Easter week, considered from Palm Sunday to Easter itself, is a national holiday in Mexico. Usually, a quiet time to rest and to reflect, however, this year it was rather uneasy, due to some shocking news: on Sunday, April 2, the former Dean of the University of Guadalajara, president of the Guadalajara International Book Fair, FIL, and dear friend of Mexican publishers, Raúl Padilla, passed away in his home.
I met Raúl many years ago, at the beginning of a nascent book fair, which over the years would undoubtedly become the most important for the Spanish-speaking world. At that time, never would I have imagined that years later I would be attending, with deep sorrow, a touching posthumous tribute in his honour.
To launch a new book fair, and above all with an international scope, was at the time, and continues to be today, a risky and uncertain bet. There are a host of national, regional and international book fairs competing for the attention of book professionals.
Book fairs in Latin America are mostly aimed at a general audience and thought of as an opportunity to sell books. Meanwhile, the world's largest and most prominent book fair, the one in Frankfurt, Germany, lasts just five days and not a single book is sold. It is designed exclusively for book professionals (in pre-pandemic years, more than 150,000 trade visitors from more than 160 countries).
In this sense, the design of FIL was innovative, since it managed to successfully combine a fair open to the public, with a program aimed at professionals. This managed to attract year after year more and more publishers, authors, booksellers and librarians from different countries, reaching almost 20,000 book professionals in the pre-pandemic years.
It wasn't easy. In the early years of FIL, I used to meet Maricarmen Canales and Margarita Sierra, the first co-directors of FIL, in different Latin American capitals, as they intensely promoted the benefits of this fair among colleagues from all over the continent. Little by little, over the years, the FIL would take its place among the main international book fairs, today a major stop on the book fair tour that publishers and other book professionals have to visit every year.
All of this thanks to Raúl Padilla’s dream, as he began his book fair project in 1987, even shortly before becoming Dean of the University of Guadalajara, a position he held from 1989 to 1995. Later he would become the moral leader of the institution and one of the most relevant cultural advocates and promoters in the country.
Mexican publishers have participated, since its inception, in this adventure that today is FIL, a great festival of books and reading, and we have witnessed its flourishing and development. The generosity and gentle manners of Raúl Padilla marked from the beginning a productive professional and friendly relationship with the publishing industry.
There was also a fruitful dialogue with the International Publishers Association, which resulted in agreements such as the Prix Voltaire Award, given during a moving ceremony at FIL in 2021. The award went to the Lebanese publishing house Dar Al Jadeed and was received by its his co-founder, Rasha al Ameer. His brother and co-founder of the publishing house, Lokman Slim, had been assassinated in February of that year due to his efforts for greater freedom of expression in Lebanon.
More recently, Raúl offered his support for the organization of the International Publishers Congress that will be organized by the Mexican Publishers Association in Guadalajara in December 2024.
On Tuesday, 4 April, I had the opportunity of participating in the tribute to Raúl Padilla, in the Auditorium of the Museum of the Arts of the University of Guadalajara.
The Dean Ricardo Villanueva said during his lucid and heartfelt speech that "The greatest strength of what Raúl Padilla López created is in the minds of brilliant women and men who contributed all their talent to make each project come true..."
It seems to me that this was one of Raúl's main qualities. That he knew how to surround himself with talented and committed people, to whom he shared his vision and convinced them to follow it. That's how it was with the different directors of FIL, particularly the current one, my dear friend Marisol Schultz.
Marisol pointed out in her speech, referring to Raúl Padilla, that: "We owe it to his memory not only to maintain the quality of the Guadalajara International Book Fair, but also to strengthen it and take it to new horizons."
I agree with Marisol. With the tragic death of Raúl Padilla, today we lose an extraordinary advocate and promoter of culture, but his ideals and projects must continue. I am convinced that Marisol, leading a committed team, and with the support of the publishing industry, will take FIL to new heights.
Originally posted in Spanish here.