The Bolaño Industry

Since The Savage Detectives came out last year to gaga acclaim, Roberto Bolaño has become America’s favorite new posthumous literary genius, appealing to an astonishingly broad demographic (particularly for a foreign writer: Less than 4 percent of literature published here is fiction in translation). For his publishers, Bolaño is big business. A peek at how a phenomenon was made—and will continue.

Born in Santiago, Chile. Moves with family to Mexico at 15.

Returns to Chile to “help build socialism.” A few months later, Pinochet stages his coup. Bolaño is detained but soon released after two guards recognize him from their school days.

Photo: Courtesy of FSG

In Mexico City, writes the manifesto for the Infrarealists, a ruckus-raising group of young poets, and publishes a book of poems, Reinventar el Amor. The next year he’s off to Europe.

Bolaño works odd jobs (nightwatchman, etc.) in Spain but also wins a literary prize for a co-authored novella. By the nineties, he makes his decision to earn a living from fiction.

Diagnosed with liver disease.

Bolaño, said to be able to write for 48 hours straight, publishes on average a book a year. In 1998, Los Detectives Salvajes comes out in Spanish. He dies in 2003.

Momentum builds. New Directions publishes the novel Distant Star—and The New Yorker publishes a review, followed by its first Bolaño story, “Gómez Palacio.”

October 2006
Farrar, Straus & Giroux begins to send out 950 advance copies of The Savage Detectives—about (loosely) the obscure poetry wars of Bolaño’s youth—to media folks.

Spring–Fall 2007
A tidal wave of Bolaño coverage, including James Wood’s dubbing him “one of the greatest and most influential modern writers” and Edmund White’s listing The Savage Detectives among his top-five “most important books” in Newsweek.

Spring–Fall 2008
Superagent Andrew Wylie takes over the Bolaño estate. A New York Observer piece compares carrying an advance copy of 2666 to “driving an open-top Porsche.

November 2008
FSG publishes 2666 simultaneously as a hardcover and a three-volume paperback. New Directions releases a volume of Bolaño’s poetry, The Romantic Dogs.

The Future
How much more is out there? New Directions will publish The Skating Rink in August 2009 and plans to follow with four more novels, an essay collection, and even more short stories—making Bolaño the unofficial Tupac of publishing.

The Bolaño Industry