Guest of Honor

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(Nov 24 - Dec 2)

Portugal is one of the oldest states in Europe, with a unique language and borders that have remained unchanged for nearly 900 years. The country’s identity has been the topic of much discussion, especially since the loss of its colonial empire, then joining the European Union, and after the democratic revolution of April 25, 1974, which ended a dictatorship that initiated with a military coup in 1926—all junctures that made it necessary to question the new direction the country would choose. There is one thing, however, that remained unchanged after the revolution: an awareness that one of the most decisive factors in its independence was the presence of a decidedly Portuguese way of life—a culture inextricably linked to language and literature. Its first literary expressions were in poetry, written in Gallaecian-Portuguese starting towards the end of the 12th through the mid-14th centuries. One of the most important figures from this era was King Denis. During this same time, historians were also molding the Portuguese language, including Fernão Lopes, whose chronicles reflected life in the royal court and towns of the 14th and 15th centuries with stark realism.

The discovery of the New World, which began in the 15th century and culminated with Vasco de Gama squadron’s arrival to India in 1408, and Pedro Álvares Cabral’s landing in Brazil in 1500, ignited the imaginations of scientists, historians and writers. Some of the most important literary works of the time included Conversations on the simples, drugs and materia medica of India, work that was edited in Goa in 1563 and written by Garcia de Orta, and the epic poem Os Lusíadas, by Luís de Camões edited in 1571 (during the poet’s lifetime), as well as Pilgrimage by Fernão Mendes Pinto, which was published in 1614. The work is a biographical and romantic novel chronicling the author’s adventures across Asia, from Japan to the confines of China.

After this heroic era of the Discoveries came the building of an empire, which had its decidedly negative historical aspects, but that also set the foundations for the creation of new realities and cultural identities, including the presence of Portugal’s architecture, religion, culture and language in Asia, Oceana, Africa and South America. Without a doubt, the most significant aspect of this culture is the single language spoken across these diverse continents and in Europe—not only in Portugal—but also in countries including France, England, Germany, and others where the country has a large population of immigrants. This also includes Canada and the United States, where there are many people  from the Azores Islands, and South Africa, which is home to many immigrants from the Madeira Islands. In addition to being the fifth most-spoken language in the world, thanks in large part to the country of Brazil, it also gave rise to the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, making it the official language of Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola and Timor-Leste.

Portuguese literature has had its highs in each century, including in the 19th century, with novelists like Almeida Garrett, Eça de Queiroz and Camilo Castelo Branco, poets such as Garrett himself (also author of great dramatic works) and even Antero de Quental, Cesário Verde, and António Nobre, among many others, who have allowed our literature to retake the international dimension it had in the past with Luís de Camões and Fernão Mendes Pinto. However, it wouldn’t be until the 20th century—during the literary revolution introduced by Fernando Pessoa and others of his generation (the generation of Orpheu magazine), one of the most famous of which was poet and prose writer Mário de Sá-Carneiro, as well as many other poets—when authors would justify this century being named as “Golden Age” of Portuguese poetry, and when (exactly 20 years ago in 1998) Portugal adopted a fully unique identity on the world stage with José Saramago winning the Nobel prize for literature. It is this literature that maintained a constant dialogue with other arts, like painting ؅—including artists like José de Almada-Negreiros (contemporary of Pessoa in Orpheu magazine) who classified himself as ‘futuristic and all’—that will be attending the Guadalajara International Book Fair. Music, film, visual arts, and folk art are the many aspects that today’s writers, intellectuals and scientists carry with them in this meeting with the people of Mexico so that they, in the meetings and books available to them at the Fair, can dialogue with the “signs in rotation,” to quote Octavio Paz, of a literature that is as diverse as Fernando Pessoa’s heteronymous personality.

Manuela Júdice