ANITA SETHI

Anita Sethi es una periodista inglesa que viaja constantemente por el mundo, desde donde escribe para medios como The Guardian, the Observer, Sunday Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Independent, Independent on Sunday, New Statesman, Granta.com, and Times Literary Supplement, entre otros. Su página web: www.anitasethi.co.uk

Desde el Hay Festival de  Zacatecas, escribe para el blog:

DEBATES

It’s interesting to note how many event titles feature questions, such as: How to be an independent editor in a dependent country?  Is fiction in crisis?  Mad about Mexico?

How to be an independent editor in a dependent country?   The question was debated by editors from independent publishing houses: Martín Solares (Almadia), Eduardo Rabasa (Sexto Piso) and Felipe Ponce (Ediciones Arlequín) in conversation with Nubia Macías, director of the Guadalajara International Book Fair. (“The only certainty surrounding an independent publishing company is that it will disappear,” said Jorge Herralde, who nevertheless has demonstrated that it is possible to edit while enjoying independence, but also that it is possible to survive and make a profit).

Another question:  Is fiction in crisis? (debated by Héctor Abad and Javier Cercas whose latest books, Traiciones de la Memoria and Anatomía de un instante respectively, tell stories based on events which really occurred and, although they use narrative tools characteristic of fiction, they are not novels.

Elsewhere during the festival, literary critics debated the need for and challenges facing literary criticism in Mexico; whilst writers discussed the relationships between literature and among other topics, science, violence, and eroticism. They also questioned the relationship between themselves and Mexico in a brilliant session chaired by Gaston Garcia.

ON YOUTH:

Youth is a place where questions are fiercely asked.  An important question is: how is a writer supposed to make a living at all?  This was debated eloquently in a session chaired by this blog’s very own Gaston Garcia,  with writers from the Bogota 39 project.  Amongst the probing debates about climate (such as that with Rosie Boycott), the writing climate was here also on the agenda.

Rather than providing closed answers, questions beget more questions, and the debates opened up to the audience who came armed with questions of their own.  Thus, in the Spanish language (with its double question marks), much probing of important issues was to be had.

ROOTS: FROM ACCRINGTON TO ZACATECAS

Geographical and emotional territory

In the inspiring setting of Zacatecas, the content of sessions spanned far and wide, taking the audience on exhilarating imaginative journeys through places as diverse as Mexico and Mali.  The tug of one’s hometown was poignantly apparent, despite having travelled thousands of miles to leave it – writers explored the question of home being where the heart is, revealing where their own hearts lie. Indeed, it was not only the geographical territory but the emotional territory which proved compelling during the festival.

The hometown made itself felt through discussions which threaded all the way back to Accrington (Jeanette Winterson) and Ireland (Bob Geldof).  It is possible to escape geographically and yet for some artists, it is the home territory which has provided rich material, whether to explore or rebel against. In a captivating session, Winterson powerfully discussed how her upbringing shaped her first novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Here surrounded by vast ancient Mexican architecture, far away from Ireland, memories of Bob Geldof’s flow, prompted by the apt questions of his interviewer Peter Florence. “My ambition was to get out of the family circumstances I found myself in”, reveals Geldof. “My Dad sold towels around the countryside of Ireland, and my Mum died when I was 7.  Ireland was extremely poor so a man held on to his job whatever the cost.  There was nobody at home to make me do my homework.  Ireland very cold, very wet”.  To distract him from the homework, along came “seductive voices from another universe”, in the form of Bob Dylan and Pete Townshend, saying there was an alternative.

He recalls being a “lonely little boy” and searching for a condition to articulate that.  That condition was, of course, rock’n’roll.  Although in the pubs of Ireland “rhetoric is a sport”, in his house growing up with no television but a difficult father, he recalls the silences at the dinner table with his father trying to provoke them by saying something outrageous like “Hitler had some good ideas”, making them “explode with rage”.

Aged 15 he was sent to boarding school and recalls that “the Catholic priests were very brutal”, how it was “cold, raining, foggy”, “we had to get up at 6 in the morning and wash with cold water. It was terrible” – such images powerfully evoked even as the Mexican sun blazes fiercely outside.

STILL LIFE: PHOTOGRAPHY

Hanif Kureishi lies tucked up in bed with his burgundy-coloured passport rested on the white linen covering him.  Surrounding this photograph of him in the gallery are haunting images of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Derek Walcott, and Laura Restrepo, to name but a few, in the stunning exhibition at the Centro Ciudadela del Arte (Fototeca Zacatecas).

These are moments captured in the beautiful, poised photographs of this blog’s very own star photographer Daniel Mordzinski, who has documented the world’s greatest writers at festivals the world over ranging from Segovia to Cartagena.

It is a pleasant paradox to have the writer as the subject matter, since they are more often creatures read rather than seen with the exception of festivals such as this – and we here gain a rare and welcome glimpse into the writer’s personalities as seen in the telling glint of the eye and other such skillfully snapped minutiae.

The festival is an intense whirlwind of conversation, with over 50 events at this one alone.  It’s thus a gift to have these moments plucked out and framed forever in the consciousness – still points in the motion.  The opening night of the exhibition was a chance to celebrate just this.

Strolling around the pale pink cathedrals and elegant architecture of the city, past streetsellers offering Mexican curiosities, the portraits will catch you unawares, such as the portrait on a large festival banner of a gloved fist.  And indeed these images capture the writer’s fighting spirit  –  in a violent world (a theme discussed engagingly at other events), there is still hope that the pen (and indeed the camera) might be mightier than the sword.

DISPATCH FROM HAY ZACATECAS

Cable cars glide through the skies of Zacatecas far above the misty mountains, and the first day of the festival is also truly uplifting.

Storytelling is a recurrent theme throughout the festival – including the narratives of our own lives.  What more important topic with which to open the festival than the “story of immigration”.  It is crucial, insist the panel of esteemed speakers, to maintain “opportunities for dialogue” about this thorny theme.  How much truth is there in the official stories given out by politicians?  How much is invented myth? The panel explore the fierce battle between official and non-official versions of truth.

Listening to events in a foreign language is a fascinating experience. Recurring phrases stand out, such as “no saben”.  Indeed, this theme of ‘not knowing’ was recurrent in the discussion: how much the story of immigration is shrouded in this lack of understanding and knowledge, and how important it is to bring into the light of day the hidden truth of the situation.

The speakers discuss the anti-immigration climate; increasing militarisation; the disturbing criminalization of immigrants; the ‘sentiment of superiority”; ethnic cleansing; and how vital it is to preserve a liberal constitution.  They also debate the various reasons for immigration, ranging from the political to the economic.  The issue of rights was powerful: how universal rights have become fragmented rights.

Every single person in Zacatecas is affected by the theme of immigration, many having family members who have emigrated to the United States, and this provocative session shed valuable light on crucial issues.

*

The festival is also a feast for the eyes as well as ears, for beautiful artwork and photography adorns various venues around the city.  When does drawing become writing, writing become drawing?  This question is asked by Brian Nissen, whose medium is “pictorial vocabulary” – shape and colour.

Nissen’s work is exhibited in the Centro Museo de Arte.  He explains the inspiration behind his Codices as stemming from the admiration he felt for the Tlacuilos (artist/scribes of pre-Colombian Mexico).  He was interested in the pictorial nature of the texts which seemed “to move back and forth between drawing and writing”, and intrigued by their “grammar of juxtaposed colour”.  Among his themes are the Obsidian Butterfly, inspired by a poem of Octavio Paz, with butterflies of all colours adorning the walls.  The Madero Codex relates to games and puzzles. In one haunting and memorable piece, the body of a human being is made from a jigsaw.  Then I’m back in the streets of the city, which are this week filled with the amber-coloured banners of the Hay Zacatecas festival, whose energy is also sparked by the fascinating juxtaposition of stories.

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