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Writers under 35: British magazine ‘Granta’ celebrates the diversity of Spanish-language literature | USA

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The authors selected by ‘Granta’ as the 25 best Spanish-language writers under the age of 35.
The authors selected by ‘Granta’ as the 25 best Spanish-language writers under the age of 35.

Vladimir Nabokov used to say that Russian is spoken with a “broad and constant smile,” because Russian vowels are like oranges and English ones are like lemons. In line with that analogy. Valerie Miles, the co-director of UK-based literary magazine Granta, says Spanish vowels remind her of grenadine seeds or machine-gun bullets: “Short and very fast.” After Japanese, Spanish is the fastest language in the world, with the highest number of syllables pronounced per second and with a vast and exuberant vocabulary, thanks in no small part to speakers in Latin America. Granta has emphasized this richness of language in its latest list of the best 25 Spanish-language novelists under the age of 35, compiled 11 years after its first and which includes writers from four continents. The list was presented by Miles at Madrid’s Cervantes Institute on Wednesday.

“One of the main differences in this selection is that many of these young writers pay particular attention to the sonorous qualities of the written word,” says Miles. “They have a keen ear for capturing the intonation and the subtle idiomatic twists of different geographical areas. And that applies not only to dialogue but in terms of incorporating a narrative voice.”

Miles also drew a distinction between the generation of writers included on the first list in 2010 and this one, the first dedicated to young Spanish-language writers by the Barcelona edition of Granta, which is published quarterly. As on the 2010 list, there are veteran prize-winning writers included such as Ecuador’s Mónica Ojeda, the Cuban Carlos Manuel Álvarez, Costa Rican Carlos Fonseca and Spain’s Cristina Morales, as well as debut novelists like 26-year-old Tenerife-born Andrea Abreu.

The front page of the latest edition of ’Granta.‘
The front page of the latest edition of ’Granta.‘

The predominant profile on Granta’s 2010 list was that of the urban, cosmopolitan writer and in the case of those Latin Americans included, a stint in Europe was practically obligatory. Among them were Santiago Roncagliolo, Andrés Neuman, Alejandro Zambra and Patricio Pron. A pattern of linear continuity in the biographies of the pillars of a boom that is now falling silent. “This canon is making a break with that generation, perhaps because of the greater democratization of editorial access,” says Miles. “Today they are writing from completely different places and don’t feel the need to employ urban language. They have lost the complex that dictated to write well in Spanish was to write in that way.”

“The internet has also helped to break that hegemony of having to go to the big cities to read other things,” says Diego Zúñiga, one of the 25 writers on the list who sets his novels in his hometown of Iquique, in the north of Chile. His story Una Historia de Mar (or, A Story of the Sea) is a homage to a city forgotten by Chilean literature where a world champion spearfisherman, Chungungo Martínez, resides. “I’m not afraid to use words that people maybe won’t understand. The word Chungungo, for example, is one that not every reader needs to know, but it has a sound that I wanted to include in the text,” Zúñiga says.

The range of stories produced by each of the 25 authors on the list is evidence of a geographic and linguistic paradigm shift. José Ardila writes from a small village in the rural depths of Antioquia, Colombia. Miluska Benavides is based on Peru’s mineral-producing coast. Martín Felipe Castagne works from an Argentinean mountainside. Musicality and the desire to capture sound are also present in Abreu’s “Canarian pizzicato,” as Miles describes it, and in the declamatory tone of Morales’ ode to female karate fighters. Speaking to EL PAÍS, Morales states her preference for consigning neutral Spanish to the past. “I give thanks to God if my colleagues and I have overcome this canonical requirement. Hopefully, that is the case and hopefully, texts published in 2021 can be wildly provincialist, oral and follow the glorious path of illegibility.”

The days when female writers were associated with a single genre, or with themes like family, domesticity or intimacy, are behind us

Mexican author Aniela Rodríguez

Ojeda, whose new work, featured on the list, is a tale based on an Incan ceremony, describes the written word as “sensorial, musical, rhythmic, atmospheric… when you write you are composing a specific cadence that you feel with your whole body. That is literature: the word that, as in a magic trick, transforms matter because it passes through it. To not place faith in this dimension of writing would be to waste its potential.”

The 2021 Granta list also underscores that there are many female authors like Ojeda leading these changes in Spanish-language literature. The introduction in the Spanish edition of the magazine reads: “It is to a large degree women who are leading formal preoccupations along a new path. We have received more nominations for women than for men in countries like Spain and Argentina, and an even split in Chile.” On the 2010 list, there were 17 men and five women, with Spain and Argentina the most-represented countries. In the latest selection, the balance is 14 men and 11 women with Spain (six) and Mexico (four) providing the highest number of writers per nation and Cuba (three) enjoying greater representation.

Aniela Rodríguez believes that many of these authors are trying to experiment with language as Fernanda Melchor did, or with genres like Samanta Schweblin or María Fernanda Ampuero. Rodríguez, born in Chihuahua in 1992, is one of the youngest authors on the list and her tale of a fisherman carrying a dead child is a modern incarnation of the oral style of Mexican writer Juan Rulfo. “The days when female writers were associated with a single genre, or with themes like family, domesticity or intimacy, are behind us,” she says.

Although Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño remains one of the key reference points for many of these authors, one of the writers most often mentioned among those selected by Granta is Sylvia Plath. “Despite not being a figure of reference for me, it really caught my attention and I think it’s very exciting that the writer most cited as a model is a woman, a poet on a list of novelists, and one who wrote in English,” says Andrea Chapela, another of the selected writers. “It says a lot about things like putting more emphasis on affection at the heart of the work, of care with language and a more embodied style of writing.”

One of the main differences in this selection is that many of these young writers pay particular attention to the sonorous qualities of the written word

Valerie Miles, co-director of ‘Granta’

However, Plath’s presence can also be interpreted as a reflection of current concerns in Spanish-language literature about shining a light on gender violence. Aura García-Junco was surprised to learn of Plath’s popularity among the authors on the list “although it makes perfect sense because she was very much in the shadow of her husband, something that we have re-evaluated, and also there is that vein of a violent situation running through all of her work.” García-Junco is one of three female Mexican writers on the list and her novel Mar de Piedra (or Sea of Stone), an extract of which is published in Granta’s Spanish edition, speaks precisely about femicide in Mexico, in a world somewhere between fantasy and dystopia in which women who have disappeared can end up as statues on Mexico City’s Avenida Madero. “I wanted to reflect how missing people in Mexico become part of the land again, despite being unaccounted for,” she says. “They leave traces that transcend their own existence, in the social fabric; they are a reminder that nobody is safe.”

For the 25 writers on the Granta list, being chosen among the best Spanish-language authors of their generation is a calling card for the English-speaking editorial world of the United States and the United Kingdom. Founded 132 years ago, Granta earned its mythical status when it began publishing its lists of up-and-coming writers in the second half of the 20th century. In 1983, the magazine tipped a group of thirty-somethings including Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Kazuo Ishiguro for greatness. Every story and extract for this latest edition has been translated by some of the most recognizable names in the business – Esther Allen, Sarah Booker, Sophie Hughes and Daniel Hahn, among others – as well as Valerie Miles.

Among the jury for the 2021 list were the co-founder of Granta’s Spanish edition Aurelio Major, the literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation Gaby Wood and the writers Horacio Castellanos Moya, Rodrigo Fresán and Chloe Aridjis.

The complete list of writers selected by Granta as the 25 best Spanish-language authors under the age of 35

– Irene Reyes-Noguerol, Spain, 1997

– Andrea Abreu, Spain, 1995

– Munir Hachemi, Spain, 1989

– David Aliaga, Spain, 1989

– Cristina Morales, Spain, 1985

– Alejandro Morellón, Spain, 1985

– Aniela Rodríguez, Mexico, 1992

– Andrea Chapela, Mexico, 1990

– Aura García-Junco, Mexico, 1989

– Mateo García Elizondo, Mexico, 1987

– Camila Fabbri, Argentina, 1989

– Michel Nieva, Argentina, 1988

– Martín Felipe Castagnet, Argentina, 1986

– Carlos Manuel Álvarez, Cuba, 1989

– Dainerys Machado Vento, Cuba, 1986

– Eudris Planche Savón, Cuba, 1985

– Paulina Flores, Chile, 1988

– Diego Zúñiga, Chile, 1987

– Estanislao Medina Huesca, Equatorial Guinea, 1990

– Mónica Ojeda, Ecuador, 1988

– Carlos Fonseca, Costa Rica, 1987

– José Adiak Montoya, Nicaragua, 1987

– Miluska Benavides, Peru, 1986

– José Ardila, Colombia, 1985

– Gonzalo Baz, Uruguay, 1985

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Shocking news, Irish people may be sanest in Europe

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Ireland is running low on loopers. If we don’t watch out, we could emerge from the pandemic with our reputation for wildness completely shredded. We are in danger of being exposed as the sanest people in Europe.

Vaccines go into the arm, but also into the brain. They are a kind of probe sent into the national consciousness. In Ireland’s case, the probe has discovered exciting evidence of intelligent life.

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Vienna school under fire for sex ed class using doll for children as young as six

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According to Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper, a teacher used a doll to explain “how sex works” to the children, while also encouraging them to use their hands and fingers on the doll. 

She said she wanted to “enlighten” the children about aspects of sex education. The children in the class were between the ages of six and ten. 

The teacher also explained to the children that “condoms should be used if you don’t want to have babies”, the newspaper reports. 

One boy was told to remove the clothes of the doll but refused before being told that he had to do so. 

The boys parents removed him from the school, saying that he was “overwhelmed” after the class and had started touching his sister inappropriately. 

“We have never seen our son like this before, he was completely overwhelmed” the parents said anonymously, “we are taking him out of the school.”

“We can already see the consequences. 

“A few days after these disturbing lessons, a classmate came to us to play. Like many times before, the boy also played with our ten-year-old daughter. This time he suddenly wanted to pull her pants down.

Peter Stippl, President of the Association for Psychotherapy, said that while sex education was crucially important, it needed to be age appropriate in order to be effective. 

“(This type of sexual education) scares the children! They get a wrong approach to the topic and their natural limit of shame is violated,” he said. 

“Sex education must always be age-appropriate and development-appropriate. Many children are six, seven or eight years old – or even older – not interested in sexual intercourse.

“We should never explain sexuality in schools in isolation from love and relationships. It makes you feel insecure and afraid. It harms the development of children.”

The Austrian Ministry of Education will now set up a commission to determine who will be allowed to teach sex ed in schools. 

The city of Vienna is also investigating the specific incident. 



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Madrid’s Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado granted World Heritage status | Culture

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Madrid’s famous Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado boulevard have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision, made on Sunday, brings the total number of World Heritage Sites in Spain to 49 – the third-highest in the world after Italy and China.

Up until Sunday, none of these sites were located in the Spanish capital. The Madrid region, however, was home to three: El Escorial Monastery in Alcalá de Henares, the historical center of Aranjuez and the Montejo beech forest in Montejo de la Sierra.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez celebrated the news on Twitter, saying it was a “deserved recognition of a space in the capital that enriches our historical, artistic and cultural legacy.”

Retiro Park is a green refuge of 118 hectares in the center of the city of Madrid. Paseo del Prado boulevard is another icon of the capital, featuring six museums, major fountains such as the Fuente de Cibeles as well as the famous Plaza de Cibeles square.

For the sites to be granted World Heritage status, Spain needed the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries. The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.
Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.Víctor Sainz

Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the organization that advises UNESCO, had argued against considering the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park as one site, and recommended that the latter be left out on the grounds that there were no “historic justifications” for the two to be paired.

This idea was strongly opposed by Spain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Perelló, who said: “What they are asking us to do is rip out a lung from Madrid. El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.” The origins of Paseo del Prado date back to 1565, while Retiro Park was first opened to the public during the Enlightenment.

Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado.
Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado. Víctor Sainz

The ICOMOS report also denounced the air pollution surrounding the site. To address these concerns, Madrid City Hall indicated it plans to reduce car traffic under its Madrid 360 initiative, which among other things is set to turn 10 kilometers of 48 streets into pedestrian areas, but is considered less ambitious than its predecessor Madrid Central.

The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in the Chinese city of Fuzhou and was broadcast live at Madrid’s El Prado Museum. Perelló summed up the reasons to include Retiro Park and El Paseo de Prado in less than three minutes.

“When people say ‘from Madrid to heaven’ [the slogan of the Spanish capital] I ask myself why would you want to go to heaven when heaven is already in Madrid,” he told delegates at the event, which was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Every year, UNESCO evaluates 25 proposals for additions to the World Heritage List. In the case of the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park, the site was judged on whether it evidenced an exchange of considerable architectural influences, was a representative example of a form of construction or complex and if it was associated with traditions that are still alive today. The famous park and boulevard sought to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1992, but its candidacy did not reach the final stage of the process.

Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).
Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).Biblioteca Nacional de España

The effort to win recognition for the sites’ outstanding universal value began again in 2014 under former Madrid mayor Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), and was strengthed by her successor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Ahora Madrid party, which was later renamed Más Madrid. An advisor from UNESCO visited the site in October 2019.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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