Origin Stories

Argentinian writer Clara Obligado has written that “The past is the only stage of our lives we can transform, the only dynamic time of our biography. The present is too difficult to alter, and the future, impossible.” I do not wholeheartedly agree with this, especially in light of how mindfulness and “being in the present” can help to combat anxieties about both the future, and the past. This does not mean I cannot think about my recent past, in light of how we tell our origin stories. As Clara Obligado elaborates “I re-read the past permanently, and I transform it. It is the place where I can replace rancour with charity, and charity with rancour. This way I manage to tell myself a story as certain as any other.”

About this recent past: This weekend my little press that could, Laberinto Press, won an award at the Book Publishers Association of Alberta:

https://edmontonjournal.com/entertainment/local-arts/numerous-awards-for-edmonton-publishers-at-alberta-book-publishers-awards

and the origin story of how it came to be, was published at the Literary Review of Canada: https://reviewcanada.ca/magazine/2022/10/codex-asado/

These have been two arduous years, and still counting. Years of financial sacrifices, personal tragedies, mental health struggles, and yet, I keep telling myself that I did this, I created this little press, it exists as much as the books that make its catalogue. Publishing, a brilliant colleague said, is “living in the future.” We talk excitedly about our upcoming titles, as if they were babies kicking inside our bellies, somewhat challenging Clara’s statement about the future. A book is the incarnation of the possibilities of our future stories, a different type of certainty based on the advance paid to the writer, or the Call to Submit for an anthology, or the commissioning of a new cover design. Pick your future, always, even if it does not pan out as expected, and other forces alter it, because there, you will be safe from the rancour –or charity– of the past.

Pick Your Peace

I am not going to lie, the years 2021-2022 have been so far quite a ride at a personal and professional level. This is not a balance, a recap, or even an update, but a reckoning. I am reckoning with possibilities, and learning curves, with growth, and decisions, with distances, differences, and closeness, with the temporary and the transient, the here and there.

Like two sides of the coin, or the face of Janus, looking back and to the future, publishing has revealed itself as a double semi-entity. One face, you could say the front of the book, the façade, revolves around the romanticized notion of the creative process, the author, the work, the cover design, the editing, the translating, and the final product, a beautiful manuscript. That is the aspect the press and marketing departments fawn about. Like magic, the reader does not see the other side, born out of the first massively produced book, Gutenberg’s Bible, that ushered the book industry as THE most capitalist of propositions. Yes, the Holy Book was the first to face distribution challenges, spur sales strategies, and arrive into consumer’s hands thanks to booksellers worldwide. Author rights, comp titles and meta-data had not been yet acknowledged, and the ecosystem of literary festivals with the now ubiquitous agents, rights departments, panelists, and media lists were not even in the thoughts of the most prescient of mystics.

We always speak of the fight or flight response, and as I see my published books out in the world I feel like hugging them close and heading for the hills, which living in Alberta means enjoying the stunning views of the Rockies. I feel the need to protect them, at time wishing they were still in the early stage of their life, in between a galley proof and the ready-for-print copy. But go out into the world they must, and I am solely responsible for that. And it feels absolutely terrifying. Some of the situations I have faced have been peppered with the best–and sometimes the worst–of intentions. You know who you are. All of them have tested my determination to keep going. Yet I am still here.

All this to say, I am OK with being candid –and also kind to myself and others–about my publishing and writing life. I am learning to trust my instincts and train my patience, to advocate for what I need, and be OK with saying and hearing the word NO. I have decided to transform the saying “pick your battles” into “pick your peace” especially in regards to this “new sweater” feeling in this new stage as a publisher, and it has been life-changing.

My press has come a long way, but still needs all the community support and my determination to keep going. Thank you for being there!

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/edmonton-publishing-diverse-authors-1.6401329

The Perfume of Place

A few weeks ago I sat with Peter Midgley to discuss the challenges of running a BIPOC press in Western Canada, and the joys of doing what we really want, publishing hyphenated literature in its myriad forms, from works of literary translation to English works with a certain “perfume of place”…

My First Foray in Academic Publishing

Some times life surprises you with rich encounters, that later develop into fully fledged endeavours such as my meeting with American scholar Lisa Ortiz-Vilarelle. She assuaged my crippling self-doubts, and with kindness and gentleness, demonstrated I was up to the task. After completing my MA as a mature student, in a second language, I was drained, and skeptical of my academic abilities. It took some retreating, to gather impulse, and learn to trust my “Academic Instincts.” Thank you, Lisa! https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14484528.2021.1930093

Eloquently Bitching

Edmonton writer Rayanne Haines invited me to discuss my adventures in writing and publishing in Canada. Here is the podcast, take a listen for yourself and I hope you expand the conversation. I would love your feedback.

An Interview on García Márquez: The Myth of the Writer as Genius, and Bilingual Curation as Scholarship

A month or so ago I attended the conference Curating Exhibitions as Public Scholarship, a topic close to my heart qua SpectatorCurator. Organized by UBC Public Humanities, the conference organizers invited scholars from around the world to share their case studies with the general public. One of the presentations, by Dr. Alvaro Santana Acuña (Harvard ’14) on his Gabriel García Márquez exhibition at the Harry Ransom Centre in Austin Texas, caught my curiosity. What follows is the translation of my interview with him for Lattin Magazine. Thanks to Juan Gavasa and his magazine for giving my interview with Alvaro a world-class home.

“To call someone like García Márquez a “genius” is in fact a shortcut concealing his formidable capacity for self-sacrifice and discipline.” Alvaro Santana Acuña

Canadian-Argentinian art historian and writer Luciana Erregue sat down with Professor Alvaro Santana Acuña, curator of the exhibition “Gabriel García Márquez: La creación de un escritor global.”

A virtual colloquium on the bilingual (Spanish-English) exhibition on the fiftieth anniversary of A Hundred Years of Solitude, titled “Gabriel García Márquez: la creación de un escritor global/García Márquez: the Creation of a Global Writer,” caught my attention and motivated me to converse with Dr. Álvaro Santana Acuña (PhD Harvard, 2014), professor of Sociology at Whitman College.

Thanks to a Ransom Center Fellowship Santana had the opportunity to lead the curation of this exhibition which opened in February 2020 in Austin, TX. The pandemic forced its temporary closure although the public can access a sample of the exhibition through the Ransom Center webpage https://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/. The public can also access a database of more than 27000 images from the García Márquez Archives.

Alvaro, please tell us a bit about your task as a researcher, above all, how did the opportunity to curate the exhibition come about?

ASA: I am a historian and a sociologist , but I owe this investigation on García Márquez to the rain. The idea to write my book Ascent to Glory occurred to me because I spent days soaking wet thanks to a storm that lasted for days, a storm not that different from the one that fell over the village of Macondo in A Hundred Years of Solitude. Ascent to Glory is a biography of the most famous novel of the Colombian writer. The research I undertook led me to the personal archives of García Márquez located inside Ransom Center. In turn, they became interested in my research and invited me to curate the first exhibition based on these original, previously unseen documents belonging to his personal archives.

Could you tell us, roughly, what key curatorial decisions you had to make and who accompanied you in the selection process of the artifacts for the exhibition?

ASA: The García Márquez archives house more than seventy boxes with thousands of photographs, letters, albums with press clippings, objects, and manuscripts of almost all of his books. For instance, there are 18 manuscript versions of his latest novel Memories of My Melancholy Whores. Before such wealth and variety of material, the biggest challenge was what to select. Furthermore, the exhibition is biographical and has to treat equally, without gaps each of the moments in the life and career of the writer. The excellent team from the Ransom Center, led by Cathy Henderson, and cultural manager Jenny Rodríguez Peña were instrumental in the concretion of the project.

How did you decide to structure the exhibition?

ASA: I decided to divide the exhibition along seven sections. The first three are the most biographical in nature, and encompass the childhood and career of García Márquez until his arrival in Mexico City when he was a young thirty-something. The fourth section recreates with never before seen documents the creation of A Hundred Years of Solitude. The following three sections follow a transversal pattern. The fifth one illustrates in detail the writing process of García Márquez, displaying the manuscripts of Cronicle of a Death Foretold, Love in the Time of Colera, and other celebrated works. The sixth section documents García Márquez as political and cultural activist in favour of a united Latin America. And the last section relays his recognition as a global writer, winner of the 1982 Nobel Price in Literature.

How did the bilingual (Spanish/English) aspect influence the exhibition?

ASA: The decision to curate a bilingual exhibition was an added challenge, we had to place the two languages, Spanish and English on equal footing. On the one hand, the most important documents on display were originally in Spanish, on the other, we had to convey all of this information in an accessible way to the non-Spanish speaking public. That is why we put special care on the physical display of the visual documents; it also meant to work generously and meticulously on the descriptive panels and labels, so that the visitor who does not speak Spanish could also enjoy the exhibition the same way as the Spanish speaking public.

What would would be the “take home” idea behind the exhibition?

ASA: The visitors will see with their own eyes how difficult and demanding artistic creation actually is. To call someone like García Márquez “genius” is in fact a shortcut concealing his formidable capacity for self-sacrifice and discipline to create literary works of excellent quality. Talent and a bit of good fortune always help. Without hard work, however, neither talent blooms, nor good fortune accompanies its creator. In his manuscript Of Love and Other Demons we can see how García Márquez surpassed a most beautiful paragraph because it interrupted the flow of the narrative. He felt it was necessary each word, each sentence, each paragraph would produce the effect of hypnotizing the readers and make them turn the page.

As a museum educator in a not-so-distant past life, I am interested in the training process of those museum professionals tasked with building bridges between the exhibition you curated and the public.

ASA: The training of the museum guides or “docents” was one of the loveliest experiences for me. A week before the the opening, I offered guided tours in English and Spanish with different groups of guides. They are a fundamental part of the viewer’s experience, because they communicate stories, ideas, and anecdotes we cannot always sum up in a descriptive label.

Now onto the exhibition itself, I have heard you discussing “gatekeepers” and “gatekeeping” as a component of the exhibition, what did your research yield in that regard, and how did it contribute to the “Latin American Boom” label?

ASA: The gatekeeper is a person guarding access to something unavailable to the rest. This gatekeeper can be the bouncer of an exclusive club or a committee member of the Nobel Prize in Literature. In their role of guardians, gatekeepers decide who is in and who is out, following strict orders. This is exactly what happened to several writers during the years of the “Latin American Boom.” “What have you written? do you have an agent? Who are your literary influences? What does Latin America mean to you? What do you think of the Cuban Revolution? ¿Qué piensas de la Revolución cubana?” with these lines of questions, writers, editors, and critics acted as the gatekeepers of Latin American literature to filter who checked all the requisites to be labeled and promoted as authors of the Boom. García Márquez was one of those such writers, chosen because of their trajectory and potential.

Now onto the current literary landscape, how do you see the topic of “gatekeeping” in the literature of the Americas and Spanish and Portuguese literature translated into other languages?

ASA: Gatekeeping, as a selection process of authors and their texts remains pretty much unchanged since the days of the Boom. What has changed substantially are the selection mechanisms, for example, the influence of social networks. Today there are “influencers” competing for prestige alongside famous literary critics. What is certain is the existence of more diversity in gatekeeping in the literary world, creating a rich and fragmented current literary environment.

How does the exhibition approach the topic of the Boom? I would love it if you told us how did you articulate the relationship between García Márquez with other Latin American writers, in particular –and forgive me for being so partial, with Borges and Cortázar?

ASA: The initial success of García Márquez with A Hundred Years of Solitude is connected to that of the Boom of Latin American literature. Most of the objects of the exhibition about the Boom can be seen in Section Three of the exhibition. Together with documents, photographs and works by José Donoso, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Carlos Fuentes, there are of course, others belonging to Jorge Luis Borges, and Julio Cortázar. From Borges we have on display the manuscript for his story “Los Rivero,” a story which bears uncanny similarities to that of the Buendía family. On Cortázar’s end we have on exhibition the manuscript of this best known work, Hopscotch, a mere five steps from the manuscript of A Hundred Years of Solitude. Never have the manuscripts of two of the main works of Latin American literature been so close together under one roof. Seeing them so close to one another is in and of itself enough reason to visit this exhibition.

In regards to the future of the exhibition, what are the next steps, and would there be a chance of it visiting Canada?

ASA: If the Covid-19 pandemic allows it, the exhibition will travel to the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City in 2021. There is interest in the exhibition to visit France, Spain, and without a doubt, Colombia, the birth place of García Márquez. I would not be surprised to see the exhibition visit Canada, where García Márquez is a very well known figure and where Magical Realism has spread its roots since early on, through works such as The Invention of the World by Jack Hodgins.

Finally, How can we see it now?

The exhibition opened on February 1st, 2020. As it was beating all the records, with almost 8,000 visitors in 5 weeks, it had to close its doors. Until the circumstances of this pandemic do not improve the public can see a sample of the exhibition online, through the Ransom Center’s webpage, with the chance of accessing more than 27,000 images from the García Márquez archives.

“Llamar a García Márquez ‘genio’ es un atajo que oculta su formidable capacidad de sacrificio y disciplina”

The Day I Became a Publisher

Having coffee with a friend, way back in October, we talked about how in A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway is always discussing what he eats, belying his hunger. Hunger hovers over his memoir of Paris in the Twenties as he constructs his ‘starving artist’ persona. What is also evident for some of us, is his depression. That hunger, the enjoyment of a break from it in the form of a simple potato salad, and the persisting sense of starvation, emptiness, made us think of a collection of writings where food was but an excuse to explore other ‘hungers’. Thus, Beyond the Food Court: an Anthology of Literary Cuisines was born, and with that, the first book by my new imprint laberintopress

I invite you all to take a look at the website, and purchase the book, featuring 14 authors from all over the world, who are practising writers here in Canada. For those of you who read or understand Spanish, here are a panel at the FIL Canada: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6Ior_glif4&t=227s and an interview for Lattin Magazine: https://lattin.ca/2020/10/22/la-editora-argentina-luciana-erregue-crea-laberinto-press-para-promover-la-literatura-canadiense/

We also had the privilege of opening and closing LitfestYeg 2020. Stay tuned for more Laberinto Press. This is just the beginning as we explain in this Quill and Quire interview https://quillandquire.com/omni/luciana-erregue-on-the-mission-of-labertino-press-to-publish-authors-whose-first-language-isnt-english/

Zooming While Female

Thank you to Egyptian writer Youssef Rakha for giving this creative non-fiction piece a home in his Blog The Sultan’s Seal. Read on!

Luciana Erregue: The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (or The Zoom Meeting)

We congregate like The Muppets at the theatre: a first tier, a second tier, a third tier. Depending on the age of the host, the “chat” feature is either silenced or not. It is the ideal medium for someone accustomed to exercising control in real life. Yet there is always the sliding into dms. The guy who will tell you: “Why so serious? Ahhh, that hand on your face adds another layer of seduction.” It is just like high school, the kids at the back of the classroom up to no good.

The real gems, though, are the what-a-pleasure-to-meet-you-in-Zoom, I-would-like-to-have-a-meeting-with-you-sometime-early-in-the-morning types. You know it is going to be business during a pandemic, when nobody you know is getting up voluntarily at 6.30 to start a meeting at 7.30 because EST… so when you oblige, and you barely have time to shower, dress and grab your coffee, you know you will rip him a new one. Except he does it first, of course.

Before the first sip of coffee comes the sharp pain of the knife on your stomach. “You know, I am a serious author, and I like connecting with serious culture professionals. You look serious, that is why I think it is important that we establish contact.” You tell him about your accomplishments, to which he responds, “I have already asked you two questions, and yes, it does not matter if the people I want to work with do projects without importance, what really matters is that they are trying. By the way, did you know that I won the Continental award for my novel Three Sausages on a Plate? Like you, I love weaving visual arts and literature. Because once I was an artist in NYC, then I came to Canada…”

So you explain the intricacies of the art market here – fifteen years of experience – the reality check that everything begins at graduate school, when you do your MFA, and collect a clique of pals with whom you will collaborate in friendship and rivalry, the small arts centre where you will establish your connections with the curators of the bigger galleries.

You also explain that as a visible minority you are perpetually from the outside, looking in – then he references Marcel Duchamp, who retired early from the art world to play chess. Because he is bored to death, he can only come up with, “Yes, but imagine, I am not going back to school at this point in my career. That is why I decided to focus on writing. I write a lot, but unless it is very high quality I choose not to publish. Do you know Justforpricks Publishing House, the biggest in Europe – well, they have decided to publish my novel. I am such a busy man, that is why we have our meeting so early. Also, the house is nice and quiet. But the real reason I wanted to meet with you is because I also have a publishing house. We have people in South America, and Eastern Canada, but you live in the West, and that is where we would like to expand.” His voice grows even deeper; he might choke like a cat with a hairball, I can only hope. “It is a labour of love, so of course, we all do it for the love of literature.”

And then you remember Duchamp’s Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even, which you saw at the Rotterdam Museum fifteen years ago as a young mother. In his notes, Duchamp describes his piece as “hilarious.” A bride in the upper panel and her nine bachelors timidly waiting in the wings, like those importune messages sliding into your dm during the Zoom meeting, crossing the grid, transcending the confinement of Duchamp’s “grooms” cloistered between two glass panels below the “bride.”

Also known as The Large Glass, the work consists of two tall glass panels, suspended vertically. The entire composition is shattered, but it rests sandwiched in between two pieces of glass, set in a metal frame with a wooden base. The top rectangle of glass is known as the Bride’s Domain; the bottom piece is the Bachelors’ Apparatus. It consists of many geometric shapes melded together to create large mechanical objects, which seem almost to pop out from the glass and ever-changing background. There are “shots” coming from the “bachelors” – which never do reach the waiting Bride – made by dipping matches in wet paint and firing them from a toy cannon at the Glass.

The Large Glass has been called a love machine, although its upper and lower realms are forever separated from each other by a horizon designated as the “bride’s clothes”. The bride is hanging, perhaps from a rope, in an isolated cage, or crucified. The bachelors remain below, left with the inevitable possibility of consummating the act in solitude.

As he comes up for air, you take a deep breath:

“Well, this is something that goes unsaid, but there is the issue of unpaid labour, and also the emotional labour us women perform especially in this pandemic, sourcing the food, making sure our children’s mental health is ok, managing the household, all this, generally and at least in my case, falls on the woman. My projects evolve rather organically, and stem from friendships first, not the other way around. I thrive in ethical environments. Ethics. I know that you men have the whole world to conquer, but I am not there, for me it is ‘pleasure, not pressure’. Besides, I am nobody’s rib”.

“This sounds great, and yes, please check our website.”

“Sure I will,” you lie, then you lie some more: “It was a pleasure, and all the best with your projects. Thank you, make sure to check out my blog,” you say, not missing a beat.

He shoots back, “Sure I will, and see you at the next Zoom meet!”