Preview: Havana International Book Fair


If you’ve been following along with my blog and Instagram pages, you’ll know I’m heading to Cuba in a few days to attend the Havana International Book Fair. This incredible cultural event is something I’ve been looking forward to for weeks, and since I won’t be able to post much while I’m away, I thought I’d fill my readers in on what this event is all about before I set off.

One of my goals in 2019 is to attend and write about more book fairs. They are such great places to meet industry personnel and learn about exciting books, publishing deals, and authors. I live in Nova Scotia, and although there’s a great literary and publishing scene here, there aren’t many large-scale book or author festivals, and it can be frustrating to feel so isolated from the excitement. That’s part of the reason why I jumped at the chance to head to Cuba in February. More than just wanting to attend a book fair, I also wanted to travel somewhere with rich history and a literary legacy. As it turns out, Cuba was the perfect fit.

In 1961, Fidel Castro’s government implemented the “Year of Education”, a campaign to raise literacy rates in Cuba. The Cuban Literacy Campaign was a resounding success, with literacy rates soaring from roughly 60% to almost 96% by the end of the year. The campaign was also intended to create relationships and foster conversation between various sectors of Cuban society, and bring people from different backgrounds together. Woman and children were included in the campaign, and literacy rates among women in Cuba remain some of the highest in the world. Other countries have followed Cuba’s program in attempts to raise literacy rates, and several have been successful. The result of the campaign is a country with an engrained love of books, reading, and education.

Cuba’s legacy of literature is bolstered even more by the fact that Ernest Hemingway loved Cuba and lived there for part of his life. His house - which I’ll be visiting during my stay - still stands and attracts thousands of a tourists every year. His favourite bars and haunts still stand as well, and one small fishing village outside of Havana is said to be the inspiration for The Old Man And The Sea.

The Havana International Book Fair started in 1982, and continued to be held every two years until 2000, when it became an annual occurrence. The festival, which begins in Havana, travels across the country, finishing in Santiago De Cuba. Thousands of people flock to Cuba for the festival, including publishers, writers, and academics who participate in the various events involved. In 2009, roughly 600,000 people attended the fair, and it is considered Cuba’s biggest cultural event. Each year one foreign country is honoured at the fair, and last year it was Canada. This year it’s Algeria.

The Havana leg of the fair, which is what I’ll be attending, is held at Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana, an 18th century Spanish-built fort overlooking the ocean and city.

Since I’m Canadian, I can travel very freely to Cuba. I’ll be writing on my travel blog about my experiences staying in Havana, and offering some advice to anyone considering visiting. When I get back from my trip I’ll be posting a detailed review of the book fair and literary culture of Cuba. Stay tuned for more!

Disclaimer: Since I am not a Cuban historian, I’m going to attach a few scholarly articles on the subject below. The information I’ve provided in this post can be fact-checked in these articles and anyone curious in learning more from people with more knowledge than me should absolutely give these a read.

  1. The 1961 National Cuban Literacy Campaign

  2. Back to the future: Timor-Leste, Cuba and the return of the mass literacy campaign

  3. The Literacy Campaign in Cuba