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W H A T ' S T H E P O I N T ?
TAMARA KAYE Sellman, the editor of Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism, feels that the United States, which has by far the greatest print publishing power in the world, is underserving English-speaking fans of magical realism due to what seems to be an industry-wide belief that magical realism is not a legitimate literary form.
Evidence of the contrary exists everywhere, says Sellman -- in popular international books, growing multicultural interests, prize-winning literature and independent film production. The changing demographic face of the country demands more exposure to diverse art forms, she says, of which magical realism is one.
One point might be generally agreed upon: Magical realism is a style of writing which is not only popular elsewhere in the world, but respected. Indeed, respectable. 1999's Nobel Prize for Literature was given to the author of a work of magical realism (The Tin Drum, by Günter Grass), and this wasn't the first time. Meanwhile, one of the top best-selling books worldwide -- Brazilian Paolo Coelho's The Alchemist -- is a work of magical realism. His works have sold twenty-one million copies in seventy-four countries and have been translated into thirty-four languages. "Indeed," Sellman says, "magical realism is not only legitimate and respectable, but it's also commercial."
Margin's goal is to bridge the gap between writers of the style (especially those hailing from outside the US) and its potential readership. She thinks the Internet as medium presents the perfect opportunity for linking a global readership to authors who have written best-selling, award-winning work which is difficult to place in the American market. The editors at Margin accept translations as part of their mission: to make accessible to a broad and largely plugged-in English-speaking audience the many worthwhile works from around the world which represent the style of magical realism.
The editors also recognize that magical realism is more than just a voice for the ethnically diverse. "Philosophically, magical realism is about new approaches to realism, to interpreting history and to perceiving culture -- even to understanding science, with its profound effect on our collective future -- made with the awareness that people are shaped by a variety of influences: politics, belief systems, economics, history, tradition and, of course, the arts," says Sellman.
She adds: "Magical realism, in many ways, gives voice to the Other. In American society, the Other can be a member of any minority, by virtue of race, gender, sexual orientation, economics, ableness. Indeed, anyone who lives inside any widely accepted manifestation of the 'fringe' sees the world through an alternative lens. Magical realism is simply one venue for bringing this voice to the fore."
In April 2000, visitors to Margin saw this philosophy in action: The editors published a two-chapter excerpt from noted Portuguese novelist João de Melo's novel, O Meu Mundo não É deste Reino, which has been a bestseller overseas. The excerpt was published in Portuguese and was accompanied by a yet-to-be (commercially) published English translation (My World Is Not Of This Kingdom) written by world-renowned translator, Gregory Rabassa.
Margin's editors intend to continue the exploration. "Never mind those naysayers who only wish to believe that El Boom has already come and gone," says Sellman. "We feel differently. Magical realism is a legitimate literary form, and we will continue to probe its limits and unravel its definitions for anyone who wishes to visit the site."
In 2001, Sellman plans to launch The Menagerie (an extensive nonfiction wing) as well as a poetry section. In 2002 she will open a quarterly virtual book discussion group designed to involve more of the website's visitors in a global dialog about magical realism. Also for 2002, there are plans for an official launch of the site's new annual spotlight on major magical realists, featuring work from Gabriel García Márquez. "Guidelines will be available some time in 2001," says Sellman.
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