Regardless all the difficulties in Cuba, the truth is that Literacy is one of the greatest legacies of the Cuban Revolution of 1959. That’s why every February, Havana’s International Book Fair transforms the old Spanish fortification San Carlos de La Cabaña that overlooks the Havana harbor, into one of the biggest book parties in the world. The Fair is considered Cuba’s premier cultural event, as well as the event with the highest attendance in the island, with over 2 million people in the Capital City, alone plus many more in the rest of the country.
The law that established the National Press of Cuba was one of the first measures of the Revolution. In 1961, Cuba launched a National Literacy Campaign and today, according to the United Nations, Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the world.
The Havana International Book Fair is one of the highlights of the Cuban annual social calendar, and it takes place in Havana City for ten days before continuing on to the other cities for two more weeks. The book fair traditionally ends in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.
First held in 1982, the fair attracts thousands of local and international book lovers. The festival starts at ten in the morning, and consists not only in book vendors, but also poetry readings, children’s activities, art exhibitions, and concerts in the evenings.
Authors attending make the best use of the day by presenting their books and interacting with fans of their work. The fair has a history of selling millions of books and pamphlets every year and is credited to have brought to light much of Cuba’s hidden literary talent.
Cuban publishing houses stock the fair with hundreds of thousands of copies of books at accessible prices for the local population. Foreign entrepreneurs sell merchandise directly to the Cuban people. For most Cubans, it is a once-a-year opportunity to buy foreign magazines or titles that are otherwise unavailable in the country.
The recent news that the Cuban government agreed to publish the famous novel “1984” was quite unexpected, especially since it is presented this time by Arte y Literatura, a publishing house attached to the Culture Ministry. The book, written in 1949 by George Orwell (1903-1950, was a harsh criticism to totalitarian governments, and the lack of liberties for the people in socialist systems. Orwell is also the author of Animal Farm (1945). The decision is a real editorial event, after decades banning Orwell’s literature, and a good symptom of the airs of change that is living the island.
Every year Cuban academics and intellectuals attend lectures and book presentations during the Fair, while families and teenagers are drawn to the live music, food and party atmosphere. Most go home with a book or two under their arms.
Apart from the established locations at the Royal Fortress of La Cabaña and The Fortress of El Morro, the 25th Edition of the Havana Book Fair 2016 will also have several paralleled venues among those the centrally located Pabellón Cuba, Casa del Alba Cultural and Dulce María Loynaz Cultural Centre, where literary, artistic and academic events will take place.
Along with the public and authors, the book fair is attended by Cuban and international publishers, and political officials. Over 100 publishing houses set up stalls at the fair, and present catalogues of their books.
Each book fair is dedicated to a genre, issue, or author, and also a guest of honor. Since 2000, each book fair has been dedicated to Cuban authors and intellectuals. This year’s edition will be an homage to the Cuban poet Lina de Feria and the storyteller.