Today marks the launch of Granta Portugal, with its first issue, themed ‘Me’, released just in time for the Lisbon Book Fair. Editor Carlos Vaz Marques spoke to online editor Ted Hodgkinson about why they have decided to keep most its contents a secret, his three favourite novels about Lisbon and how publishers are helping to strike up dialogue between Portuguese and Brazilian writers.

TH: How did you first discover the magazine?

CVM: It happened in the mid-eighties, when I started my career as a journalist. I have a vivid memory of the extraordinary issue featuring James Fenton’s The Fall of Saigon. Also, my first contact with Ryszard Kapuscinski, the great reporter and, above all, the great writer, happened in that same issue: Granta 15, in the spring of 1985.

Your first issue will contain five sonnets by the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Does he still have a lot of influence on the generation that followed and is Portugal producing poets to match him?

Fernando Pessoa has been undoubtedly the most influential Portuguese poet of the twentieth century. During the second half of the century, however, Portuguese poetry has indeed produced major poets disconnected from Pessoa’s direct influence: Herberto Helder, Sophia de Mello Breyner, Mário Cesariny, Jorge de Sena, Ruy Belo. But of course we could argue that some of them felt the need to escape, or distance themselves from Pessoa and his insurmountable literary production – which is in a way a clear sign of the poet’s influence.

You’re keeping most of the rest of the contents a secret until publication – can you give us some clues of what we might expect?

We’ve kept the issue a secret because our goal was to offer a genuine feeling of discovery to Granta Portugal’s subscribers. I sense that nowadays has become more and more difficult to find that thrill. Everything comes to us already too publicized. We wanted to turn tables on that. Fortunately, there’s no better fuel for curiosity than a good secret. That’s how we’ve had almost 500 subscribers, even before our first issue was published. The subscribers are receiving Granta before it arrives to the bookshops, and they’re enjoying the pleasures of being the first to know its contents.

The cover by Daniel Blaufuks is beautiful. Why though did you settle on this image, of a disheveled bed, as the first cover image? Does it have political resonance with the state of the country?

Daniel Blaufuks is one of our great artists and photographers. We invited him to do the photo essay and Granta’s cover with only one word as motto: me. This is the theme of our first issue and each author interpreted it freely. The great achievement of Daniel Blaufuks’s cover is the ability to put each of us – each ‘me’ – in that room, on that bed, inside the pages of Granta. Each one of us will offer up our own individual reading (even a political one, of course). Isn’t that literary?

The Lisbon book fair is just around the corner. Which novels or authors are you most excited about this year?

There will be many recently published books claiming our attention in the Lisbon Book Fair, but I am particularly looking forward to a new book not yet for sale. It is a new book by the greatest living Portuguese poet, Herberto Helder. It’s called Servidões (Servitudes). That would be enough to justify the whole book fair for me.

Could you recommend a few good Lisbon novels?

Three great Lisbon books: O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis), by José Saramago, in which one of the many heteronyms used by Fernando Pessoa returns to Lisbon upon being informed of Pessoa’s death; Requiem: Uma alucinação (Requiem: A Hallucination), by Antonio Tabucchi, where an Italian writer meets the spirit of a dead Portuguese poet: Pessoa, of course; and, finally, Pessoa himself as Bernardo Soares, one of his many heteronyms, in Livro do Desassossego (The Book of Disquiet), a fragmentary work defined by Pessoa as a ‘factless autobiography’ where the whole world is included even if he never leaves the same street, Rua dos Douradores: ‘The Ganges river also goes by the Douradores street’.

Tinta da China, which straddles Brazil and Portugal, is an interesting corridor between two cultures. Are there any particular writers you can think of who are especially attuned to that relationship?

Unlike the relationship between Spain and Latin America or the relationship between the UK and the United States, between Portugal and Brazil the interaction has been sometimes more difficult. It was almost as if we did not share the same language. Step by step, things are changing. Tinta da China is one of the Portuguese publishing houses contributing to that: bringing Brazilian authors like Paulo Scott or Michel Laub to Portugal and leading Portuguese authors like Dulce Maria Cardoso or Ricardo Araújo Pereira to Brazil.

It seems there is a great appetite in Portugal for literature – does it compete with football as a national passion?

Oh, I wish.

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