How Venezuelans are reading and writing to resist authoritarianism
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As Venezuela’s democracy careens ever faster towards authoritarianism, its citizens are rising up to resist what’s happening. The rest of the world sees it mainly through images of violent protests and crackdowns – but resistance takes many forms.On July 27, days before a vote for a constituent assembly which critics fear will lead the country into a dictatorship, Les Quintero, editor of independent publisher Lector Cómplice, posted a picture of recent books from the publishing house with the caption “nuestros autores cómplices son resistencia” – “our writers are resistance”. In recent years, Venezuela’s independent publishers and booksellers have blossomed, providing stories that attempt to make sense of the current situation. At the same time, reading brings communities together both in person and online; as writer Roberto Echeto argues, “Venezuelans have discovered through the force of suffering what books are for”. As part of my research, I’ve interviewed a range of Venezuelan authors. They agree that Venezuelans are now reading more of their own literature, not because of the reading programmes put in place by the government, but because books – especially creative non-fiction (crónicas) and historical novels – have become a way for readers to process their political, economic and social realities, as this recent reading list shows. Novelist Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles recently called for writers to tell stories of “artificial democracies”, in the tradition of fictional dictatorships; novels such as Federico Vegas’s Falke, which identifies traces of Venezuela’s present in its dictatorial past, have become bestsellers. Meanwhile, many crónicas and short stories focus on everyday lives, and the critical problems that Venezuelans have to live with. The 2016 Latinobarómetro survey found they’re the most likely people in Latin America to be victims of crime (48%) and nearly twice as likely as any others to report food shortages (72%). Perhaps unsurprisingly, an estimated 1.5m Venezuelans now live outside the country. While my fellow editors and I were putting together Crude Words, an anthology of contemporary Venezuelan writing in translation, we were struck by how many of the hundreds of submissions we received were coloured by violence, fear, shortages and emigration. But as Alberto Barrera Tyszka wrote in the foreword to the collection, Venezuela is “a country – above and beyond any economic or social indicator, beyond any Utopia too – that continues writing itself from the perspectives of fear, of death, but also from that of sex, or from that of love”.
Rise of the independents
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