press release
Published: 27 March 2018

‘Cardboard Publishers’ from around Mexico meet to celebrate 10th anniversary of publishing movement in the country

By Hannah Harrison

Independent and artisanal publishers from around Mexico will meet on 31 March in the city of Cuernavaca, Morelos, to exchange books, ideas and experiences following ten years of ‘cardboard publishing’ in the country.

Photo-of-Books-Vassilis-Korkas-2017.jpg
Photo: Vassilis Korkas 2017

Among the 15 publishers who will attend the national meeting will be La Biznaga cartonera (Sonora), winners of the 2017 International Youth Foundation prize for social development, and HTurquesa (Yucatan), whose recent ‘Women Who Won’t Be Quiet’ anthology has been presented over 35 times in various cities of North and South America. The phenomena of ‘cardboard publishing’ (edición cartonera) emerged in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as a collaboration between writers, publishers and waste-pickers in the wake of the 2001 economic crisis. Publishers bought cardboard at solidarity rates and used it to cover books that were often written by leading writers, painted in colourful styles and sold at accessible prices. The movement soon spread across Latin America and beyond, with cartoneras emerging in over 20 countries and across 4 continents.

The first Mexican cardboard publisher, ‘La Cartonera’, appeared on the scene in 2008 and is now celebrating its 10th anniversary. In its ten years, La Cartonera has published over 60 titles, by 170 authors, in 7 languages, and has fabricated over 10,000 books by hand from 3000 cardboard boxes, fuelled by approximately 90 kilos of coffee. In the years following its foundation, Mexico has caught the cartonera bug, with cardboard publishers cropping up in cities as far apart as Ciudad Obregon in the north, and San Cristobal de Las Casas in the South. There are currently around 20 active cardboard publishers in the country and many of these will descend on the city of Cuernavaca for a national meeting to be hosted at the Barranca Gallery in Chapultepec Park, where an exhibition is currently celebrating a decade of La Cartonera.

The meeting is being organised in a collaboration between the Cuernavaca-based publisher and the ‘Precarious Publishing in Latin America’ research project, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Dr Lucy Bell, Lecturer in Spanish and Translation Studies at the University of Surrey, is part of the team organising this first major event for the research project. In 2017 Lucy was awarded a prestigious research grant for her work on ‘editoriales cartoneras’ by the AHRC. She is joined on the project by fellow researchers Patrick O’Hare (University of Cambridge) and Alex Flynn (University of Durham) who are in close collaboration with La Cartonera.

The event seeks to explore the political and social impact of cardboard publishing, which has revolutionised the publishing landscape in the country. Members of the public will also be invited to participate in an interactive bookmaking workshop, where the different publishers will share their diverse and inventive techniques using cardboard and other recycling materials.

Dany Hurpin, La Cartonera:

“It will be extraordinary to be able to share our experiences and the content of our tenth anniversary exhibition with cartonera colleagues from around Mexico. The opportunity to meet and exchange our stories compliments the exhibition well, and will permit us to get to know each other better and have a clearer vision of the cartonera movement in Mexico today”

Sergio Fong, La Rueda Cartonera (Guadalajara):

“I look forward to exchanging new titles, celebrating alongside our cartonera brothers and sisters, and sharing our experiences and lives in the cartonera movement!”

Paloma Celis Carbajal, cartonera collection curator, University of Wisconsin-Madison:

“In February of 2008, La Cartonera emerged in Cuernavaca, offering us a proposal that challenged a vision of the world based on uncontrolled consumption and disposal. Ten years and thousands of books later, their work has captivated a diverse audience of creators, educators, and readers, and has sparked the creation of many more cartoneras the length and breadth of the country”.

Dr Lucy Bell, University of Surrey lecturer and principal investigator:

Cartoneras are fascinating insofar as they pose a challenge to anyone approaching them from a traditional disciplinary background, be it literary studies, anthropology or sociology. Their playful socio-aesthetic propositions force us, as academics, to rethink and stretch the methods through which we normally operate. This event has been created to celebrate cartonera work, and to carry on the conversation about the movement’s social potential and political force.”

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