Semana Negra in Gijón
(Crime-fiction's biggest bash)

Mauricio-José Schwarz

The "Semana negra" or "Black Week" is an annual fiesta or fair produced by Paco Ignacio Taibo II (now a Mexican by choice) in his native city of Gijón, Asturias, located in Spain's northern coast, facing the Cantabric Sea, under the guise of a celebration of crime-fiction (or "black") writing.

 Every year, over a million people attend this happening , which has grown from 7 to 10 days and is held in the first or second week of July, having become a favorite destination for Europe's summer, especially among young people. Food-stands, a book fair, cafés and bars, lots of music, mechanical rides, circus performers and general partying fill up the nine days.

 Held without interruption every summer since 1988, the "Semana negra" has achieved two World Guinness records with the longest conga line ever in Europe, over 6,200 people (1991) and the longest line of books (1,650 meters, well over a mile) donated by participants for readers in Cuba in 1994.

 Also, the event offers free movie screenings and concerts. In the past, artists have included Celia Cruz, Los Lobos, Manu Chao, Willie Colón, Orquesta de la Luz, Cachao and the French-Greek singer and composer Georges Moustaki.

 "Semana negra" is also an opportunity for authors and editors to meet, make book deals and thus widen the horizon for crime-fiction writers.

 The festival is weird in a very appealing sort of way, having presented, for instance, a ping-pong match between Asturias' champion team and the fearsome duo of Jerome Charyn and Georges Moustaki. The "Hammett" award was once given out in the tiger cage of an attending circus. In 1994, the festival had as a special guest Mexican social fighter and masked wrestler "Superbarrio", who was a candidate for Mexico's presidential elections in 1988 and ran for the same office in the US elections.

The "Semana negra" has its own newspaper, A quemarropa (Pointblank) published daily throughout the festival, and self-proclaimed "dean of the black press".

 "Semana negra" includes round-table discussions among the foremost crime-fiction writers, and science fiction is present through writers and round-table discussions. The art exhibits and a large part of the festivities are also be devoted to the comic strips and books.

 The "Tren negro" or "Black train" takes the writers and journalists from Madrid to Gijón the first day of the festival.

It is customary to hold the first round-table discussion in the "Black train", and its arrival in Gijón has been undoubtedly the only time writers are treated as heroes, being welcome by a crowd and the municipal marching band.

 Additionally, several cultural, social and political activities are held simultaneous to the "Black week".

 No special arrangements are necessary to attend, the entrance to the "Semana negra" grounds, attendance to round tables, lectures, exhibitions and the open-air concerts are absolutely free. Just get yourself a hotel room in Gijón and for you'll be a part of Gijón's strangest days of summer along with your favorite writers, and some new discoveries you can make for your bookcase.

(Mauricio-José Schwarz, Copyright © 1996)