Skip to Content

The Center for Fiction and Sant Jordi USA Present Papyrus with Irene Vallejo, Sarah Ruden, and Charlotte Whittle

April 23, 2023

The Sant Jordi Festival of Books & Roses in Barcelona is one of the most enchanting and colorful book fairs in the world, spilling bookstands and flower stalls up and down the boulevards of Catalonia. It celebrates Saint George, the dragonslayer, of whom legend claims that a rose bush sprang up from the drops of blood that fell from the wounded dragon’s wing. A fitting context for the swashbuckling story of Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World, the extraordinary international bestseller in which Irene Vallejo tells the thrilling tale of the birth of books.

Long before books were mass-produced, scrolls hand-copied on reeds pulled from the Nile were the treasures of the ancient world. Emperors and Pharaohs were so determined to possess them that they dispatched emissaries to the ends of the Earth to bring them back. When Mark Antony wanted to impress Cleopatra, he knew that gold and priceless jewels would mean nothing to her. Instead, he gave her books for her library—two hundred thousand! The long and eventful history of the written word shows that books have always been and will always be a precious—and precarious—vehicle for civilization.

Papyrus is the story of the book’s journey from oral tradition to scrolls to codices, and how that transition laid the very foundation of Western culture. Author Irene Vallejo, renowned translator of Greek and Roman classics Sarah Ruden, and translator of Papyrus, Charlotte Whittle, joined us for a conversation.

Presented in partnership with Sant Jordi USA.

In Conversation

  • Irene Vallejo (James Rajotte) - Eliana Cohen-Orth

    Irene Vallejo

    Irene Vallejo

    Irene Vallejo is the author of the internationally bestselling Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World, which has been translated into over 30 languages. Papyrus was awarded the National Essay Prize and the Critical Eye Prize for Narrative in Spain. Vallejo is a regular columnist for El País and Heraldo de Aragón, and she is the author of two novels, three collections of essays, articles, and short fiction, and two children’s books. She lives in Spain.

    Photo Credit: James Rajotte

  • Sarah Ruden credit Adrienne Malane - Eliana Cohen-Orth

    Sarah Ruden

    Sarah Ruden

    Sarah Ruden is a leading translator of ancient texts, including Virgil’s The Aeneid and Augustine’s Confessions; her book The Face of Water: A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible was published by Knopf/Pantheon in 2017. Her prose has appeared in the American Scholar, the Wall Street Journal and Books & Culture. She is the author of the poetry collection Other Places and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Whiting Award. She lives in Connecticut.

    Photo Credit: Adrienne Malane

  • 64CFBEE8-F9B1-4A4A-AC2C-2053ACE11F86_1_105_c - Eliana Cohen-Orth

    Charlotte Whittle

    Charlotte Whittle

    Charlotte Whittle’s work has appeared in the Literary Review, Los Angeles Times, Guernica, BOMB, the Paris Review, and elsewhere. Her translations include novels by Jorge Comensal, Elisa Victoria, and Norah Lange; her most recent translation is Papyrus, the international bestseller by Irene Vallejo. She lives in England and New York.

    Photo Credit: Geoff Shullenberger