If we are what we read, shouldn’t we ponder about our reading diet, how do we choose our authors, how do stories become our own? Recently, I’ve been wondering about books, about how they get to our hands, how do we choose them… or do they choose us? In the long process that starts with a voice and a story to tell, the editor becomes a key to the door to an author’s world. That is precisely why Pepitas de Calabaza, a Spanish grassroots editorial, is so important and to have the opportunity to glance into their worlds is nothing short than a gift.
Julian Lacalle, Pepita’s founder and publisher, visited Dallas to launch the Cruzando el Border series at The Wild Detectives, where for the next two months you will be able to sneak peak into their catalog through a hand picked selection of their books.
Pepita’s origins are quite unpretentious, in Julian’s words: “We are a humble endeavor, almost artisan…” He smiles and proceeds to tell the account of their beginnings. They started publishing fanzines for some social movements in Spain, voicing against the mandatory military service or the 500th anniversary of the Spanish Conquest, then they realized that “the language that was used was poor, almost doctrinaire and we believed that the same stories should be told with other language, visions, focusing more in the form, seeking more literary ways. We were absolutely naïve.”
“We had zero budget. We started making small books, and as they were sold we would look for another one, and so on. There were eighteen slow years. In the last seven years we’ve accomplished a lot. Now, we know how the industry works, and we have other tools. We grew organically, ” explains Julian. He admits they didn’t have a business plan or marketing goals; “we never had ambitious projects, and we maintain the same philosophy today.” Yet, there is nothing more ambitious than that.
Julian talks about those times and their books with the pride of a father. “It is our life, most of the authors are now our friends, they give us their best stories and we take care of them.” When I asked him to define their 150 book’s catalog, Julian simply smiles because he knows there is no answer. “You could try to divide it in three parts… books related to film, social criticism, and narratives but the lines would be too blurry, almost invisible.”
“We want to know what’s happening now in the first person.”
He is right, if you wander through the titles at first you won’t find connections, but deep there you can start to see some unspoken logic. Their books tell raw stories, whether is fiction or not, they have a deep sense of social awareness mixed with dark humor. Pepita’s seem to have a knack for finding difficult stories; they aren’t scared of publishing about risky matters or a controversial point of view, nor a first time author. “We don’t have a precise method to select our books. Of course publishing unknown authors is difficult… Las cosas fáciles, para otros” says Julian explaining that they are not interested in easy topics. “We want to know what’s happening now in the first person. Social critique through the eye of the “Testigo Incomodo” – the participant, the witness. We want the people that are involved in the different social struggles to tell us their stories. If we can access to a first hand account, that’s our priority whether is fiction or not. After all, the lines in between are very thin; some times what we call history is no more than fictionalization. For instance, this novel about the Punk movement in Perú and its relation with the Sendero Luminoso terrorists its visceral, authentic, raw, therefore it gives an accurate account of the moment.”
Julián is talking about Generación Cochebomba by Martín Roldán Ruiz, one of the books from their collection America Lee. “We are very invested in this project, we are focused in American writers from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. We want to publish young and new authors, first books, first hand testimonies of what is happening in the continent so we can build a narrative map.” They know this task might be difficult, but their mission is to raise interest amongst the Spanish reader. Spanish is such a rich language and Pepitas aims to keep the stories’ native flair.
“There is so much going on in this continent. Europe has a different reality, is more uptight, orderly… America on the other hand is electrified, violent sometimes; people are moving everywhere… great stories are bound to happen. We want to tell them.”
Julián is quite surprised and pleased about his Texas experience. “Everyone was so welcoming, people are interested and ask about Spanish Literature. It’s so great that the Wild Detectives want to highlight literature in Spanish, and it’s a bliss to be part of it.”
Here are a few of the books Julian brought with him to the Wild Detectives.
Amanece que no es poco by José Luis Cuerda is an emblematic book, it’s the original script of the movie the editorial gets its name from with extensive director commentaries. “It was a coincidence that we launched the book on the 25th anniversary of the movie. It’s been a fever about it; Valladolid’s film festival named it the most important Spanish film of the last 60 years. We’ve published almost all of his books.”
Diarios by Iñaki Uriarte stands on its own. It is a first time author, “a common friend gave us his manuscript, and we didn’t even know if he wanted to publish it. Iñaki is 65 years old, we have published all his works, with great reviews.”
Alpinismo bisexual y otros escritos de altura by Simon Elias. “Simon is our childhood friend and a well known mountaineer in Europe. This is a short stories collection of his ascensions and trips. It’s become a small best seller.”
De buen humor by Jose Santugini. “Santugini was a early XX century Spanish filmmaker. This is a collection of his short stories, very universal themes with a great sense of humor.”
Irse a Madrid by Manuel Jabois. “He is one of the most renowned Spanish journalists right now. This is a selection of his columns and chronicles.”
Dias felices en el infierno by Gyorgy Faludy. “It is an Amazing story that simbolizes the disaster of European history. Gyorgy is prosecuted first by the nazis and then the communists, and he tells it all with a great sense of humor.”
Pepitas de Calabaza might seem a quixotic enterprise, utopic even, but it is so refreshing and needed it. We can rest assured that while we go on our roundabouts, there is someone out there searching for stories, attracting and awakening witness and authors to tell the odd point of views. They edit books, not caring for profit or sales points, but they do much more to give a voice to the struggles, to spark a smile even in the darkest of times, to gives us the keys to complicated and raw worlds.