From Madrid: interview with Rocìo Fernández, international fiction editor at Seix Barral
Author: Laura Pugno
Rocío Fernández works is international fiction editor at Seix Barral. With an undergraduate degree in journalism and a Master’s degree in publishing, she has worked in the publishing sector since 2004, in both in Madrid, for the Grupo Anaya, and Barcelona, for the Carmen Balcells Literary Agency and Ediciones Salamandra.
How would you describe in just a few words the distinctive features of your publishing house for Italian publishers, writers and readers?
Seix Barral is, unquestionably, a reference point in the Spanish-speaking world, both Spain and Latin America. Founded in 1911, the distinguishing features of this publishing house are its commitment to quality and its mission to publish books that leave a mark, books that last.
Seix Barral has taken a great interest in post-war fiction and the boom in Spanish-American literature, publishing the works of authors such as Juan Marsé, Eduardo Mendoza, Jorge Luis Borges, Mario Vargas Llosa and Pablo Neruda. It has also published the works of foreign authors such as Virginia Woolf, Don DeLillo, Patrick Süskind, Siri Hustvedt, Paul Auster and Salman Rusdhie.
Currently, our catalogue is a mix of the prestige afforded by the presence of established authors and the novelty of more recent works of national and international fiction.
How did you come into contact with Italian books and Italian literature? Can you recall a specific episode, encounter or event during your life or in the history of the publishing house?
It is in the DNA of this publishing house to constantly search for and unearth what will later become classic works of European literature. In the case of Italian literature, the close ties Carlos Barral had with both Italy and his Italian colleagues played a decisive role. But so did the international publishing prize “Prix Formentor” and all the associated meetings that took place between writers and publishers in Majorca in the 1960s. That put us in contact with iconic figures from the Italian publishing world, such as Giulio Einaudi and Inge Feltrinelli.
On a more personal level, rather than meetings, I would talk about all the discoveries I have made over the years – quite varied, but always inspiring –, such as the unforgettable experience of reading Elsa Morante’s novels, the exploring of Sicily through the works of the great Camilleri, the recognition of myself in the pages of Magris and Pirandello, or the rediscovering of the smells and tastes of my youth on the other side of the Mediterranean.
What, in your opinion, is different about Italian literature and Italian books generally? What kind of a contribution do they make to your catalogue?
I find it difficult to mention just one feature or difference that can define a literature that is so alive and different. However, I have always found unique and powerful voices, characters that stand out and do not resemble or try to resemble anyone else. Moreover, in the description of family relationships and the study of the emotional world of the characters, I often find a point of view that dissects feelings unabashedly, and this, in my opinion, is the added value of a good story.
If we want to continue to offer our readers the best of international literature and mirror the sensitivities and themes characterising today’s works in Europe, then it is absolutely essential to have works from such a consolidated tradition as the Italian literary tradition in our catalogue.
Which Italian authors are present in your catalogue? Which kind of Italian books and authors would you like to acquire?
In the several decades of its existence, Seix Barral has published works by authors of the calibre of Cesare Pavese, Italo Svevo, Carlo Emilio Gadda, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Umberto Eco, and also La Divina commedia, the sublime translation of which is a touchstone for translations into Spanish. It has not, however, overlooked more recent phenomena, publishing the works of writers such as Erri De Luca, Susanna Tamaro and Michela Murgia. And it is always on the lookout for new voices, such as Viola Ardone, whose Il treno dei bambini we recently published in Spanish.
We are searching for authentic stories that generate feelings and emotions, discussion and awareness among our readers, but which also encourage analysis and critical thinking. Basically, Literature with a capital L.
What can be done to forge even closer relations between Italian and Spanish publishing houses? Generally and in this moment in particular?
I would dare to say that so far relations between our two publishing worlds have always been good. I am a little worried, however, about what kind of world we will find after the pandemic. If the health situation prevents us from travelling as much as we did before for an extended period (as a result of which important events, such as the Turin Book Fair, will be postponed), it will be essential to rethink the way we communicate with one another and how we can keep the cultural debate between our two countries alive. I urge our agents and publishers to actively engage in sharing their titles and searching for new ways of communicating and remaining constantly in touch.
How useful do you think a platform like newitalianbooks is? Generally and in this moment in particular?
With the information overload we now face, the need to offer content that is easily accessible, attractive and up-to-date is more important than ever. In our case, newitalianbooks will achieve its goal if it manages to ensure that publishers all over the world consult this platform on a regular basis to find out how the Italian book market works, which books are important and what the latest trends are. In a period in which digital interaction is becoming ever more important, I believe that newitalianbooks has arrived at just the right moment to ensure greater visibility for Italian books in the increasingly competitive international environment.