Professor Ksenija Bilbija and student Gabrielle Korb received a Hilldale Award (a competitive faculty/student research grant) for their project, “The Resurrection of a Cause: Sarita Cartonera’s Battle Against Economic Partiality with Cardboard.” Bilbija is the director of the Latin American, Iberian, and Caribbean Studies program and Korb is an undergraduate student majoring in Spanish and Latin American Studies. The following is the abstract from the research project proposal:
Eloísa Cartonera, an avant-garde Argentine publishing house, provided an exemplar for the Peruvian Sarita Cartonera. Since the profitless Sarita Cartonera’s 2004 instauration, the founders promoted decreasing economic inequality by distributing books at an affordable price, displaying local creativity by publishing emerging authors, and enhancing literary culture and understanding by offering primary- and secondary-school literary workshops. However, due to difficulties with sustainability, subsidization, and support from the Ministry of Education, Sarita Cartonera collapsed in 2010. After a year in limbo, two enthusiastic students reanimated the moribund cooperative in December 2011 with revamped goals. Through interviews with the founders, the new editors, and previous and current members, as well as archival research into referent publications, I will investigate the differences between Sarita Cartonera’s two manifestations and dying organization’s process of revival, and the value with reference to Peruvian literacy rates. I will study the following matters: 1) How will the process of publishing, distributing, and advertising vary from that of the old Sarita Cartonera? 2) Are there attached stigmas and expectations due to the previous Sarita Cartonera? 3) How will the project confront education (LUMPA) as an important constituent of Sarita Cartonera? 4) How will the program become sustainable?
Gabrielle Korb answered the following questions regarding the research she will conduct in collaboration with Professor Bilbija.
Can you give me a description of the project?
Sarita Cartonera, a Peruvian alternative publishing house originally founded in 2004, has sought and continues to seek decreasing economic inequality by distributing books at an affordable price. Due to various issues mentioned in my proposal, Sarita Cartonera collapsed in 2010. In December 2011, two students bravely decided to recreate Sarita Cartonera and tackle the same literacy and poverty issues. However, since Sarita Cartonera has just reinstalled itself in Lima and it must focus on strengthening its base, the editors have provided sparse information as not to mislead me. In the project, I will juxtapose Sarita Cartonera’s previous development with its present methods. I am currently in contact with the editors and discussing my anticipated involvement upon my arrival in Lima during August, 2012. There I will participate firsthand in the publishing process, interview the current editors and members, and witness the development of a sect of this Latin American phenomenon.
In addition to studying Sarita Cartonera, I will be comparing the daughter cartonera Qinti Qartunira which focuses on Quechua anecdotes and histories. As of right now, I have basic information on this publishing company due to the lack of information available on the Internet and in the library. I have recently contacted the director of the program, and I am currently awaiting a response. [delete] This cartonera views cardboard-bound texts as an affordable and affective method to cause lingual proliferation for the Inca’s moribund language. In an article outlining the cartonera’s development, Director Barbara Rodrigues expresses the shame many indigenous peoples feel while speaking their native language, a quality that must disappear. I will extend my research to include the rebirth and sustenance of a struggling language, as Sarita Cartonera has also recently published a book in Castellano and Quechua.
How did you select that topic?
I first met Director Bilbija while completing a Latin American literature course for my Spanish major. As well as majoring in Spanish, I am specializing in LACIS, for which Director Bilbija has firsthand access to students’ records. After having discovered my involvement in the department and my academic credentials, she courteously presented this wonderful opportunity to me.
Following a bit of research at home, I realized I would love to participate in and promote such a magnificent movement. Since taking various cultural anthropology courses which allowed my personal growth as a sociologist and anthropologist as well as participating in two Alternative Breaks programs to instruct English to a previous squatters’ community in Granada, Nicaragua, I have sprouted an interest in social and economic equality. This phenomenon which has rapidly spread throughout Latin American and continued to extend to other continents targets these aforementioned passions. By studying these two cartoneras, I will promote literacy and social equality in less recognized populations. Eventually, I will pen a master’s thesis on the subject, perhaps eventually instigating my own cartonera in Nicaragua given the proper demand, support, and funding.
How do you plan to carry out any research required for the project?
I will explore these questions through a multi-step process, ultimately resulting in field research in Lima, Peru. In order to compare the two Sarita Cartoneras, I will review the holdings in Memorial Library’s Special Collections unit, the largest collection of continually updated cartonera books, where over thirty Sarita Cartonera titles are stored. I will then compare these findings to the new publications of the new Sarita Cartonera upon arrival in Peru. I have successfully contacted prior Sarita Cartonera members as well as numerous researchers who worked on the original project. I will study Harvard’s LUMPA reproduction and LUMPA’s Latin American presence to better understand its efficacy, allowing a more profound understanding of the new Sarita Cartonera’s implementation of this program. This research will be completed before my departure to Lima.
Following this intensive research, I will perform a semester-long field-research project in Lima. During that time, I will become acquainted with Sarita Cartonera through first-hand experience. First and foremost, I have contacted the new editors in order to facilitate my integration into the program. By utilizing the methodology of a cultural anthropologist, other members will feel more comfortable around me, leading to a true-to-reality realistic experience, since others frequently alter their actions based on familiarity of those present. I will do this by not only expressing my interest in the study, but also by showing dedication to the program and offering my services, effectively installing myself as one of Sarita Cartonera’s members and erasing the stigma of a spectatorial researcher. As a result, I will better understand the revamped publisher, their distribution processes and contribute to its production. I will transcribe my interviews and field notes, and in spring 2012 I will enroll in a three-credit independent study course with Professor Ksenija Bilbija. We will collaborate to compile my data to prepare a presentation for the Undergraduate Symposium, and I will consult with her to complete a senior’s thesis. This scholarly article will greatly contribute to the limited amount of research that has been done on cartoneras and more specifically Sarita Cartonera. It will especially provide a unique outlook on a cartonera’s revival, restructuring, and development. I was also recently accepted into the Lima, Peru 2012-2013 study abroad program so I will be in Peru from August 2012 until July 2013, enabling in-depth and long-term research on the phenomenon, an insight which academia has not yet greatly provided.
More information about Garielle Korb:
Gabrielle Korb is a fifth-year senior majoring in LACIS, Spanish Language and Culture, Anthropology, and Russian Language and Literature. She has worked on campus as a SAFEwalker for three years and as a Residence Life Spanish tutor for one, two responsibilities which will cease upon departure for a year-long study abroad program in Lima, Peru. Following graduation, she plans to receive a master’s in LACIS from Stanford University and a PhD in Anthropology from an undecided institution, aiming to ultimately better social conditions in some Latin American communities. In her spare time she does American-freestyle karate and yoga, hikes, and plays video games.
More information about Professor Ksenija Bilbija:
Professor Bilbija specializes in contemporary Spanish American writing, cultural studies (post-traumatic memory) and gender criticism. She is the author of Textual Bodies: Metaphors of Narrative Genesis in Twentieth-Century Latin American Literature (Lima, Berkeley: Latinoamericana Editores, 2001), as well as Yo soy trampa: Ensayos sobre la obra de Luisa Valenzuela, (Buenos Aires: Feminaria, 2003). She co-edited The Art of Truth-Telling About Authoritarian RuleMadison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005). Her most recent publications include essays on Eloísa Cartonera publishing paradigm in Argentina (Studies of Latin American Popular Culture), Luz Arce, Luisa Valenzuela (Casa de las Américas and Paris Review/ Latin American Writers at Work), Ana María Shua and argentine director Eliseo Subiela. In addition, she has published translations of work by María Luisa Bombal, Luisa Valenzuela, Mario Benedetti, Clarice Lispector in her native Serbian. From 2001-2006 she was the Editor of Letras Femeninas: Revista de Literatura Femenina Hispánica. Professor Bilbija has produced a video art piece on Luisa Valenzuela’s story Other Weapons. Currently she is a Director of Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program. Bilbija holds a Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of Iowa.
The following is the literature review from the research proposal, which provides additional background on the topic:
An intriguing cardboard binding with an unfamiliar name inscribed on the cover nods to the main
goal of Sarita Cartonera, an unconventional publishing house founded in 2004 in Lima, Peru: providing
affordable books to a poverty-stricken population while abandoning habitual publishing practices by
supporting emerging authors. In order to have a customer base for this atypical program, Sarita Cartonera
first had to confront local issues, the scarcity of reading culture and lack of textual comprehension. A
subsidiary project called LUMPA (Libros, un modelo para armar) which began in 2005 and dwindled in
2007 examined these controversies. Regretfully, Sarita Cartonera did not survive past 2010 due to an
absence of focus on sustainability, and the public all but forgot the project. Then, in December 2011, the
revived Sarita Cartonera unveiled itself, ready to start afresh under new leadership.
Sarita Cartonera was modeled after the pioneer publishing house Eloísa Cartonera which
blossomed in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2003. It soon became a sociocultural and economic
phenomenon defying the stereotypical mold of the neoliberal publishing industry, and ambitious literature
students Milagros Saldarriaga and Tania Silva imitated the unique layout adapting it to Peruvian
circumstances. They simulated the ideal to provide affordable books to the indigent population by binding
short stories and poetry with recycled cardboard. The process of collecting materials, retrieving rights
from previously unknown authors, producing cover art, publishing books, and distributing the final
package was profitless. In fact, Sarita Cartonera aided cartoneros, recycled cardboard collectors, by
paying for materials at an elevated price and, in some cases, employing them to produce books. The only
other compensated collaborative workers assembled books, although the founders gladly volunteered. The
authors, too, offered their shorts stories and poems without any expectation of monetary revenue. Once
the texts were bound, they were sold at a minimal price, substituting six to seven books where there
originally would have been one, which limited capital surplus for Sarita Cartonera. Upon attempted
distribution, however, they realized the economy was not the sole problem in Lima.
The few standard Peruvian publishing companies published books for profit, and non-traditional
texts were even less in demand than the already overlooked classic novels, hence the preference for
acclaimed authors and the disregard for still undiscovered ones. Due to this literary neglect, in 2004 there
were only twenty bookstores in Lima, a city of around seven million people. This statistic paired with the
fact that most Peruvians, including university students, did not read even one book per year, exposed
difficulties for an organization intending to distribute books to the general public. This vanishing interest
led to a lack of comprehension, with an estimated 47 percent of students not understanding what they
read. To overcome these obstacles, Sarita Cartonera created the subsidiary program LUMPA in 2005
with the mission to combat educational hindrances and create more attentive readers.
The Peruvian Ministry of Education rarely consulted instructors, therefore it had abridged
expectations of literary analysis. The uninspiring curriculum delegated that teachers require students to
identify only apparent textual qualities, such as character names and major plot points, in effect creating
simple-minded readers. LUMPA alternately challenged participants to analyze stimulating concepts and
structure their own opinions. Eventually, they penned their own works related to the original which
incited respect for the technique, skill, and cerebration involved in a narrative’s composition. Many
participating schools even instigated a silent reading session every morning before classes to support this
LUMPA was fantastic in theory and even in practice, as this technique has spread northward to
Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. The Paper Picker Press educational program, funded by the
aforementioned affluent institution, has successfully employed the same interactive approach in Boston,
Puerto Rico, Colombia, Mexico, and Uganda. Although many schools coveted LUMPA’s assistance, the
Peruvian venture did not survive beyond 2007 due to a lack of funding and institutional support, a system
which often restricted children’s creativity. The Ministry of Education’s demands prevented instructors
from concocting individual syllabi and limited students from exercising their cognitive capabilities.
Additionally, they did not recognize LUMPA as an official project to improve literacy, therefore a
deficiency of subsidies and repetition troubled Sarita Cartonera’s mission. Although literary interest
increased in a few districts, these strenuous adversities led to the program’s 2007 descent, a frightening
foreshadowing of Sarita Cartonera’s 2010 collapse.
Sarita Cartonera was established on a volunteer basis with no expectation of monetary profit, and
regretfully nobody can manage a steady lifestyle by working without pay. Unlike Argentine Eloísa
Cartonera, Sarita Cartonera had not focused on autosustainability even though Peru and Argentina
suffered equally from poverty. Having failed to find national and foreign monetary representatives, Sarita
Cartonera slowly started to dissolve after having published 45 titles. After the project’s ill-omened
downfall, various members moved on and Sarita Cartonera ceased to exist.
Due to the increasingly democratic and less censured government, in late 2011 Sarita Cartonera
returned. The new editors and one of the original founders’ recruits, have enlisted friends to work
collectively on the Sarita Cartonera’s revival. Seeking to address current social issues, Sarita Cartonera
will continue publishing emerging authors and provide books at an accommodating price using the same
publishing process as before. Their first and only published work thus far, a collection of poems, reveals
two new concepts to Sarita Cartonera. Firstly, Sarita Cartonera has changed their marketing scheme to
focus on a specific niche: “collector’s books.” This term does not exactly fulfill the same meaning as it is
generally understood. Instead of merely publishing emerging authors, they seek to provide usually
overpriced classic Latin American works at an affordable amount for those in financially constrictive
situations. Additionally, their first publication is bilingual, Quechua and Spanish, pointing to the idea of
expanding the readership to include Quechua speakers. This leads into a very important aspect of the
original Sarita Cartonera, education, which will still play an essential role in the revived project’s
Nonetheless, vital information is missing from Sarita Cartonera’s only legitimate website, their
Facebook profile, in reference to their goals. Therefore, I propose the following, specified questions for
research: 1) What kind of literature is the new Sarita Cartonera publishing? Will bilingual editions
continue to be part of their editorial policy? 2) How will the process of publishing, distributing, and
advertising vary from that of the old Sarita Cartonera? 3) How will new Sarita Cartonera survive the
economic and political challenges of Peruvian socio-economic structure? To avoid the fate that the
previous project suffered, how will Sarita Cartonera become sustainable? 4) How will the project
confront education (LUMPA) as an important constituent of Sarita Cartonera?
Methods and Timeline:
I will explore these questions through a multi-step process, ultimately resulting in field research
in Lima, Peru. In order to compare the two Sarita Cartoneras, I will review the holdings in Memorial
Library’s Special Collections unit, the largest collection of continually updated cartonera books, where
over fifty Sarita Cartonera books are stored. I will then compare these findings to the new publications of
the new Sarita Cartonera upon arrival in Peru. I have successfully contacted prior members of Sarita
Cartonera as well as numerous researchers who worked with the original project. I will study Harvard’s
LUMPA reproduction and LUMPA’s Latin American presence to better understand its efficacy, allowing
a more profound understanding of the new Sarita Cartonera’s implementation of this program. This
research will be completed by June 2012.
Following this intensive research, I will perform a six-week field-research project in Lima.
During that time, I will become acquainted with Sarita Cartonera through first-hand experience. First and
foremost, I have contacted the new editors in order to facilitate my integration into the program. By
utilizing the methodology of a cultural anthropologist, other members will feel more comfortable around
me, leading to a true-to-reality realistic experience, since others frequently alter their actions based on
familiarity of those present. I will do this by not only expressing my interest in the study, but also by
showing dedication to the program and offering my services, effectively installing myself as one of Sarita
Cartonera’s members and erasing the stigma of a spectatorial researcher. As a result, I will better
understand the revamped publisher, their distribution processes and contribute to its production.
Upon returning in late July 2012, I will transcribe my interviews and field notes, and in Fall 2012
I will enroll in a three-credit independent study course with Professor Ksenija Bilbija. We will collaborate
to compile my data to prepare a presentation for the Undergraduate Symposium, and I will consult with
her to complete a senior’s thesis. This scholarly article will greatly contribute to the limited amount of
research that has been done on cartoneras and more specifically Sarita Cartonera. It will especially
provide a unique outlook on a cartonera’s revival, restructuring, and development.
Bilbija, Ksenija, and Carbajal Paloma. Celis. Akademia Cartonera: A Primer of Latin American
Cartonera Publishers = Un Abc De Las Editoriales Cartoneras En Ame•rica Latina. Madison,
WI: Parallel, University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, 2009. Print.
Casasus, Mario. “Milagros Saldarriaga: “Las Editoriales Cartoneras Lanzamos Una Apuesta Por Otro
Tipo De Literatura”.” El Clarin. 13 Dec. 2009. Web. 11 Feb. 2012.
“Cultural Agents Initiative – Programs.” Home | Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Web.
07 Feb. 2012. <http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~cultagen/programs.htm?paper>.
“Effective Literacy Programmes › Programmes › Target Groups.” United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization. Web. 27 Jan. 2012.
Libros, Un Modelo Para Armar (LUMPA). 2007. Web. 07 Jan. 2012.
“Sarita Cartonera” Jose Javier Leon Maracaibo Venezuela. 2007. Web. 07 Jan. 2012.
“Sarita Cartonera: Experiencia De Un Proyecto Literario, Comunitario Y Solidario.” I Encuentro
Internacional Del Libro Alternativo. 2006. Web. 07 Jan. 2012.
Stitgen, Jennifer. “On Garbage, Books, and Literacy: A Peruvian Example in the Context of the United
States.” Thesis. Ad. Ksenija Bilbija. University of Wisconsin – Madison, 2011. Print.