Writer Ana Ormaza was looking for a place to promote her children’s book Adventures in Venezuela, a story about two young brothers who travel to Venezuela to learn about their roots. Edgar Ramirez, founder and host of Philatinos Radio, wanted to find a way to inspire Philly Latinos to read and give them access to books in Spanish. And Leity Rodriguez Largo, executive director of Acción Colombia, wanted a space where people could discuss Latin books and highlight the work of Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
In the summer of 2019, they got together to discuss Ormaza’s book. Amidst the conversation, the group shared their feelings on how the broad Spectrum of Writers and genres under the Latin Literature umbrella seems to get lost in the eyes of non-Spanish speakers, and the challenges of promoting a Latino author’s book without having Readers assume it’s “just” for Spanish speakers or other Latinos.
Suddenly, the idea hit them. “Let’s start a book fair,” said Rodriguez Largo. They had no idea of how to make it work without funding or a facility, but they were willing to try. Circumstances aligned, and they were able to get an audience with City Hall. In less than three days Ormaza, Ramirez, and Rodriguez Largo put together an entire plan for the first Latin American Book Fair.
Three years and four events (including a virtual Pandemic edition) later, the fair is standing strong. The Inquirer spoke with Ana Ormaza, now creative director of the book fair and current constituent service representative for the Latin American community for City Council member David Oh, about this year’s event and the importance of Latin American literature.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
There are many reasons: To promote reading, to give Latin authors a space to make their work known, but above all, to change the stereotype of what Latinos can and can’t do. We [Latin America] have great authors like Jorge Luis Borges, Rubén Darío, Pablo Neruda, and Horacio Quiroga. Having a book fair gives us a space to show our talent, to show our literature is part of the city too. We are here, we have bilingual and multicultural stories to tell in Spanish, English, and Portuguese.
Before the fair, people in Philadelphia had no idea how many Latin American authors lived in this city. We have been working on the project going on for four years now, and it has paid off. Our children can see that they too can be writers, or read about the stories of their ancestors, their culture, where their parents come from.
Yes, this is the first year that the Latin American Book Fair will be held for three days! We started this project in 2019, with 24 local authors, a few sponsors, and 300 people visiting us in City Hall’s courtyard. Now, we have 34 authors and are expecting at least 500 people. We are holding two discussions on Sept. 22 and 24, with the fair on Sept. 23 at Love Park, establishing “Latin American Book Fair Day” in Philadelphia.
Latin artists have come from all over the city, across states, and even directly from Latin America to be at the fair. We have monolingual and bilingual books for all readers, and multicultural people too.
I will be there with my book, La Flor Amarilla. Other authors in attendance include Aida Waserstein, a Cuban national and Delaware judge, who writes children’s books like My Name is Aida (Aidita is the book’s Spanish title) about Waserstein’s personal Immigration story, and Amelia Finds Her Voice: A Child Custody Story. Local author Diana Rodriguez Wallach will also be there, with her Horror fiction novel Small Town Monsters, as will Puerto Rican author Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa with her novel Indomita, about an African woman living during the slave trade in Puerto Rico. But we have many more, across different genres, styles, and for all kinds of readers.
All year round we have this talent, but many times they aren’t highlighted enough. Even though the Book Fair is an annual event, we are trying to make more ways for the community to feel inspired by literature and to get to know the authors we already have. We currently have an event called Café con Autores where we bring authors to talk about their book and their experience.
I am also trying to start up this project called Inkcubator, where the community will have access to people that can help them write, edit, and publish their books for free. It’s a lot of work, but I am hoping to have it running by 2023.
All events are open to the public, don’t require tickets or RSVP, and are entry free.
🎤Day 1: The fair kicks in at Temple University with authors José Velasco and Taty Hernández, from Mexico and the Dominican Republic, respectively. They will talk about the creative process of book writing and how to find inspiration, in a conversation Moderated by Norma Corrales Martin, a Temple University Professor from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
📍821 Mazur Hall, Polett Walk, Temple University, at Temple’s Mazur Hall 📅 Thursday, Sept. 22., ⏱️ 5 p.m
📘Day 2: At the Latin American Book Fair’s main event in Love Park, authors will have booths to showcase and sell their books. You can expect to pay an average of $15 per book, but prices vary. Although some writers take credit card payments, bringing cash is recommended.
There will be food, child-friendly activities, live music, and performances. Project Capoeira, cellist Daniel de Jesus — who plays and recites Poems by García Lorca — and Singers Patricio Acevedo, and Victoria Reyes are among the roster. Visitors are also encouraged to draw something on the spot or share an idea that will become part of a Commemorative book illustration released after the event..
There will also be an award ceremony at the fair to recognize the work of community members. Writer and poet Carlos José Pérez Samano, former executive director of Taller Puertoriqueño Carmen Febo San Miguel, MD, and physician José Torradas are among the winners.
📍Love Park, 📅 Friday, Sept. 23., ⏱️ 11 am to 5 pm
🎤Day 3: The book fair closes at Taller Puertorriqueño in El Centro de Oro, where authors Aida Waserstein and David Acosta will have a conversation about their novels and the process of getting published, Moderated by Jesenia de Moya Correa. This will be followed by a vallenato band, appetizers, wine, and musician Diego Calderón’s performance.
📍2600 North 5th St., 📅 Saturday, Sept. 24., ⏱️ 6 pm to 9 pm