Saturday, July 26, 2008

La Semana Negra’s last days

Exclusive reports from Crime Fiction's international big-bash by our roving reporter.

I’m back in Los Angeles,
La Semana Negra ended! There was a lot going on during the final days, but I’ll try to summarize them in two posts.

One of the most important events happened on July 19. At the yell of, “Weimar for everyone,” the 21st Semana Negra gave away 1,000 book sets dedicated to giving voice to writers who opposed the Nazis during the 1930’s and 40’s. The set is an incredible black edition with a big, thick gold “W” across the box. It's composed of two books, one is a selection of texts by German writers who, because they opposed the Nazis, were silenced and as a consequence their literature is not well known--writers such as Gustav Regler, Ludwig Renn, Bodo Ushe, and Marchwitza Kisch even wrote continuously during those years.

As Carlos Fortea said, “I think we owed them this recognition and this rescue from oblivion. . . I wouldn’t call this poetic justice; instead, I want this to be an act to rescue their literature. These people have the right to be on these pages.” Other writers such as Bertolt Bretch and Anna Seghers also deserve acknowledgment for their work during that time, but their case is different since they did gain international recognition.

The second book is dedicated to stories told from different perspectives but with the same setting, by contemporary writers. Paco Taibo II and forty other writers illustrate this period of history with photography, comics, or short stories, among others. At the event in the main tent of La Semana Negra, the stage was packed with writers and other artists who participated in the making of the book. Taibo II wanted to give each recognition for their work, from taking the time to doing it for free.

Since this was a free book, a gift from La Semana Negra and Pepsi, the tent was full and everyone was trying to get to the front, because although there were 1,000 books, there weren’t enough for all the people. Talking to people, I found out why everyone was so anxious and desperate to get to the front. But of course at the beginning they weren’t too obvious. I also wanted to get the free book, so I got there an hour early and got a comfortable chair at the front.

From asking the staff and people around me, I found out that every year people get wild. They push, throw chairs or even hit people to get to the front for the free book. Since there are a limited number, people know that if they don’t in a sense get a little rowdy and pushy, they are not going to get one. For some this is almost unthinkable, because the book is a Semana Negra tradition and they have been collecting them for years.

I think this a great tradition. I think there is nothing better than collecting books and of course reading them. But the conversations about how “last year people were taking the books from each other” and “people got on stage and wanted more than two!” (the rule is you can only get one) got me very scared.

But the story that seemed the most funny and scary at the same time, was that last year the organization decided to keep the books in the big brown boxes and designated people to pass them out. Well, this didn’t turn out as planned, because people were fighting for the boxes with the staff and the old lady who I previously mentioned actually fought Taibo II for one of them. As Marina Taibo (Taibo II’s daughter) told me, “she was crunching her teeth and pulling the box with all her strength. It was quite scary.” Even though I would have loved to see this, this year’s organization would try to avoid this sort of thing.

All the books were spread out on stage. After introductions and thank-you’s, Taibo II and Angel de la Calle, one of the contributors and the director of “A Quemarropa” (La Semana Negra’s newspaper) gave the ok for people to come on stage to get the book. At the beginning people came up in an orderly fashion. I did so by only taking two steps, but as soon as people saw the books were running out, they forgot their manners and started pushing.

Not that I’m complaining, but to properly illustrate people’s behavior, after I got my book and was making my way to the rear of the tent, my shins were hurt by chairs people were trying to get them out of the way. I screamed (not too loud though) and made it out alive with just a few bruises. This year didn’t get as wild as others, which made everything so much better and enjoyable, although my shins don’t agree.

After the books were distributed, the contributors went to another tent where they had set up tables, and the writers signed the books. An endless line, but that made the free book even more special--thirty-two contributors in total! Some writers signed on the page of their story, the comic’s artists drew on them and others simply gave you a quick smile and signed on the first page. After an hour and half, they finally ended and marked their time in history, which in my case, will never be forgotten.

Don’t miss the last post of the incredible Semana Negra,

Thank you to all who have been keeping up with my posts!

Saludos desde Los Angeles!

Thania Muñoz


norma landa flores said...

Thania, I'm glad you made it home safely, although you did receive a few bruises on your shins when you had to fight the crowds for your free book. I hope the stories will be enlightening. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Life Together" was written in the 40's when he was imprisoned by the Germans. I've learned a lot from his writings, that I try to apply to my teaching, writing and every day living situations. You wrote that the authors had "marked their place in history". Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have said that you, as well as the authors have made an "impact on history", thanks for sharing your real life experiences during La Semana Negra.


Daniel Olivas said...

Thani, mil gracias for your wonderful, insightful and literary reports! We've been honored to have you as a guest blogger/reporter.

Anonymous said...

Norma, Dan, otros, Thania will do at least one more post, summarizing in some way her experience.


Thania said...

Its been a pleasure! one more post and that's it, qué triste!