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Guadalupe in Crisis: What about the BookFair?

San Antonio is a poor city, verdad?
But the stories, told in our
language,del hueso, are muy
rich,and we deserve a BookFair
for the world to hear them. Por
muchos years, the Guadalupe
Cultural Center hosted a
Literary BookFair.
I must've spent a thousand
dollars buying books, y mas.
Here is a memoria from Bryce
Milligan,who was one of the
fuerzas who made it happen.
Part 1




It was a blustery January day in 1980 and I was walking downtown with
my friend Ron Moore after a good morning’s browse at Rosengren’s, that
legendary bookstore behind the Alamo that we were delighted to inhabit
during its final few years. We were lamenting the fact that San Antonio
was a great place to write, but a lousy place to make a living as a
writer. “What we need,” said Ron, “is a first-rate literary magazine.”
Three years later, the first issue of Pax: A Journal for Peace through
Culture appeared. I was the editor, Ron the music critic.
The magazine was reviewed in the newspaper, discussed on local radio
talk shows, and was generally considered a boon to local culture. But
Rosengren’s was on its last legs, and the Twig was just a tiny shop in
Alamo Heights. The big stores were in the malls and would not deign to
carry a local magazine with poetry and no ads. Pax was publishing
authors like Isaac Singer and Seamus Heaney together with local
writers,getting reviews in places like Bangladesh and London, and not selling
at home. What you need, said Mary, my wife, is a bookfair. Little did
she know that she had just pulled her thumb out of a dike holding back the
The first Pax bookfair was held in 1984 at the New Age School (now the
Circle School) and featured a newly arrived phenomenon ? a Chicana
writer with a published book, Sandra Cisneros. I had just written the
first review anywhere of The House on Mango Street (in the
Express-News), so we invited her to participate. La Sandra was just
Sandra then, and still had a penchant for rollerskating down the halls
of the newly established Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. It was a
no-brainer to combine the necessity of a bookfair with the resources of
the Guadalupe. What we needed was not just a bookfair, but what we
envisioned as a Woodstock of small presses and small press writers.
Notso big, but every bit as revolutionary in intent.

A few months later, using the Guadalupe Theater and a $1,500 grant
from the city, Pax and the Guadalupe put on the First Annual Texas Small
Press Bookfair in February of 1985. It was a gathering of legends in
the making ? Sandra Cisneros, Ricardo Sanchez, Rolando Hinojosa,
Rosemary Catacalos, Naomi Shihab Nye, Angela De Hoyos, Raul Salinas.
One of the highlights of the event was the first-ever presentation of
Ruby Nelda Perez's now famous one-woman show, "A Woman's Work."
Highlights of the second small press fair a year later included
"opening remarks" (two hours long) by Congressman Henry B. González.
One of the writers present was Alurista, who began his reading with a
series of radio-static beeps and the announcement “we are coming to you
del corazón de Aztlan.” The phrase stuck, and has been used as the
theme for more than one fair. Ntosake Shange also read that year, and
electrified the audience with her eroticism. Another highlight was a
no-show. Mexican fabulist and one-time Communist Augusto Monterroso
was prevented by the INS from entering the U.S., despite the heroic efforts
of Congressman González to break through the bureaucratic mess. A
first for the event was a panel discussion on "Texas Mexican Women in
Literature and the Arts" ? a discussion which several scholars have
credited as being the beginning point of their research into this
topic. This was also the instigation for me to create the event that
would materialize a decade later as the Hijas del Quinto Sol Conference
on Latina Literature and Identity, now the Latina Letters conference.
Other directors came and went at the Guadalupe and each shaped the
bookfair ? Rosemary Catacalos renamed it the Inter-American Bookfair,
and focused it on bridging the Rio Grande. Ray Gonzalez added
“Literary Festival” to the title. I came back in 1994 to just keep it going ?
and going. Of all the bookfairs in the country, the Inter-American was
considered the model for its multicultural aspects. Jeff Biggers,
founder of a similar bookfair in Arizona, once wrote that “the
Inter-American is multicultural literature’s ur-bookfair. Larger fairs
and festivals have grown up elsewhere, but everyone acknowledges what
happened in San Antonio.”
When I heard Bill Moyers describe the Dodge Poetry Festival as the
country’s best multicultural literary event, I called him up and said,
“Bill, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Come down here and see
what you’re missing.” In 2000, Moyers was on stage in the Laurie
Auditorium at Trinity University with eight nationally-known poets,
each of a different ethnic background. Even Moyers was impressed.
So here we are at the 15th Annual Inter-American Bookfair (15th since
it was re-named). Many things have come full circle. Back in the
Guadalupe Theater again, and with familiar faces and themes. Tonight
Sandra Cisneros will read from her long-awaited novel, Caramelo.
Sergio Ramirez, former Sandinista revolutionary ? and for many years the
vice-president of Nicaragua ? had no trouble with the INS allowing him
to enter the country. He will read one of his internationally
acclaimed short stories. Chilean-American Jewish Latina poet and human rights
activist Marjorie Agosín will embrace half a dozen cultures at once as
she reads poetry about searching Europe for memories of her
grandmother’s pre-Holocaust childhood.

This time the bookfair has events running for most of November,
featuring sixty-seven writers, hailing from the U.S., Mexico,
Nicaragua, Chile, Cuba, Puerto Rico, in a dozen different locations. Supporting
institutions include every major university and college in San Antonio,
as well as Seguin, plus the Instituto de México, the Jewish Community
Center, and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. ¡Viva dirversidad!

A major new partnership with the San Antonio Library Foundation will
allow anyone with a library card to get a 50% discount to evening events. As
always, a half dozen new books will debut at the bookfair. This year,
there is even a newly birthed San Antonio literary magazine, Perla.
Pedro Rodriguez, former executive director of the Guadalupe, coined a
word for those of us who have given so many years to the bookfair ?
literatontos, literary fools. So, grr, beep, zzzz, pop, otro vez, los
literatontos are coming to you del corazón de Aztlan. Come on down and
see what the buzz is all about.


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