2016 – This year marks the 400th anniversary of the deaths of two extremely influential literary figures: renowned English playwright William Shakespeare and celebrated Spanish playwright and novelist Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, who most know best as the author of one of the most famous novels ever written, El ingenioso Hidalgo de Don Quixote de la Mancha. The novel (volume I) was first published in 1605 ; ten years later, in 1615, Cervantes was compelled to publish a second volume, inspired to do so only after another writer took it upon himself to (inadequately) write a sequel to Cervantes’ pre-copyright-laws Don Quixote. To commemorate Cervantes on the anniversary of his death, the Kansas State Spanish Club, for which I am the advisor, organized a “Celebración Cervantina / Cervantes Celebration” in order to provide the campus community with an opportunity to learn about Cervantes, Don Quixote, and 17th-century Spanish reading and writing practices.
As the Folger Shakespeare Library notes, just as Shakespeare left an indelible mark on the English language, Spanish has been referred to as “la lengua de Cervantes,” – the language of Cervantes. This is due not just to the inventiveness of Cervantes’ writing, but also to its orality – a topic that our guest speaker would discuss at length. To read Don Quixote is to engage deeply with the act of storytelling in many forms, from chivalric romance, folktales, and satire, to the pastoral and the picaresque traditions. To celebrate this influential Spanish writer, our Spanish Club organized an event which would allow Spanish students and the campus community to come together to learn, read, and discuss the reading and writing practices informing Cervantes’ Don Quixote, one of the first modern novels. The event consisted of a lecture by Dr. Mirzam Pérez, Associate Professor at Grinnell College, entitled, “Read Me a Story, Mr. Cervantes! Reading and Writing Practices in Early Modern Spain”. The presentation was followed by a Q&A session, and a brief collaborative reading activity organized by Spanish Club that gave attendees an opportunity to engage with the written text… while enjoying cookies and coffee, of course!
Last year, 2015, marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of the second volume of Don Quixote (1915), and for this I published a short post about Miguel de Cervantes as a contemporary “Internet sensation”, given how frequently he had been appearing in Spanish news outlets and the social media feeds of my Spanish-professor friends. I discovered that the Spanish National Library had digitized a first edition of the novel – Quixote Interactivo – so that readers around the world can browse the digital pages as if they had a printed copy of the original text in their fingertips. I highly recommend watching the short video – which I’ll include below – before checking out the digital text; it does a great job of highlighting features that you may overlook if you try to navigate the Spanish text on your own. For example, you can choose to read the original text in centuries-old Spanish script, or you can opt to view a modernized version with updated Spanish spelling and typography. The modern version would be especially useful for teaching a course on the Quixote. The text is also searchable, and you can share or email select pages, chapters, or the entire book.
As Dr. Pérez noted in her lecture for our Cervantes Celebration, “Despite a proliferation of written texts during Cervantes’s time, a preference for the oral tradition still permeated early modern society.” Thus, she explained, authors were aware of the importance of oral traditions and were inclined to create prose works that would be heard on a large scale (rather than merely read). One of the most fascinating pieces of evidence that Dr. Perez used to illustrate her argument was the 1611 dictionary definition of the verb “to read” – “to utter in words what is written in letters” (Tesoro de la lengua castellano, by Sebastian de Covarrubias). Below are a few photos from this even at Kansas State University last week, which was sponsored by K-State Libraries, the Student Governing Association (SGA), the Department of Modern Languages, and Spanish Club. I’ll also post the fliers made to publicize the lecture across campus. I was very proud of the officers in Spanish Club who took the time to help secure funding, create fliers and bookmarks, introduce the speaker, set up refreshments, and lead the interactive reading activity.
Hopefully Spanish Club will be able to organize a similar event next year, although I don’t think there is a particular “noteworthy” anniversary to be celebrated in 2017… is there? Suggestions? I suppose this means we can be creative and honor the Spanish, Latin American, or Latino author of our choosing, if we decide to maintain our “literary” theme.
Have you read or taught Don Quixote, in Spanish or in English? What are some of your favorite chapters or selections to teach or to read?