What is the efficacy of the Faulkner prize?: Faulkner and Venezuela, Part 2

This week, we are pleased to feature a second guest post by Ethan King, one-time Special Collections graduate student assistant, who is now pursuing his Ph.D. in English at Boston University. Ethan takes a strong interest in Faulkner, and has generously written for us about Faulkner’s fascinating later-life work as a cultural ambassador, a subject featured in our current exhibition, Faulkner: Life and Works.

In my previous post, I examined the divergent geopolitical visions of William Faulkner and the U.S. State Department as manifested in their practices and attitudes before, during, and after Faulkner’s trip as a cultural ambassador to Venezuela in the spring of 1961. Impressed by those he met in Venezuela, and his sympathy elicited by stories about the difficulties for Latin Americans of publishing fiction in and outside of Latin America, Faulkner proposed the Ibero-American Novel Project, a competition administered by the Faulkner Foundation through which Latin American books could seek translation into English and publication in the United States. The plan was to identify the best novel written in each Latin American country since the end of World War II and not yet translated in English and reward those winners with a Certificate of Merit from the William Faulkner Foundation, with the overall winner receiving a plaque. The Foundation’s statement regarding the project is as follows:

Many novels of the highest literary quality written by Latin-American authors in their native languages are failing to reach appreciative readers in English-speaking North America; and accordingly the William Faulkner Foundation, at the suggestion of William Faulkner himself, is undertaking a modest corrective program in the hope of contributing to a better cultural exchange between the two Americas, with an attendant improvement in human relations and understanding (MSS 10677).

However, as Faulkner died soon into the Project’s infancy, the Project ran into a host of challenges and difficulties created by the market forces of the United States. Without the ability to offer a cash prize to the winners from each of the represented regions of Latin America, Project officials had hoped Faulkner’s prestige would be enough for publishers to take on Latin American novels to be translated and published in the US, but unfortunately, publishers often refused, citing lack of commercial interest.

Before his death, Faulkner chose Arnold del Greco, an associate professor of Romance Languages at the University of Virginia, to direct the Project. In del Greco’s own words in a 1974 letter to Martha Murray, a teaching assistant at Southern Methodist University, his role as Project director “entailed all aspects of [the] project: preparing program and announcements, appointing judges in each country (usually after receiving wide recommendations from critics, etc.), reviewing decisions through the home board, seeking publishes for the American editions, etc” (MSS 10677). Under del Greco’s tutelage, the Project sought to compose panels of three judges from each country, none of whom, the Foundation’s statement reveals, was “to be older than twenty-five years of age on the grounds that youngsters are best able to evaluate the work of their contemporaries.” Each panel of judges was to read all submitted novels from their nation and identify the best “on the basis of literary distinction and achievement” (MSS 10677). Although this part of the competition was supposed to be completed by the end of 1961, it was not until February of 1963—half a year after Faulkner’s death—that the prizewinners were announced.

List of prizewinners (MSS 10677).

After broadcasting these winners throughout the US and Latin America on the “Voice of America,” the Project moved into the next phase—the selection of the best overall novel. Based at the University of Virginia and composed of six doctoral students and two assistant professors, as well as del Greco himself, the final panel of judges selected Díaz Sánchez’s Cumboto to be the most outstanding novel. Despite its meritorious achievement, Cumboto followed an agonizing trajectory in its quest for translation and publication. In her essay on Faulkner’s Ibero-American project that appeared in The Southern Quarterly (Winter 2004), Deborah Cohn characterizes Cumboto as being a novel about “a rural black community and the problems of race relations and mestizaje in Venezuela” (12). Shortly after receiving the Project’s highest honor, the novel was initially considered for publication by the University of Virginia Press and Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. However, both rejected it outright. Over the next few years, del Greco offered the manuscript to over twenty different publishing companies, all of whom denied publication for the novel based on their readers’ active dislike of the novel as well as on the difficulties of finding a market for it in the U.S. For example, Frank Wardlaw, Director of the University of Texas Press, rejected del Greco’s request for them to consider the novel because the “principal advisors on our Latin American translation program […] are emphatic in their recommendation that we do not publish it. Quite frankly, they do not have a very high opinion of the novel” (MSS 10677). Another example from Eric Swenson, Vice President and Executive Editor at W.W. Norton & Company Inc.: “I am afraid [Cumboto] would elicit very little response from a broadly-based North American audience, which I suppose is another way of saying it does not seem to us to be important enough to be worth the time and effort of translation and publication” (MSS 10677). Though none of the editors indicated precisely why the novel would not be of interest to readers in the U.S., Cohn surmises that it had to do with the novel’s intense regionalism: that because of its “emphasis on local color, […] it was even less likely to be of interest to a US audience” (13). Or in other words, while Faulkner’s regional focus on the US South was critically lauded, regionalism employed by writers from Latin American countries struggled to reach a US audience.

Certificate of Merit for a Notable Novel (MSS 10677)

In a letter written to José Antonio Cordido-Freytes—a member of the Faulkner Foundation—Díaz Sánchez scathingly and articulately expressed his frustrations with the competition’s outcome, pointing out the very hierarchic geopolitical climate that the Project sought to break down:

The resistance of North American publishers to publish Latin American literary works is well known to me, which is more than sufficiently explained by the contempt with which the people of North America look down on our Southern countries, on their institutions, their history and their language. I had thought that the prize for a novel granted by the William Faulkner Foundation was actually aiming to help break down this barrier of contempt and inexorable utilitariarism [sic] which the North Americans have created between the two racial zones of the New World and to lend a bit of ethical and aesthetical dignity to the relationship between the greatest power of modern history and our small and under-developed nations. […] The only satisfaction and the only positive value that such a tournament could give us, the writers of Latin America, would be the publication in the U.S. of the books produced in our countries and which carry a message of good faith, because besides this there is nothing very attractive about the giving away of a metal disk not any more important or honoring than those distributed for propaganda purposes for international industrial products. By this I don’t intend to say that I consider the Faulkner Prize to be a mere artifice invented for advertising of one of these products, but the truth is that up to this moment, it looks quite a bit like it. […] Considering these circumstances, please tell me frankly: What is the efficacy of the Faulkner prize? (MSS 10677)

Charged by this letter to up the ante in seeking Cumboto’s publication in the US, the Foundation finally authorized a $2,000 allotment to bankroll its English publication, but this money didn’t help until two years later, when Wardlaw inexplicably agreed to review the novel again. Likely incentivized only by this money, Wardlaw commissioned its translation and publication in 1968. Heartbreakingly, however, Díaz Sánchez died a few months before its publication, never seeing his translated work circulating in the United States, nor his nomination for the National Book Award that year.

Iber0-American Novel Plaque (MSS 10677).

While the Ibero-American Project set out to “contribut[e] to a better cultural exchange between the two Americas,” it is hard to see anything but its unfulfilled potential from the sad tales of its outcome. Although Coronación and El señor presidente, as well as novels not entered into the competition by Mallea and Marqués, were published in English, Cohn points out that “no work by any of the other prizewinning authors has ever been published in English” (11). One wonders, then, as Díaz Sánchez did, “What is the efficacy of the Faulkner prize?” Perhaps if Faulkner himself had lived past the Project’s infancy, he could have wielded his tremendous literary weight among US publishing to better effect in achieving its goals.

The blog goes bilingual!: Borges, libros y bibliografía

This week we are pleased to feature a post from Nora Benedict, who will receive a Ph.D. in Spanish this Saturday. Nora’s research for her dissertation, “The Fashioning of Jorge Luis Borges: Magazines, Books, and Print Culture in Argentina (1930-1951),” serves as the inspiration for her exhibition in our First Floor Gallery,  open through July 7, 2017.

Nora has been a constant presence here in Special Collections for many years as a researcher, a Bibliographical Society Fellow, a Rare Book School staff member tasked with working in our stacks to prepare materials for classes, and as a graduate assistant to staff member Heather Riser.  Thanks, Nora, for all you’ve done for the library–and for providing us with your blog entry in two languages! (To read Nora’s post in English, scroll to the end of the Spanish version.)

Borges, libros y bibliografía

Casi tres cuartos de siglo después de la primera publicación de sus laberintos vertiginosos y bibliotecas sin límites en Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges y sus libros siguen despertando el interés de ambos investigadores y aficionados. Como la mayoría de las personas que pasan por la Universidad de Virginia, descubrí su Borges Collection por casualidad. Aparte de la experiencia inverosímil de tocar e hojear los manuscritos y cartas escritos por Borges mismo, lo que más me llamó la atención de la colección en sí es el nivel de completitud. Desde un punto de vista bibliográfico, todo lo que hay en la colección sirve, de manera ideal, para cualquier tipo de investigación textual. Además de los manuscritos valiosos y periódicos raros, hay por lo menos una copia de cada edición de cada libro que Borges publicó durante su vida (¡en algunos casos hay más de una copia de ciertas obras que son aún más raras que los manuscritos!). En cierto sentido, es el lugar perfecto para estudiar la evolución de su proceso de escribir desde los manuscritos hasta las primeras y posteriores ediciones.

Dado que he pasado la mayor parte de cinco años estudiando todo el contenido de la colección, siempre me encanta hablar de los tesoros maravillosos que se pueden encontrar aquí, lo cual generalmente lleva a varias personas a preguntarme cómo estas cosas llegaron a la Universidad de Virginia. Me pregunté eso también cuando vi, por primera vez, los manuscritos originales de Fervor de Buenos Aires, copias prístinas de la revista mural Prisma y dibujos impresionantes en la mano distinta de Borges. Dicho eso, de pronto aprendí que la presencia de esta colección en la Universidad de Virginia tiene sentido por varias razones. En primer lugar es su vínculo con la fortaleza sobresaliente de las colecciones especiales de la universidad: la historia y literatura americana. Sin lugar a dudas, no se debe restringir esta categoría a las obras norteamericanas, sino hay que extenderla lógicamente a la producción cultural de todas las Américas. Junto a esta conexión bien clara, también veo la historia de la bibliografía en la Universidad de Virginia y el estudio del libro como objeto como elementos esenciales para entender la decisión de incluir a estos materiales en las colecciones de Virginia a causa de que se puede seguir e identificar cualquier cambio textual dentro de una obra (ya sea verbal o la presentación física de un texto).

“Las Kenningar” se publicó por primera vez en una revista literaria. Borges lo imprimió de nuevo unos años más tarde con Francisco A. Colombo, un impresor de lujo. (PQ7797 .B635 H62)

Mi exhibición, “‘Armar páginas, corregir pruebas’: Jorge Luis Borges as Author, Editor, and Promulgator,” recurre a las investigaciones para mi tesis doctoral sobre Borges y sus roles diversos dentro de la industria editorial en Buenos Aires. También hace hincapié en los tesoros menos conocidos de la colección en la universidad y las posibilidades para investigaciones futuras. Además de escribir prosa y poesía espléndida, a Borges le interesan los aspectos técnicos de la producción de libros, periódicos y revistas literarias. Desde un momento muy temprano en su carrera literaria estaba muy involucrado en corregir pruebas y aún armar páginas para las varias obras que escribió o editó.

Para mí lo más difícil de ser curadora de esta exhibición fue seleccionar un número limitado de cosas y crear una narrativa lógica que interesaría a expertos en Borges y, a la vez, a estudiantes que no sepan nada de él. Finalmente visualicé tres categorías vinculadas que ilustrarían cómo Borges navegó elegantemente las formas públicas y privadas de la escritura: Autor, Editor, Promulgador. Más específicamente, cada una de las cajas explora un rol distinto que Borges tenía en la industria editorial porteña durante los años 1930 y 1940 con el fin de enfatizar su impacto en los cánones literarios y los estándares educacionales. “Autor” presenta una selección de las colecciones de ficción y no ficción de Borges como Ficciones, El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan y Historia universal de la infamia.

“Editor” demuestra las conexiones arraigadas que Borges tenía con la forma física del libro a través de unos ejemplos de las obras publicadas con sus dos editoriales (ficticias), la Editorial Destiempo y la Editorial Oportet & Haereses.

“Un modelo para la muerte,” una parodia desconcertante del género detectivesco, se publicó bajo un seudónimo de Borges y Adolfo Bioy Casares, B. Suárez Lynch, con su editorial ficticia, la Editorial Oportet & Haereses.(PQ .B635 M56 1946)

 También incluí dos manuscritos originales de Borges que hacen hincapié en sus vínculos bien fuertes con otras editoriales y su trabajo frecuente de escribir prólogos para las obras de otros autores.

“Promulgador” destaca su trabajo editorial, a veces bajo cuerda, en traducir, editar y prologar para varias editoriales argentinas.

Borges empieza a introducir obras extranjeras al público argentino a través de sus reseñas literarias en el periódico “El Hogar.” (PQ7797 .B635 H62)

Borges empieza a introducir obras extranjeras al público argentino a través de sus reseñas literarias en el periódico El Hogar.

A pesar de que esta exhibición presenta un número limitado de materiales que hay dentro de la colección más grande, mi deseo es proveer un bosquejo provocativo de uno de los muchos caminos de investigación inexplorados dentro de su jardín de senderos que se bifurcan.

“Borges, Books, and Bibliography”

Nearly three-quarters of a century after the first appearance of his dizzying labyrinths and limitless libraries in Ficciones, Borges and (his) books continue to pique the interest of scholars and aficionados. Like most, I first encountered the University of Virginia’s Borges Collection by happy accident. Aside from the incredible experience of leafing through manuscripts and letters written by Borges himself, what struck me most about the collection was its extreme level of completeness. From a bibliographical standpoint, the holdings are ideal for any type of textual investigation. In addition to the rich manuscripts and rare periodicals, there is also at least one copy of each and every edition that Borges ever published throughout his lifetime (in some cases there are multiple copies of works almost as rare as the manuscripts!). In a sense, it is the perfect place to study the evolution of his writing process from manuscript to first edition to subsequent editions.

Having spent the better part of five years “under grounds” with the collection’s holdings, I’m always eager to talk about the unique treasures that one might find here, which, more often than not, leads others to ask, time and time again, how these items ended up at UVA. I, too, wondered this when I first laid eyes on original manuscripts from Fervor de Buenos Aires, pristine copies of the rare Prisma mural magazine, and incredible drawings in Borges’s distinctive hand. That said, I soon discovered that the presence of this collection at UVA makes perfect sense for a number of reasons. First is its link to the university’s largest collection strength, American history and literature, which should not be restricted to North America, but must logically extend to all of the Americas. Alongside this clear connection, I also see the university’s rich history of bibliography and the study of the book as object as crucial to understanding the decision to make UVA the home for these materials since they easily allow scholars to trace and identify any changes in a work (whether it be in wording or in the physical presentation of the text).

“Las Kenningar” was first published in a literary magazine before Borges had it printed separately by Francisco A. Colombo, a fine press printer. (PQ7797 .B635 H62)

My exhibition, “‘Armar páginas, corregir pruebas’: Jorge Luis Borges as Author, Editor, and Promulgator,” draws heavily on my dissertation research surrounding Borges and his various roles within the Argentine publishing industry, and it also speaks to the lesser-known strengths of the UVA collection and the potentials for future investigations. In addition to crafting superb prose and poetry, Borges was interested in the technical production of books, magazines, and literary journals. From early in his career he was deeply involved with correcting proofs and even setting type.

For me the hardest challenge of curating this exhibit was selecting a limited number of items and creating a logical narrative that would speak to Borges experts as well as students that have never heard of him. I eventually landed on three linked categories that would seamlessly illustrate his graceful navigation of private and public forms of writing: Author, Editor, Promulgator. More specifically, each of these three cases explores a different role that Borges held in the Argentine publishing industry during the 1930s and 1940s, in an effort to emphasize his impact on literary canons and educational standards.

“Author” presents a sampling of Borges’s collections of fiction and non-fiction such as Ficciones, El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan and Historia universal de la infamia.

“Editor” explores Borges’s deep-seated engagement with the physical form of the book with samplings from his two unique (fictitious) publishing houses, the Editorial Destiempo and the Editorial Oportet & Haereses.

“Un modelo para la muerte” a perplexing parody of the genre of detective fiction, was published under Borges’s and Bioy Casares’s joint pseudonym, B. Suárez Lynch, by their fictitious publishing firm, the Editorial Oportet & Haerese. (PQ .B635 M56 1946)

I’ve also included two original manuscripts that speak to his connections to other publishing houses and his writing of prologues for other authors’ works.

“Promulgator” highlights Borges’s behind-the-scenes editorial work in translating, editing, and prefacing works for various Argentine publishing firms.

Borges slowly began to introduce foreign works to Argentine readers through initial reviews in the magazine “El Hogar.” (PQ7797 .B635 H62)

While this exhibit features just a small number of items from the larger Borges collection, my hope is that it provides a thought-provoking snapshot of one of the many avenues of unexplored investigation into this writer’s garden of forking paths.





More Popular than an Astronaut!: Faulkner and Venezuela, Part 1

This week, we are pleased to feature a guest post by Ethan King, one-time Special Collections graduate student assistant, who is now pursuing his Ph.D. in English at Boston University. Ethan takes a strong interest in Faulkner, and has generously written for us about Faulkner’s fascinating later-life work as a cultural ambassador, a subject featured in our current exhibition, Faulkner: Life and Works.

In the last of his four U.S. State Department-sanctioned missions as a cultural ambassador, William Faulkner ventured abroad to Venezuela in the spring of 1961, completing a busy itinerary rife with press conferences, public discussions, and cocktail parties designed to, as Hugh Jencks explains in his “Report to the North American Association on the visit of Mr. Faulkner,” “strengthen and improve relations between the people of the two countries” (MSS 15242). The materials regarding Faulkner’s visit to Venezuela, written and compiled by members of the North American Association (N.A.A)., esteemed Venezuelans, Americans living in Venezuela, and Faulkner himself, are housed in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. They form a compelling time capsule, containing evidence of the diverging geopolitical visions of Faulkner and the State Department during the Cold War, as well as Faulkner’s eminence as a global writer and figure.

A case from our exhibition with documentation of Faulkner’s trips across the Globe, including his heavily stamped passports, photographs of encounters with citizens of various nations, and official U.S. government reports on his activities.

Having already traveled under similar governmental auspices to Brazil in 1954, Japan in 1955, and Greece in 1957, Faulkner accepted the invitation to Venezuela reluctantly, citing his growing frustration with political gerrymandering, and perhaps feeling the potential inefficacy of such a trip:

Please excuse this delay in answering the letter of invitation from the North American Union of Venezuela [sic]. I had hoped that the new administration by that time would have produced a foreign policy. Then amateurs like me (reluctant ones) would not need to be rushed to the front.

Although much of the correspondence leading up to Faulkner’s departure in March of 1961 bespeaks his discomfort with the foreign policy of the State Department, it also suggests his respectful acquiescence to the duty he had been prescribed. On the one hand, he declares to his mistress Joan Williams in a dynamic letter from January 1961,

the State Dept is sending me to Venezuela, unless by that time the new administration will have created an actual foreign policy, so that they wont need to make these frantic desperate cries for help to amateurs like me who dont want to go, to go to places like Iceland and Japan and Venezuela to try to save what scraps we can.(MSS 15314)

On the other, he writes to Muna Lee, the Office of Public Affairs adviser in Washington and the key mediator between Faulkner and the N.A.A.,

please pass the word on that I dont consider this a pleasure trip, during which Faulkner is to be tenderly shielded from tiredness and boredom and annoyance. That F. considers it a job, during which he will do his best to serve all ends which the N.A.A. aim or hope that his visit will do.” (MSS 7258-f)

The formal occasion for Faulkner’s trip was the Sesquicentennial of Venezuelan Independence, and the North American Association had been assisted in its preparations by three of Venezuela’s leading writers: Rómulo Gallegos, Arturo Uslar Pietri, and Arturo Croce. In addition to meeting these writers, Faulkner spoke at length with the President of Venezuela, Rómulo Betancourt, at an official luncheon. Not succumbing to a harrying schedule, Faulkner made sure he was available to all who wanted to speak with him, and as Joseph Blotner declares in his biography of the author, “his efforts did not go unappreciated by a group of journalists who had called him ‘el hombre simpático.’ […] Some of the reporters began calling him simply ‘El Premio,’” for being a recipient of the Nobel Prize” (688). While local papers covered Faulkner’s visit in great detail, Venezuelan radio and television coverage of his visit were orchestrated by the U.S. Information Service: they produced a film documenting his visit and delivered several news bulletins to eight radio stations, keeping the listening audience informed at all times of Faulkner’s whereabouts and activities. That the local media did not produce these radio and television broadcasts might suggest that the N.A.A. saw the trip as an opportunity not solely to “strengthen and improve the relations between the people of the two countries,” but to extend U.S. political and artistic supremacy in Latin America.

The official report written by Hugh Jencks for the N.A.A. situates Faulkner’s trip in the cultural context of the Cold War:

The cultural leaders of Venezuela, many of whom are pre-disposed to take an anti-U.S. attitude on all international issues, include writers, artists, newspaper commentators (particularly those connected with El Nacional), educators and people in government. The group also includes many on-the-fencers. Its members tend to agree with the Communist tenet that the United States is grossly materialistic, with no cultural achievements. To bring a literary figure of the stature of Faulkner to Venezuela was an effective refutation of this view. (MSS 15242)

Jencks goes on to write, “The leftist extremists, who certainly would have exploited the visit for anti-U.S. attacks if they felt they could have made hay, remained silent. Mr. Faulkner’s evident popularity was too great for them to make the pitch” (MSS 15242). Commenting on and exaggerating Faulkner’s popularity amongst the Venezuelans, Charles Harner declares in his report “Evidence of Effectiveness, Faulkner vs. Astronaut” that “As far as PANORAMA, the leading daily newspaper of Maracaibo, is concerned, William Faulkner’s visit to the second largest city of Venezuela was more important than Russia’s success in launching a man into space” (MSS 15242). Harner’s declaration springs from the fact that the newspaper granted Faulkner and Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin equal print space, allotting Faulkner the portion above the fold. With passages such as these, one cannot help but read the U.S. official reports of his trip as containing calculated embellishment and sanctimonious self-congratulation and as espousing American exceptionalism rather than a genuine interest in cultural interchange.

Faulkner with a child in Venezuela (MSS 15242).

Faulkner, in contrast to U.S. officials, made bona fide attempts to generate cultural exchange during his trip, cherishing his discussions with university students over the highbrow cocktail parties with political elites; delivering his acceptance speech for the Order of Andrés Bello, the country’s highest civilian decoration, in Spanish (a language he was only starting to learn); expressing an earnest desire to experience all Venezuelan food and in his words, “saborear el vino del país.” Further, he refused housing with Americans living in Venezuela, indicating that he did not want the trip to be a “shabby excuse for two deadhead weeks with [his] North American kinfolks and their circle.”  He reserved his autograph signing for locals: he writes to Muna Lee before the trip,

If possible, I would prefer to avoid being asked for autographs by Anglo-Americans, since the addition of my signature to a book is a part of my daily bread. I intend, and want, to sign any and all from Venezuelans and other Latin Americans who ask. (MSS 7258-f)

Faulkner’s attentiveness to the tenets of his trip (i.e. exercising a willingness for dialectical, rather than unidirectional, cultural construction) rewarded him upon his return to Virginia with, among other things, Spanish copies of the works of Armas Alfredo Alfonzo and Rómulo Gallegos, sent and inscribed by both authors.

Perhaps most importantly, after being profoundly touched by seeing his works printed in translation and by interacting with a foreign readership knowledgeable of and influenced by his work, Faulkner felt it necessary to use his literary status to implement a program through which Latin American books could be translated into English and published in the United States. In this way, Faulkner’s trip to Venezuela planted the seeds of what would become the William Faulkner Foundation’s Ibero-American Novel Project, a Project that, as Helen Oakley explains in her essay “William Faulkner and the Cold War: The Politics of Cultural Marketing,” “played a vital ideological role in the unfolding drama of Faulkner’s relationship with Latin America.” The Foundation’s statement regarding the project is as follows:

Many novels of the highest literary quality written by Latin-American authors in their native languages are failing to reach appreciative readers in English-speaking North America; and accordingly the William Faulkner Foundation, at the suggestion of William Faulkner himself, is undertaking a modest corrective program in the hope of contributing to a better cultural exchange between the two Americas, with an attendant improvement in human relations and understanding. (MSS 10677)

However, as Faulkner died soon into the Project’s infancy, the Project ran into a host of challenges and difficulties created by the market forces of the United States. In my next post, I will cover in more detail the Ibero-Novel Project, as well as the political and cultural struggles that led ultimately to its failure.

Keep your eyes peeled for Part II, coming soon!