The Sant Jordi Book Festival in Barcelona is one of the most beautiful book fairs in the world. Devoted to St. George, who slew the dragon to save the damsel in distress, it is the St. Valentine’s Day of Catalonia. As the legend goes, when Sant Jordi wounded the dragon’s wing a rose bush sprang up from the drops of blood that fell to the ground. In celebration, gentlemen would give their ladies a rose. In the late 1920’s the booksellers’ guild added books into the mix. Today, on April 23rd, the feast day of St. George, the promenades of Barcelona are lined with bookstands and flower stalls, and everyone buys a book and a rose.
Since 2014, Sant Jordi has been riding and defending literature in translation in New York.
From 2014 to 2017, we sponsored lit crawls in neighborhoods, or events at bookstores and cultural centers. Translators from many languages and literatures took part, and its popularity grew.
In 2020 we were planning to do lit crawls in five NYC neighborhoods, when the pandemic shut us down. With artists Laia Cabrera and Isabelle Duverger, we leapt online with this beautiful Madison Square landing page: santjordiusa.org/home2020. Many festivals joined us: Neue Literatur, PEN World Voices, and others. We introduce the web-AR baby dragon, roses, and books that you could bring into your house, like a Pokèmon. Good news: the baby dragon—Dragonet—is back this year. Take it home with you!
The pandemic had lessons for everyone: breadmaking, meditation, self-care, cottage businesses, moving to the country… The lesson for Sant Jordi NYC was that our little festival of literature in English translation could have a world-wide audience. That year we had viewers from Japan, Finland, Iraq, Germany, and many more, and of course our viewers in the U.S. and Catalonia, where Lleida edged out Barcelona as one of the places with the most viewers. We went from 600-700 visitors for a week-long in-person festival to 7,000 viewers online, for 24 languages from 45 countries. It was an epiphany.
Since 2020 we have continued to be online, and we continue to grow. Last year we had almost 65.000 views on youtube, of an average of 5 minutes each. But we missed everyone — the warmth, the hugs, the wine and cheese — and last year we went hybrid, with our beautiful host at the Jersey City Theater Center, Olga Levina, who welcomed three exhibitions by Catalan artists — Under the Light of the Sea, by Espe Pons, an exhibition about the absences left by Francoism, There is Still Someone in the Woods, an installation and documentary about the survivors of the Bosnian War, by the Catalan activist collective, Cultura i Conflicte, and a stunning immersive cinematic installation of Catalan landscapes and architecture, Close-Up/Primer Pla, by Laia Cabrera and Isabelle Duverger. There was also a striking and charming dance performance by David Rodríguez and Luke Prunty, Things They Said/Coses que s’han dit, and a moving staging of the texts from Brigadistes: Lives for Liberty by Jordi Martí-Rueda (Pluto Press) by dramaturge Maria Litvan and her graduate students at CUNY.
In September we did a trial half-year Sant Jordi in Chicago, curated by Alta L. Price, with the collaboration of the Third Coast Translation Collective (TCTC) and the support of DCASE, the Chicago Arts Council. Events were staged at Haymarket House (20th-Century Catalonia: Aristocrats, Revolutionaries, and Hermits, Mary Ann Newman in conversation with Erik Noonan); Seminary Co-Op (Infiltrating Language Itself: Memory, Justice, and Poetry in Translation, Daniel Borzutzky and Lucina Schell in conversation with Jose-Luis Moctezuma); and Exile in Bookville—if Seminary Co-op were not already my favorite bookstore in the world, Exile in Bookville would be (New Takes on Exile Literature: Transcending Bodies and Borders, Izidora Angel in conversation with Alta Price.) In light of the wonderful Chicago hospitality—we crashed a Sunday Salon Chicago lit party and had a grand old time—we have launched Sant Jordi from the Windy City, and the first event, Poems and Power: Translation as Intimate Philosophy with Kristen Renee Miller and Alta L. Price—making Agamben approachable, yay, Alta—was brilliant. More today and tomorrow, see santjordiusa.org.
This is just a recap and a welcome to the Sant Jordi USA Festival of Books, Roses & Dragons. We will be bringing you news and updates throughout the festival, April 21 to 27. There will be in-person events throughout the week, online readings each day, a playlist prepared by the authors and translators to enhance the readings, there will be chats online as the events are posted, and there will be a baby dragon! Take Dragonet home with you!