FILBo 2019: It’s my party

By Emma Newbery April 24, 2019
Even if you don’t make it to a single talk, it’s worth going to FILBo to stock up on books. Photo: FILBo

The guest of honour at Colombia’s FILBo 2019 is…ahem…Colombia.

It’s FILBo o’clock. The annual book bonanza is back and this year we’ll see all the usual talks, debates and presentations with fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature, journalism, illustration and graphic novels all crammed into the pages of Corferias.

FILBo raised a few eyebrows by essentially inviting itself – or Colombia – as this year’s guest of honour. In previous years we’ve seen France, Holland, Argentina and even Macondo colour the event. This year, to mark Colombia’s bicentenary, there will be a pavilion dedicated to Colombia itself. The pavilion seeks to present the evolution of Colombia’s population and the way the Republic has developed. The idea is to show the ways that Colombia has influenced the region and the world – including Spain – and to look at what dreams the fledgling Republic had two centuries ago.

Music, food and the humble printing press all get a look in, and there’s even a library focused on historic cultural events since independence. Don’t miss ‘Cumbia: The language that unites Latin America’ which looks at how the genre has crossed a continent.

Worthy Colombian wordsmiths on the lineup include Carmen Alba Pastor, Juan Manuel Roca, Tomás González, Piedad Bonnett and William Ospina.

Related: Local talent at FILBo 2018

Colombia may be taking centre stage, but Latin American literature in general shines through. Especially with heavyweights like Mexican novelist Margo Glantz and leading lights like María Fernanda Ampuero from Ecuador and Chilean Alejandro Zambra.

Ampuero was selected as one of the 100 most influential Latin Americans in Spain in 2012, and in 2007 Zambra was listed as one of Latin America’s most promising writers in the Hay Festival’s Bogotá39 list. 

With more than 170 authors from 23 countries, the sheer volume of activities at FILBo can be dizzying. So we sat down with the FILBo team to hear more about some of the themes and literary luminaries to watch out for.

Reality: “Dreams of the world and of despair” 

FILBo always tries to reflect the world we live in, and spotlight literature which puts reality into question. Literature of war, peace and dystopia is very much in vogue, so there’s no shortage of speakers and topics. There’s Chilean Elvira Hernández, whose poem ‘La bandera de Chile’ was a powerful anthem of resistance to Pinochet’s dictatorship; author Reza Aslan who argues that religious texts have been misappropriated, particularly by jihadists; and Spanish writer and journalist Rosa Montero who will speak about a crisis of democracy and a time of hatred. And, described as ‘Tinder meets Black Mirror,’ don’t miss the talk between Mónica Ojeda and Samanta Schweblin about the darkness and pleasures of the internet.

The Cuban contingent includes contemporary author Wendy Guerra and renowned journalist Carlos Manuel Álvare. And, from Venezuela, exiled author and journalist Karina Sainz Borgo.

Women: “Women who work for a better world”

Half of the guests on this year’s programme are women and the agenda makes for some interesting explorations of feminism and femininity. Chile’s Alejandra Costamagna points out that we should talk about literature full stop – not literature written by women – because the very differentiation is itself discriminatory. Spanish author Paula Bonet tackles some of the taboos around pregnancy and abortion, and Gabriela Cabezón Cámara relates her female gaucho story.

Territory, planet and belonging: “This land to which we belong”

There’s a host of discussions about climate change, land and animals, including French literary big-hitter Jean-Baptiste del Amo whose novel Animalia transports us to life in a pigsty. Horticulturist Carlos Magdalena, also known as the Plant Messiah, will talk about our relationships with the species that keep us alive.

LGBTI: “Celebration of Stonewall”

Marking 50 years since the Stonewall riots, there are a number of talks from the LGBTI community discussing the struggle for equal rights. We can expect a dramatic account from writer, performer and artist, Naty Menstrual, who says that we focus too much on the deaths of trans people and not enough on their lives. 

Poetry: “Poetry is the voice of everything”

Seeking to make the genre more mainstream, poetry will have its very own pavilion and some of the best poets in Latin America are scheduled to speak. The idea being promoted is that we all have some poetry within us, so be prepared to connect with your inner muse.

Bestsellers: “Passion for history, adventure and suspense”

It’s not all heavy themes and high brow words; there’s also space on stage for a couple of page-turners. Some of the English-speaking guests are on this list such as John Katzenbach who wrote Just Cause and Hart’s War, and British historical novelist, Edward Rutherfurd.

Children and youth: “Encounters of children’s and young people’s literature”

Literature for young people has always been a dynamic and playful genre, and today there are so many talented, thoughtful and colourful offerings that it’s hard to be a grown-up. Try to catch Afonso Cruz, María Fernanda Heredia or Ana Alcolea. If you are interested in the process of creation, listen out for Fernando Trujillo and César García. The duo behind La prisión de Black Rock, La guerra de los Cielos y La Biblia de los Caídos will speak about how they write collaboratively. Plus Alexandra Christo from the UK with a disturbing take on The Little Mermaid.

The Leer con todos sentidos – Reading with all the senses – series continues with a focus on reading for people with disabilities. This year, Spanish author Emilio Ortiz will speak about his book, written from the point of view of a guide dog, A través de mis pequeños ojos.

Phew. And with that quick flick through some of the names and talks, we nearly failed to talk about Lionel Shriver – one of the festival’s biggest draws. As with many of the popular authors, you will need to get there early and queue as the auditoriums fill up. Weekdays are obviously a lot less crowded, but even if weekends are your only option, be sure to go. You won’t regret braving the crowds.

All in all, it will be a thought-provoking couple of weeks as well as a chance to get some good deals on enough reading material to see you through until next year. 

Where: Corferias, Carrera 37 # 24 – 67

When: April 24 to May 6, Mon-Thu, 10am-8pm, Fri & Sat, 10am-9pm, Sun, 10am-8pm

Tickets: $9,000 (adults), $5,500 (aged 5-12)
It is worth buying tickets online to save queuing.