offer new writers and styles more visibility. There are at least two generations of new writers who haven’t received so much recognition but who are being read with great interest in Buenos Aires and edited by small publishing houses, such as Fernanda Trías, Mercedes Estramil, Ramiro Sanchiz, and Lalo Barrubia, to name a few.” Thus, the stand attempts to shine a light on these new voices, as well as to highlight the importance of female writers through the theme of Montevidean Poetics, which is not limited to just poetry but to all literature produced by women.
As in all other aspects of our culture, Montevideo and Buenos Aires take each other’s experiences as reference. We look at them for cues on issues such as legal abortion and marijuana legislation; they look at us for literary guidance. In the words of writer Natalia Mardero, “We look at what’s happening in Argentine literature today very closely. There are very interesting things happening in Uruguay, but they fail to cross borders. Argentine writers might not notice it, but they are in a position of privilege. The world looks at your literature with great respect, and so writers here [receive a lot of exposure]. They are also not afraid of letting go of their literary tradition and exploring new styles, which is something we should be doing more.”
Whatever the differences between Montevideo and Buenos Aires might be, this year’s Guest City stand offers an opportunity to cross the river without getting your feet wet. It is a chance to listen to some of Uruguay’s up-and-coming authors, and even musicians, and probably have some mate with strangers in the process. As Peveroni said, “I think there’s a very strong literary bond between our cities. I especially believe in the importance of independent publishing houses who actually care about getting their authors’ work known in other countries. This Feria del Libro is all about the industry and publishers, but our stand is making authors the priority. And that is precisely what should be encouraged when bonding with others.”