Official Blog of the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Informal Interview with Diego Mora about the Cartoneras Phenomenon

“Can you give us a brief description of your background and your work is Costa Rica?” 

I’m Diego Mora, from San José, Costa Rica. As a social psychologist, I worked in the application and evaluation of the UNESCO Model of Media Education in high schools in San José. The results of this project were published as an academic book in Spain.

I worked also for a few years as a professor of creative writing workshops, as an editor of different literary magazines and as a producer of cartoneras books in Costa Rica.

As a writer, I published three poetry books and one fiction book.

Then, I completed a Master’s Degree in Spanish at New Mexico State University where I wrote a creative thesis related with the maras and immigration in Central America.

There, I started with my research of the cartoneras phenomenon in Latin America and I participated in the Kaleidoscope Congress here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in February, with a presentation of my ideas of cartoneras nowadays.

“What did you do during your stay at UW?”

I worked in the Special Collections Department of the Memorial Library, studying carefully all the copies of the cartoneras books (718 books catalogued), understanding their content, dividing them into periods and also into categories. I selected a few poems and short stories with outstanding quality, and I will prepare an anthology with these texts.

The idea is to create an academic publication with the results of the research, and create a cooperation agreement between New Mexico State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to share the results, the information and create connections and future co-research, and also to make expositions of materials in the libraries of NMSU.

Excerpt from the UW website: 

“The cartonera publishing phenomenon began in Buenos Aires in 2003 and was spearheaded by writers and artists who were interested in reconfiguring the conditions in which literary art is produced and consumed. They came up with a progressive new publishing model that challenges and contests the neo-liberal political and economic hegemony. Several cartonera projects include social and educational aspects and are using the creation of the cartonera books to redefine the relationship between ‘the book’ and the public.” (

“How did you learn about UW cartonera collection?”

I studied in Buenos Aires, Argentina many years ago. At that time I discovered the cartoneras phenomenon there. Then in my country, I organized a Latin American Young Poetry Festival, and with many poets from different countries spontaneously made a workshop-meeting of cartoneras from Latin America. Before that moment, we started producing our own cartoneras in Costa Rica, named Cartonera Tuanis, referring to this word as a very nice state of mind.

Then, I participated in the Kaleidoscope Congress here in the University of Wisconsin-Madison in February, when I met Paloma Cellis, the librarian who started the biggest collection of cartoneras in the whole world.

“How did you arrange for your visit/stay at UW?”

First of all, through my contact with Paloma Cellis and Molly Molloy, librarians at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and New Mexico State University respectively. Then, I applied for a grant provided by the Southwest and Border Cultures Institute of the College of Arts and Sciences of New Mexico State University. They gave me the grant to come here. And finally, a group of students of the Department of Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison helped me a lot.

“What did you learn from your experience at UW?”
Lots of things. For example, the way of the cartoneras phenomenon spread around the world as a natural movement. Nobody imposed anything, all development was absolutely free. That’s amazing in this time of corporate publishers and a bestsellers logic in the global markets. Another point that I discovered in the Special Collection of Memorial Library was the books who preceded the first cartoneras in Buenos Aires. There’s a very interesting book to understand the origin of the phenomenon.

On the other hand, the variety of cartoneras creates right now a new perspective of the situation. I called it the 2.0 version. That implies new studies associated with the books, but also –and for me it’s very interesting- the new writers who started publishing through cartoneras books. This new generation of literature is another topic that I want to analyze.

Finally, I established contacts to produce an anthology of cartoneras texts from all over the world, as a way to understand this first decade of cartoneras.  It will be also a celebration and recognition of the importance of this global phenomenon.

*LACIS would like to thank Diego Mora for sharing his insights into the global cartoneras phenomenon!* 

For more information regarding cartoneras in general and UW-Madison’s Ibero-American collection of cartoneras–one of the largest and most comprehensive of its kind in the United States–consult the Libraries section of the UW website here: Cartoneras and the UW