Publishing insiders and Latin American bibliophiles know that every December, Mexico’s fifth-largest city, Guadalajara, plays host to one of the most important international gatherings in the book industry. Now in its 25th year, the nine-day Guadalajara International Book Fair is the second-largest book fair in the world, after the Frankfurt Book Fair.
According to the fair’s U.S. representative, David Unger, “What sets Guadalajara apart from other major global fairs are the nearly 20,000 publishing professionals from more than 20 countries who use the first three days of the fair to buy and sell book distribution rights.” In addition to writers and publishing houses, the business component of the fair attracts librarians, booksellers, authors, and translators.
The remaining six days of the fair are open to the public. According to Unger, more than 600,000 people attended at least one of the 450 cultural events connected to the festival in 2010 (and 660,000 in 2011). “The whole city is essentially taken over by the book fair,” he says.
A central element of the festivities is the numerous awards ceremonies. Every year since 1991, fair organizers have presented an author with the Premio FIL de Literatura, which recognizes lifetime achievement in any literary genre in a Romance language and comes with a $150,000 cash prize. In 2011 Colombian-Mexican novelist, filmmaker and essayist Fernando Vallejo Rendón was chosen for his contributions to Latin American literature over the span of a nearly 30-year career.
In addition to facilitating business deals and granting awards, fair organizers want to introduce young Mexicans to the world of books. “There are relatively few book stores and not many libraries in Mexico,” says Unger. “This year the fair attracted 150,000 students from all over Mexico for workshops on everything from poetry to book making.”