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Paraty's Literary Life

In my almost three decades as a publisher, I have visited more than 22 countries to attend literary events ranging from the annual gathering of 50,000 colleagues in Frankfurt, Germany, to a small junket in Albania, where I ended up playing charades with a bunch of local writers after a dinner in the former dictator Enver Hoxha's palace.

But the best literary festival I have ever been to is the one in Paraty, Brazil, started in 2003 by Liz Calder, one of the greatest British editors of the last 30 years, and Luiz Schwarcz, the founder of the wonderful publishing house Companhia das Letras.

The festival is held annually in July or August and the first year only about 20 or 30 of us came from outside Brazil—several international publishing pals and the invited writers, including Don DeLillo, Julian Barnes, Hanif Kureishi, Daniel Mason, and the British historian Eric Hobsbawn.

There were lunches, dinners, informal get-togethers as well as readings and panels mixing Brazilian and foreign authors. You'd start out the evening with one group and run into colleagues at whatever restaurant or bar you stopped at. Music flowed from every doorway.

Word traveled fast and the festival has grown from 8,000 to 14,000 people. Among the writers who came the second year were Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Paul Auster, Colm Tóibín, and Margaret Atwood. Liz and Luiz have realized they can attract an all-star roster. Most compelling of all, however, is how excited the attendees are to see the writers. Walking the streets with Paul or Martin is like being with a rock star.

Morgan Entrekin is President and Publisher of Grove/Atlantic.