July 4-8, 2012 marked the tenth annual Flip (“Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty”), the literary festival held every July (except for World Cup years when it is held in August) in the Brazilian resort town of Paraty. Although attendance has grown from 6,000 to well over 25,000 every year, Flip itself remains roughly the same as when it started in 2003: Every year, 40 authors (twenty from Brazil, twenty from other—largely Anglophone—countries) are selected by the Festival’s committee to come and participate in about 20 round-tables or panels in front of members of the public. Big ticket international names this year included Jonathan Franzen (who, by all accounts, was not a hit with Brazilian audiences), Jennifer Egan, Ian McEwan, and Syrian Nobel Prize-nominated poet Adonis.
When speaking of what Flip has done in the past ten years for Brazilian literary culture as a whole, most people point to the way it’s functioned to put Brazil on the (global) “literary map.” The strong international flavor is unsurprising, given that Flip’s founder, Bloomsbury Publishing co-founder Liz Calder is herself a foreign—although frequent—visitor to Paraty. Flip’s half-Brazilian, half-international program has guaranteed a steady stream of big-name foreign authors who might never have otherwise had personal exposure to Brazilian audiences. In addition, points out Cassiano Elek Machado, Former Flip Program Director and Publisher of the publishing house Cosac Naify, Flip offers Brazilian authors an unparalleled chance to connect with prominent authors from around the world without leaving their own country.
Flip’s popularity has been such that the Brazilian publishing industry as a whole has adapted a range of techniques for extending its benefits. During the submission period, publishers lobby fiercely to have their authors included, but Elek Machado says there’s been a shift in the Brazilian publishing year overall, even for those books whose authors aren’t featured at Flip. Before the advent of Flip, “most of the important releases…were concentrated close to Christmas. But as Flip is in July, many houses started to release some of their important titles in May, June, and July to benefit from Flip’s buzz.” Publishers also take advantage of a town packed with 25,000-30,000 enthusiastic readers from around the world by paying to bring choice authors to Paraty beyond those officially chosen by Flip. To further connect with readers, Brazilian publishers set up “headquarters” in Paraty during the Festival, and plan elaborate parties to welcome the hordes of journalists who descend on the town during that week looking for story leads on books and authors.
Selling actual books is also a huge component, and the Flip bookstore sees much of the traffic and activity that goes on during the festival week. Ricardo Costa, former Managing Editor of the Brazilian book trade publication Publish News, says that Paraty’s lone bookstore was in charge of the store the first year, but was overwhelmed by the volume. The operation is now overseen by staff from the bookstore chain Livraria de Vila, who travel more than 400 miles from São Paulo every year. Costa notes that in Brazil, unlike in the United States and much of Europe, bookstores are on the rise—another chain, Livraria de Cultura, plans to open four new stores this year alone.
When it launched, Flip’s sole focus was adult literature, with a small area on-site demarcated for children’s books—nothing compared to the separate partner event, Flipinha, into which that original on-site area has grown. Costa says that preparations for the event are distributed throughout the entire year’s curriculum for Paraty school children, with teachers assigning books and research projects based on the authors who will be appearing the following year.
By staying small and simple—even as it encourages periphery events to flourish—says Costa, Flip has distinguished itself over the past ten years as one of the best places in the world to “get in contact with the world ‘behind’ the book.”