FIL of Guadalajara: Antonio Ortuño’s return home

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Antonio Ortuño has entered the Guadalajara Book Fair with a badge since he was 12 years old. As one of his brothers worked in the organization, he could, from a very young age, walk the corridors as he does now, like an author with a score of published works. The Mexican writer presents this Sunday one of the three books that will be promoted at the fair and passes, a while before, in front of the room where the event will take place. The space distresses him: it is very bright, it is large and the scattered chairs may not be occupied. But the room is complete and in the first row are one of his brothers and his two sons. “How nice to be home again after a forced exile”, starts from the stage.

The Guadalajara Book Fair is the only time of the year in which Ortuño makes a “literary life”. The rest, he says, live as a hermit, working. “It’s my busiest week of the year by far.” This edition is “still a bit anomalous”. The spaces that are more open due to the restrictions of the covid and the fewer number of attendees remind him of what the fair was like in the nineties, when he was a teenager and he stole the books that he could not pay or bought the most accessible editions. “These books are very curious,” he says as he passes a stall in a corner. “They are, they are… very ugly. But they were very cheap books. It was my way, for example, of meeting Oscar Wilde ”.

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The anomaly is also felt at night because the parties traditionally organized by publishers are not scheduled. “The fair was the eternal party, but now I’m tired,” he warns. The night before, he ended up late at a dinner for journalists from EL PAÍS, where he is a columnist. With an old colleague from Guadalajara, he recalled his years in Public, a local newspaper he worked for in the 1990s. The two speak with nostalgia of those years, when Guadalajara and journalism were something else. At that time Ortuño was an editor in that newspaper. He also talks about music; He intersperses tequila and water and the topics of the conversation converge. “The punks persist, the heavies they become newspaper editors, “he says. In a few hours you must get up to attend a talk with readers and booktubers in a coffee.

Antonio Ortuño at a book stand at the Guadalajara International Book Fair.
Antonio Ortuño at a book stand at the Guadalajara International Book Fair.Hector Guerrero

Arrives at 9.30, black leather jacket and cap, persistent style. A dozen young people await him and another Mexican writer, Antonio Malpica.

“What was the hardest thing to read?”

—I tried to read The Quijote at seven or eight years. It haunted me. At 12 I finished reading it in full.

“Advice for young people who want to be writers?”

“Have a lot of patience.”

“Oh no, now.”

Ortuño has been writing since he was a child. At home, writing was always “a possible game.” His mother did it as hobbies; his brother Ángel, seven years older than him, was a poet. He died this year. Normally, they were in the corridors and Angel recommended a book. The presentations were moments in which he was with him and the rest of his brothers, also with his mother. “The cast of the presentations has been changing,” he says. “That’s right … well, let’s just say he’s being more cheerful than anything else so far.”

He walks around looking for a new edition of The teacher and Margarita edited by Lectorum. One of the great works of 20th century literature, by the Russian Mikhail Bulgakov, is published this year as a graphic novel. Ortuño finds the publisher in one of the corridors of the fair, but the book will arrive in the next few days. This morning at the lobby luminous of a hotel, he responded to a journalist who is one of the only ones missing: “I’m looking for all the new editions that come out.”

Ortuño stops the long day of promotion to visit his aunt, who is admitted to a hospital in the city. Unlike other authors, the writer lives in Guadalajara and his daily life coexists with literary events. Every day, he goes back to sleep at home and the texts that they give him or buy accumulate on the table where he has breakfast. This Sunday he goes to look for his children, aged 16 and 19, before returning and brings them back to the fair. When they approach room eight, which intimidates him – “you have to be a footballer to fill this room” -, he finds himself in line with one of his brothers. The hugs are long and loud.

Antonio Ortuño with his children at the presentation of 'Matarratas'.
Antonio Ortuño with his children at the presentation of ‘Matarratas’. Hector Guerrero

The family sits in the front row when the presentation of Matarratas. The first of the books to be presented in this edition is a youth fantasy about a teenage girl who, after a brutal event, becomes a hit man. It is the first book of this genre that he has written and for which he has been preparing since he was 12 years old. “It is an attempt to return to that moment of reading in which I became, if I am, a writer, someone who wants to tell stories,” he explains. In the next few days he will also present Minions, 11 stories about power and submission and against simplistic morals. Going back to FIL, he says from the stage, is “almost like having returned to the promised land”.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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