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Hearing New Voices | An Interview with Charco Press

Interview by Katie Brown and Helen Vassallo

From noisy book covers to exploring aesthetic universes, we talk to Charco Press director Carolina Orloff about amplifying contemporary Latin American voices, the Scottish publishing industry and encouraging translation-shy readers to dive in.

Charco Press was founded in 2016 by Carolina Orloff and Samuel McDowell, with a mission to bring new and exciting work from Latin America into English. They launched their first titles in 2017, releasing four novels and a collection of short stories from contemporary Argentinian writers. In 2018, one of these (Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz, translated by Orloff and Sarah Moses) was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, consolidating Charco’s status as a revolutionary new voice in the publishing industry.

Since then Charco’s catalogue has grown year on year to include 17 titles to date from diverse voices across Latin America. It has won numerous prizes, including Scottish Small Press of the Year in 2019 and Emerging Publisher (Carolina Orloff) in 2018. Charco recently launched its first titles in the US after signing with the prestigious Consortium group, and one of its most recent releases, The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, translated by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre, is currently longlisted for the International Booker Prize.


Charco Press has a unique brand identity: how did you develop this in terms of both your geographical focus and your visual aesthetic?

We wanted to arrive in the industry with something that was completely new, but that above all was appealing and showed a certain ambition and also continuity. In terms of our logo, we wanted something that could encapsulate and represent what we are: a bridge between cultures and idiosyncrasies through literary production. With our book covers (always designed by Argentinian talent Pablo Font), we wanted to be classic, but also different and striking, you could even say noisy. We want the readers to be called by our books when they’re browsing in the bookshop, if they haven’t heard about us. And for those readers who do know Charco, we want them to recognise our books instantly and to understand that each cover complements the rest of the catalogue in this kind of aesthetic universe that we are building and bringing across.


Since you launched Charco in 2017, you’ve quickly become established within a community of independent publishers. Did you find it easy to integrate the UK publishing industry?

The publishing scene in Scotland is wonderful, both in Edinburgh and beyond. We’ve felt very supported since we first began, which is incredible given that we were complete newcomers to the industry. There is an extraordinary collection of publishers based here, from stalwarts such as Canongate and Birlinn through to newcomers punching well above their weight, such as 404Ink – and there’s a real sense of community amongst us all. This, combined with the support of the likes of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the people at Publishing Scotland and the energised team at Creative Scotland, make Scotland an ideal place for a new publisher such as ourselves to start.

Once we did start, we were immediately embraced by bookshops, booksellers and readers alike. That is Scotland. Being part of the publishing industry in the UK in general, and especially of the London scene, is a different story. We do feel a bit outside of the hustle and bustle of the things that happen in London, but at the same time, this is changing. There are a lot of independent publishers that have their base in, or have relocated to, the north of England and this is certainly having a positive impact – we think – on the geopolitics of the industry.


Why is it important that the voices you publish from Latin America be heard in English?

This are indeed very exciting times for Latin American literature. There’s just so much going on, in all kinds of ways. On one hand, the fact that there are so many interesting independent publishers throughout the region means that there are greater chances for all types of literature to be published. This opens the door for many ground-breaking voices to emerge, and is simply invaluable. On the other hand, there is an entire generation of writers, in their 30s and 40s, that are looking into the recent history of the region and tackling socio-political topics in completely new ways, asking questions from a different angle, reformulating meaning, adding complexity to universal conundrums. This is giving way to fascinating books written in equally fascinating styles and forms. Of course we don’t think that all English-speaking readers should be picking up our books, but we strongly believe that the option should at least be on the shelves, that these voices from Latin America, which to date had not been translated into English, should be represented alongside voices from other regions in the world.


You’ve had sustained success with literary prize nominations, and built up a significant following of readers. How do responses to your texts – both in terms of literary prizes and reader responses – affect the choices you make for Charco’s development?

Our ideal reader is someone looking for something a bit new, willing to explore something different, by authors they’ve never heard of, but always appreciative of great writing. We are aware that in general the UK reader can be a bit shy or apprehensive when it comes to literature in translation, but we do feel that this is slowly changing, for the better.

Our intention is to publish books that represent a wide array of voices, styles, interests, and genres, so that those readers that are less inclined to pick up a translated book discover that there’s nothing too niche or alienating about them. We take reader responses seriously and try and respond to them in turn by bringing more books from an author when their book proved popular. In general terms, we want to bring to the reader the overall aesthetic project of a writer and not just a single book. So even though there are many important and fascinating authors out there, we’ll usually publish at least two or three books by the same writer so that the reader has the option/luxury of diving into the universe of a certain writer instead of having an isolated text.

In this same line of thought, we’re also trying to bring to the readers what is being read and talked about in Latin America today, and not decades ago, so that they can be part of current debates and ideas as the authors see them.


You always name the translator prominently on your books. Can you explain why this is important to you?

Translation is an art form in its own right, and should be given more recognition as such. That’s one of the reasons why we choose to give our translators (and editors) prominence in our titles: their names appear on the cover alongside the author and their bios appear on the flaps. Without translators, Charco simply could not exist. They are the artists making the change possible.


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