Spain in tug-of-war with Lorca family over poet’s archive

Spanish authorities and the family of the late poet Federico Garcia who was killed during the civil war are engaged in a fierce battle over what to do with his archive.

Spain in tug-of-war with Lorca family over poet's archive
Lorca was shot during the Spanish Civil War. Photo: AFP

The latest twist in their tug-of-war came this week when Spain's culture ministry declared the archive to be of special cultural interest, which prohibits it from being sold abroad.

Secretary of state for culture, Jose Maria Lassalle, said the goal was to ensure that Spain's most acclaimed 20th century poet remains in the country and is not “scattered”.

A source close to talks between the state and the Federico Garcia Lorca Foundation, which owns the archive and is led by the writer's great-niece, said the government feared the foundation could be tempted to sell part of the valuable documents to clean up its debts.

But in an angry response, the foundation said it had been “neither consulted nor informed” of the government's decision to ban the archive's export.

The archive comprises some 19,000 documents, including over 2,000 sheets of original manuscripts, as well as photographs and letters belonging to the poet who was executed at the outset of Spain's 1936-39 civil war.

The government move comes after the foundation refused to transfer the archive from its current location in a Madrid students' residence where he once lived to the newly built Garcia Lorca Centre in the southern city of Granada where the poet was born in 1898.

The centre, built in part with public money and a donation of €4 million ($4.5 million) from Norway under the direction of the foundation, was inaugurated with great fanfare in July 2015 but stands mostly empty as the row continues.

The foundation says disagreements over who will supervise the centre and over what its role in the institution will be are behind its refusal to transfer the archive.

But it is also in conflict with the government and construction firms over millions of euros in debts accumulated by the foundation related to the construction of the centre.

Legal proceedings are underway, and the poet and playwright's great-niece Laura Garcia Lorca last year reported the former manager of the foundation for alleged forgery and embezzlement.

Garcia Lorca was 38 when he was killed by firing squad in August 1936, a month after General Francisco Franco's rebellion against a republican government sparked Spain's civil war.

The poet and playwright, whose works include “Blood Wedding” and “The House of Bernarda Alba”, is believed to have been buried in an unmarked grave near Granada.

His poems and plays, which deal with themes such as love, death, passion, cruelty and injustice, are widely studied at universities.

By Adrien Vicente / AFP

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Madrid Bookie: The intimate literary salon with big ambitions

Every month a growing group of book fans meets in a loft-style gallery in the Las Salesas district, on the edge of Madrid's trendy Chueca.

Madrid Bookie: The intimate literary salon with big ambitions
Pulitzer Prize winning Forrest Gander entertains the room. Photos: Celia Knight/Madrid Bookie.

The gathering is more immersive than a book club, less formal than a book signing and much more intimate than a literary festival.

Sitting among the guests are authors who have come to read from their latest work, discuss ideas with the guests and socialise over a glass of wine or a cold bottle of beer.

“The literary festival format can traditionally be a bit stuffy, but a more relaxed atmosphere allows spontaneity and magical discussions,” explains Andreas Loizou, the man behind the hugely successful Margate Bookie, a literary festival held every September in the seaside Kent town.

After moving to Madrid he realised that the Spanish capital was crying out for a similar event and teamed up with Vanessa Fabiano, an Italian-Swiss national living in Madrid and Giedre Pavalkyte, a Lithuanian living in Madrid, to put it together. 

The team behind Madrid Bookie: Co-founders Vanessa Fabiano (L), Giedre Pavalkyte and Andreas Loizou. Photo: Madrid Bookie

The Madrid Bookie isn't a literary festival per se, but a monthly social gathering of likeminded types – people who love to read and talk about books – to which one, or sometimes two, authors are invited to read from their work and then discuss.

Each event has so far been a sell-out and seen the gathering continue in true Madrileño fashion, by spilling into a neighbouring bar and continuing long after the event was scheduled to end.

“There's a wonderful sense of community built around reader and writer that breaks down the traditional barrier between author and reader. We have a very strict no-diva policy that sees everyone get together mingling in the bar afterwards.”

Events can become quite emotional and a long with a healthy dose of laughter they can also provoke tears.

At the first event, the room was brought to tears by Laura Garcia Lorca, who read a poem penned by her father (the brother of Federico Garcia Lorca) that she had found among his papers after his death. She revealed that her father, in view of his famous sibling, had never felt confident to show the world his own poetry but had left it behind for those closest to him to find.

“All there witnessed a very intimate moment, the first time the poem had ever been read it public and it was touching and beautiful,” said Loizou.

The most recent evening also had its share of raw emotion when Pulitzer Prize winning poet Forrest Gander read aloud from a collection he wrote about the grief of losing his wife and fellow poet, C.D. Wright.

The event also saw the first ever public reading from historian Giles Tremlett's soon to be published account of the International Brigades.

Other guests have included the Nigerian writer Nnamdi Ehirim discussing his ambitious debut novel Prince of Monkeys and poet Spencer Reese.

 “It's the kind of supportive space that invites the author to open up and take a risk,” explains Loizou. “Their audience is sitting down at their level in what is essentially a living room. It invites intimacy”.

The team behind Madrid Bookie met through Madrid's vibrant literacy scene, connecting first at a creative writing workshop and then teaming up with bookseller partners Desperate Literature, who offer books by the relevant authors for sale on the night.

More and more people are looking for social activities that have a focus, that are not just about meeting a group in a bar and drinking, but building a community of like-minded souls.

“We recognised a need for a focus point for high quality writers and give them an audience that was inquisitive and literary-savvy. There's a whole underground book club scene in Madrid with people wanting to meet and connect face to face and actually talk about things that are important to them,” insists Loizou.

“After the success of the Margate Bookie, I wanted to expand elsewhere and unexpectedly found in Madrid that there was a real buzz about the literary scene and a general revival in literature. We've just tapped into that community.”

Pavalkyte, who also runs the Discussing Books in English book club, has seen literary gatherings grow exponentially in Madrid. “We now have over 600 members, and many other English language book clubs are emerging in the city.”

Photo: Madrid Bookie

 The Madrid Bookie has started small, with events hosted by troupe an exclusive community for the world's most adventurous creative professionals, who host in their Space Next Door, a private apartment style event space on Calle de Fernando VI, but even bigger events are on the horizon.

“We've already planned a summer creative writing retreat in Sierra de Gredos, monthly events around Madrid and are talking about a Madrid showcase at the Hay Festival Segovia in September.”

The next event takes place on February 18th when co-founder of Madrid Bookie Vanessa Fabiano will interview Michael Scott Moore, an investigative journalist, novelist and avid surfer. Michael will discuss his latest book, The Desert and the Sea, a memoir about the 977 days he was held by Somali pirates.

For more information about Madrid Bookie follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and for tickets CLICK HERE.