A literary agent at the Miami Book Fair: Hinde Pomeraniec spoke with Guillermo Schavelzon


Hinde Pomeraniec interviewed Guillermo Schavelzon at the Miami Book Fair, via video call.

Since Barcelonawhere he has lived for almost two decades, William Schavelson spoke in a soft, slow voice about his long career as an editor and writer: on a video call for the Miami Book Fairjournalist and writer Hinde Pomeraniec she asked him in detail—and he complied in detailing—about the professional biography that he has just published. The Enigma of the Trade: Memoirs of a Literary Agent It makes Schavelzon feel, after almost six decades in the publishing industry, like a fish out of water: “In this strange place, which is the author’s,” he confessed. “Something I’m not used to.”

Pomeraniec, editor and author herself (her latest book is Putin’s Russians; your newsletter I went, I saw and I wrote is a weekly publication infobae), tried to cheer him up: “Your writing looks very natural. In book one finds that naturalness of memory.

—People who have some experience to tell (memoirs, biography or testimonials) have to do it when they still remember things, and not leave it until they are 90 years old —Schavelzon, 77, accepted the praise, covertly.

Born in ArgentinaWilly, as he is called in the literary world, was a bookseller and publisher, and today is among the most important agents of literature and essays in Spanish. The books of Ricardo Piglia and those of Pola Oloixaracthose of Florence Bonelli and those of Leopoldo Brizuelathose of paul de santis and those of Elena Poniatowskathose of Guadalupe Nettle and those of Santiago Gamboa They are among those that he manages with the publishers of the world.

Guillermo Schavelzon, who was a bookseller and publisher, and today is a publisher, is in the "such a weird place" author with his professional biography.
Guillermo Schavelzon, who was a bookseller and publisher, and today is a publisher, is in the “weird place” author with his professional biography.

His early link with letters took him to the political world, as was quite common in the sixties, in the seventies. In The riddle of the profession He mentions, for example, the moments in which he met Juan Domingo Peron Already Fidel Castro.

—When you talk about the meeting with Perón you went with a camera. Was there something that told you that what you were experiencing was important? asked Pomeraniec.

—I had a camera because I was an amateur photographer since I was 15 years old. At that time (1965, 1966) Perón was a tremendously important mythical figure for Argentines, whether they were for it or against it. He marked more than half a century of history. I remember that I was very ashamed to tell Perón if he would let us take a picture.

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—The photo was taken by Jose Lopez Rega, a very obscure character in Argentine history, who was Perón’s secretary at the time. In the book you also talk about having attended speeches by Fidel Castro, another dominant figure of the 20th century. What were those figures for you?

—Perón was a popular idol, a person of tremendous importance but who did not cause me any empathy. In the case of Fidel Castro, on the other hand, I felt an enormous identification with that attempt that was made to produce a social change. At that time we did not know everything we know today, nor what happened afterwards. Situations acquire different value as the years go by.

At the Miami Book Fair, Guillermo Schavelzon spoke about his book "The riddle of the profession".
At the Miami Book Fair, Guillermo Schavelzon spoke about his book “El enigma del oficio”.

Thinking over time evoked ideas for Schavelzon from two authors with whom he has worked extensively: Alberto Manguelan Argentine resident in Canada, and the celebrated Piglia, who died in 2017. “As they said, very clearly, you have to keep in mind that what you remember is not what it was but what you think it was,” he quoted them.

Judging by his memories of the bookstore and publishing house of Jorge Alvarez, where he began his journey in the industry, it was—he believes it was—a bittersweet and bad experience. It was difficult for him to find something completely positive to rescue from those important years for his training: “Álvarez was someone with a lot of mischief,” Pomeraniec conceded, “and a lot of intelligence and vision.”

Schavelzon founded Galerna, where he published the first books of the Argentine journalist, historian and activist Osvaldo Bayer, author among other works of a biography of the anarchist Severino Di Giovanni and the volumes of The rebellious Patagoniaabout the strike of rural laborers who ended up massacred —a total of 1,500 people are estimated— by the military Hector Benigno Vareladuring the presidency of Hipólito Yrigoyenin 1921.

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“I was 20 years old. Seen from today, I see myself as unconscious, but then I knew what he was doing ”, he evaluated the events that ended up sending him into exile. “When I published Osvaldo’s first books, and they had a brutal transcendence, I thought: ‘This, someday, they won’t forgive me.’ And so it was: they did not forgive me, nor him. That caused us to have to leave the country. He went to Germany and I went to Mexico.

Hinde Pomeraniec, author of "Putin's Russians" and the Infobae newsletter "I went, I saw and I wrote"interviewed Guillermo Schavelzon at the Miami Book Fair.
Hinde Pomeraniec, author of “Putin’s Russians” and the Infobae newsletter “I went, I saw and I wrote”, interviewed Guillermo Schavelzon at the Miami Book Fair.

His relationship with Bayer, highlighted the Infobae culture columnist, was one of the many relationships that followed him from one publisher to another and then to his representation agency. “In case of Mario Benedetti”, introduced Pomeraniec. “Benedetti followed me wherever I went,” Schavelzon acknowledged. “When I lived in Mexico he was completely unknown and I offered him to publish it. He told me that he didn’t want me to go bankrupt: he had no expectations. But his books became a brutal success. Excessive almost. It had a huge audience, not just the educated audience.” The Uruguayan narrator and poet concluded, “he stopped going to Mexico because he couldn’t walk down the street, like rock stars do.”

If there is a concept that is associated with the literary agency, and not male or female writers, it is money. Pomeraniec asked him directly about “the relationship of the authors with money.”

—It’s a special relationship: people who have no idea what they have, or who claim what they can’t. It is also a difficult relationship. I would like to know your perspective on the subject.

“There is a cultural issue that deeply marks writers,” Schavelzon replied, equally direct, “and that is that they have enormous conflicts with money. (In general, of course. There are exceptions.) And I mean a serious conflict: not that they don’t have money or they’re embarrassed, but that they talk very little about it.

Guillermo Schavelzon spoke during the Miami Book Fair with the writer and columnist for Infobae Hinde Pomeraniec.
Guillermo Schavelzon spoke during the Miami Book Fair with the writer and columnist for Infobae Hinde Pomeraniec.

In his opinion, it is a characteristic of the creative trades in Latin America. “The first thing a serious American writer says in an interview is how much he got in advance,” she compared. “Because in the Anglo-Saxon conception, of Protestant origin, money is something that one earned, it is his merit.” The Latin American style “muddies a lot the professional work of the writer.” That, contrary to stereotypes, “it is a difficult, isolated, closed job,” he said. “You work intensely: a writer does not take vacations or weekends, he makes sacrifices as a couple and of another kind, sometimes for two or three years, without knowing if he is going to get paid or when he is going to get paid for the work done” .

An agent, he explained, tries to ensure that those who embrace a literary trade “understand that writing is a job and all work must be paid.”

Pomeraniec asked for a derivation of that comment:

—How is a writer legitimized? How do you come to say “here is a writer”?

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“For me, what legitimizes a writer is having readers,” Schavelzon cut to the chase. A writer does not know all of his readers, because it is impossible, but who pays for his work? It is believed that the publisher pays for it, but no: the one who pays is the reader. When a reader buys a book, a part of what he pays goes to the author. That remuneration says much more than its monetary aspect.

The protagonists of the dialogue on "The riddle of the profession"Infobae columnist Hinde Pomeraniec and agent Guillermo Schavelzon, presented by Mariela Gal from the Miami Book Fair.
The protagonists of the dialogue on “El enigma del oficio”, the Infobae columnist Hinde Pomeraniec and the agent Guillermo Schavelzon, presented by Mariela Gal from the Miami Book Fair.

But to get to say “here is a writer”, to be a publisher and agent, what is needed? In essence, be a reader. Perhaps a special type of reader, but a reader nonetheless. Pomeraniec took elements from The riddle of the trade to ask Schavelzon when he felt he had become a reader.

“Since I was a boy,” the editor, agent, now an author, replied, who “always” felt like a reader. He paused. And he closed with a consideration. “I always liked to read. It’s another thing to be a good reader.”

His professional memoirs, however, seem to have paid attention to Jorge Luis Borges: Schavelzon wrote them by hand, in notebooks in which he left a blank page along with a complete one due to his fine print, on the advice of the Argentine teacher: one for the text, the other for additions, comments and corrections.

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