Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What is CILE 2016 and its role in my Writer Journey

The International Congress of the Spanish Language is one of the most important or maybe the most important Spanish literary event that occurs annually. CILE (as it’s more commonly known) is the first book conference I’ve gone to in my life and to this point, the only one. To me, it was an opportunity to get to know more about the Spanish literary world, one I’m way too disconnected for to not do something about.

(PICTURE: Me and Twist!!)

I’ve been writing incrementally for the last decade and change and two things have become rather clear:

1. I write WAY more in English than I do in Spanish.


2. I read WAY more in English than I do in Spanish.

So when this event came about, I truly felt as if I HAD to go, if only to answer several questions I have about myself as a reader AND a writer. The first day had plenty of bombast since the Kings of Spain were in attendance. As the day progressed and I saw the media coverage, I quickly grew to understand that a lot of people not only don't know anything about CILE (me included), but that they only cared that the King and Queen were there (me NOT included). The first day was all protocol and not much substance, yet even so, I saw glimpses of the best Puerto Rico has to offer and the not so great.

(Paseo del Libro - The Book Path)

One particular protester decided to get up on the camera platform and proceeded to yell for about a minute before leaving. It was about a Puerto Rican political prisoner. It was in poor taste and showed that security there was a lot laxer than I would have liked. A bit further into the ceremony, the topic was brought up again in a classy way by Puerto Rican author, Luis Rafael Sánchez. I mentioned this in the Spanish version of my take on CILE and I mention it here again for the same reason, to show that in the span of minutes, my Island could show the best and worst of us on the same topic.

(Twist soaking up the view at CILE 2016)

As mentioned above, that first day had a whole lot of protocol although it also held a lovely moment for me, having the Real Academia Española recognize puertorriqueñidad (Puerto Ricanness) in the official dictionary of the Spanish language. It was a symbolic token of appreciation to a little Island that insists on letting itself be known and a moment where I felt proud to be a Puerto Rican.

Throughout the event though, I noticed several repeating topics.

1. Academics needing to sound like academics. I went to a BUNCH of panels and the ones I enjoyed the most were the ones where authors acted more like people and less like authors. I sat through quite a few panels of authors who miraculously weren’t wearing ascots or large hats. When people engaged the audience and really had fun with it, it was so refreshing and definitely a lot closer to what I’d like to do if ever I was in a panel. Álvaro Pombo spoke out on this and actually saved one of the largest panels by inserting some much needed humanity and humor and passion. But he was the exception rather than the norm.

(Álvaro Pombo, one of the highlights of the entire event)

2. Very little youth. Students went to this event because they were basically forced to and that’s sad. This was an opportunity for future writers to get in touch with the literary world, yet youth was largely absent on two of the four days I went. People gravitated towards big names and unfortunately for them, they probably missed out on some of the best experiences. The cozier, friendlier, and more intimate panels were some of my favorite moments. Of particular note were the one with Sandra Lorenzano, Mayra Santos Febres, and Carmen Riera, and the final poetry section that had some fantastic contributions. Goes to show that in a largely male dominated set of panels, the one had between three women was one of the most fun and refreshing.

3. Insistence of Don Quixote and classics. Although I see the value in classics, force feeding literature to people will only make them resistant. I heard such insistence that it was borderline alarming because it was almost as if not liking Don Quixote was cause for dismissal. More on this in a future post.

4. Lack of YA and limited variety. One of the reasons I went to the event was in part to try and figure out why I don’t read that much in Spanish. It didn’t take me long to see all the gaps in Spanish literature when it comes to my interests. I’m a big fan of fantasy, sci-fi, and YA and although some books exist in these genres, there’s an overabundance of translations and much less works written in Spanish in these genres. It’s not to say there aren’t, but it is to say that I felt compelled to dedicate most of what I will write in Spanish to YA and poetry and that I need help finding books in these genres because I got very little help in 5 of the stores.

5. Poor organization. There was a lack of information of when things were and how to get there and more than once I ended up helping people to get to the panels and seminars they were interested in. For an event of this magnitude, that's a lost opportunity especially with some of the great offerings available. 

All in all, I went with open arms to see what I could find out about myself as a writer in this event and I got plenty of answers. What genres I want to write in and why: poetry because it’s important to me and YA because it’s important to write for younger audiences that care less about reading. I found out that when you say you’re an indie author, some people are curious and PLENTY write you off or treat you with pity or even beneath them. I also found out that some people were really interested and that's a potential opportunity if I keep putting in the effort.

That’s why for 2016 I will be bringing forth several Spanish works. I’ll be sitting down with my notebooks, jotting down ideas but it will be something I do because of my love for writing and to connect with audiences that are being ignored… people who love YA, who love fantasy, who see the value in strong dramatic works but wouldn’t mind something lighter to read… people like me. All in all, it was an eye opening experience that shows some reason of why I don’t get much support in PR outside of the Puerto Rico Comic Con, and that’s fine with me, because I write what I love and I’ll always do that in the hopes that a future literary conference has at least one of my books and young people interested in reading.

Til then,

Peace, love, and maki rolls

Ps.: Of course I was dressed to impress :)


  1. Very interesting!
    I'm glad you shared this experience with us your readers. It's nice to see your journey in all of this.
    The thing is that I think you write very well in Spanish so it's surprising for me to hear that you don't delve into it as much as I thought you did. Well it just means you need to do as you say. Specially since you are good at it.
    When is the next one coming do you know?

    1. Happy to share the experience and just POd at myself for taking so long lol. I'm happy you're enjoying keeping me company on the journey. I'm happy you think I write well in Spanish, but well, not one review on Twenty Veinte or Pensando en Metáforas could make me question any skill inSpanish, but I can choose to fear or to keep going. Thank you for those kind words. And when you ask when the next one is coming, what do you mean? Cheers :D