“Literature is not killed by a virus,” Angel de la Calle commented to this newspaper in March, having already boarded the festival train that he directs and wanted to celebrate at all costs. July came and there is the Gijón Black Week (SN), celebrating its 33rd edition in the strangest and most extreme conditions in the history of the dean of literary festivals in Spain. “We presented the XXXIII edition on March 7, and we were still laughing with the ‘Chinese virus’. Fourteen days later we were confined. We immediately thought that we had to do the festival on time and date. Not in its usual format, of a mass audience festival, but safeguarding its backbone, a great gathering of writers and artists in the middle of a huge popular party. The party with masses of people was impossible, it was already clear at the beginning of the confinement. So we would do our best, ”recalls De la Calle by phone last Friday, just at the beginning of a literary party that lasts until next Sunday, July 12.
The problems of such a situation arose immediately. The rest of festivals opted to cancel or refer to telematics. The American and European authors could not be without distance, via plasma. “But residents of Spain wanted to have them. And that is part of the miracle, everyone responded immediately: count on me. A good part of the first swords of Spanish literature, novel, poetry, essay wanted to participate, to leave the screen and the telephone and to see their faces again, among themselves and with their readers, ”says De la Calle.
The audacity immediately received revenues and embassies and media from around the world asked for information and to be able to reproduce the festival Youtube channel signal, which broadcasts every day from 6 in the afternoon until midnight. Then came the logistical challenges, the system of telematic entrances, conditioning the premises … “Luckily, everything that has not been fulfilled is all that the foremen predicted. That the writers would not come, that the means of transport would not work with the hourly precision required by the SN, that the elderly would not know how to use electronic tickets, that we would not be able to maintain such strict sanitary measures … nothing That was fulfilled, ”De la Calle said Thursday, again on the phone, halfway done and part of the revenue harvested.
A good part of the first swords of Spanish literature, novel, poetry, essay wanted to participate, to leave the screen and the telephone and to see their faces again, among themselves and with their readers.
Angel of the Street
“The word is commonplace, but it is like a dystopia of Philip K. Dick, everything is apparently different, but deep down it is the same essence,” sums up the festival director on the differences of this edition of a meeting that above anything it is festive. “There is no street market, no restaurants at street level, no fairground attractions, no terraces in situBut there are exhibitions, a book fair, debates, talks, the best creators of the Spanish language, many books and a combative and provocative spirit. They meet here from Unai Sordo to Javier Cercas or Ana Merino, from David Trueba to Berna González Harbor, “says De la Calle to boast a poster that also includes Lorenzo Silva, Manuel Vilas and Carlos Zanón, among others.
Writers are the soul of any literary festival, but here, with the limited street, with reduced public access, they became the absolute kings. How have they behaved in such a strange situation? “Literature will be saved because the cultural / industrial world of books wants it to be saved. Ahead the authors, who in March, when there were 1,000 victims a day, answered our call with a courageous and militant vocation. Then, more reticent but finally delivered, publishing houses and distributors, the book in short, and of course the readers who have been there ”.
The daring results are there: “A book fair that has been less than half as extensive as usual has moved 25,000 books in 10 days. The writers have been the icing on the cake, they have been fun, kind, dedicated. They have never been more active or had a better vibe than in this edition. They are full of ideas, moreover, ”says De la Calle from his computer, from one place to another in that festival Gijón despite everything, on the way to the next Black Week event that continues because“ literature is not killed by a virus “
Throughout its history, Black Week has generated thousands of anecdotes, not all of them confessible. This very special edition, which EL PAÍS cannot cover on-site, also has one. Ángel de la Calle tells us one. “Carlos Zanón arrived in time and date after an odyssey of flight cancellations between Barcelona and Asturias, in which the possibility of making him travel by train for 10 hours, between Barcelona and León and where the writer León Artigue picked him up at the station and brought him to Gijón, was the alternative. A monumental mess because Carlos participated on the first day of the SN and is always one of the most requested writers. Fortunately, the flight was canceled and arrived on time. Three days later Carlos wanted to stay the whole week, he said that he was here and he was having it too, why would he leave, that he would do what we asked him to do, present, write in Point blank… that has been the spirit of the festival this year. And Carlos calls me every day to remind me how bastard I am for not letting him stay at this festival that is also his. ”