“Cartoneras” are cooperative, arts-based literacy and publishing programs that, in their brief span of existence, have engaged literature and art to promote civic agency in tackling problems rooted in urban poverty. Through the study of literature, the practice of bookmaking, and an engaged-research component, Memphis Cartonera is devoted to innovative uses of the humanities to address problems of disparity in disadvantaged urban communities.
This initiative engages Rhodes students in innovative uses of the humanities to address problems of disparity in disadvantaged urban communities. In particular, we focus on the study of the burgeoning “Cartonera” movement which are cooperative, arts-based literacy and publishing programs that, in their brief span of existence, have used literature and art to promote civic agency in tackling problems rooted in urban poverty. The movement’s genesis came in the wake of Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis, when young writers responded innovatively to the collapse of publishing by creating Argentina’s first cooperative publishing house, Eloísa Cartonera. The model was simple and effective: they bought recycled cardboard from downsized workers at fair prices; created a collection of short stories from prominent literary figures (who donated their copyrights), up-and-coming writers, and “cartonera” authors; and implemented a cooperative model of manufacturing (publishing) and distribution. This project revolutionized how we think about literature’s place in our lives, its model of production and sustainability, and its powerful potential to generate meaningful work for the dispossessed in times of crisis. Proof of the model’s success and influence: its replication across urban Latin America, Spain, and one city in the US.
Memphis Cartonera publishing house, our community-based publishing initiative, has provided students an experiential opportunity to engage academic learning reflectively towards forward-looking problem solving within a local community of practice. In the Spring of 2016, students in the course “Community and Literature in Hispanic Memphis and Latin America” learned about the cartonera movement, developed workshops to promote art and literacy in the city in collaboration with local counterparts, and worked in the launching of a Cartonera publisher in Memphis. These forums generated conversations and projects spearheaded by local artists and writers. In turn, partnerships offered the Memphis community a forum to conceptualize, develop, and implement innovative humanities initiatives to solve gaps in education and civic representation for local families. We worked alongside local partners as equal “cultural agents” in the promotion of civic engagement through literacy/art. Among them were Latino Memphis, Centro Cultural, Danza Azteca Quetzalcoatl, Caritas Village, Cazateatro Bilingual Theater Group, Refugee Empowerment Program, and the Overton Park Farmer’s Market.
After its creation, the Rhodes Fellowships program has continued supporting Memphis Cartonera and we received new that will do so for the next year. This Spring of 2017, we became part of the main exhibit at the Clough-Hanson Gallery in Rhodes College. “Memphis Cartonera: Cooperative Publishing, Art, and Action” has transformed Clough-Hanson Gallery into a Cartonera workshop, library, and showcase. We conducted workshops for Rhodes classes, local high-school groups, and non-profits, and shared the space with world-renowned Colombian artist Nelson Gutierrez and with a number of local artists working on art, social action, and the democratization of culture. In addition, we continue to develop partnerships with local organizations and with new cartonera publishing counterparts. Most recently, we began collaborating with cartoneras in Brazil and Cuba. Moreover, we have received invitations to share our expertise from libraries and library groups, as well as educational institutions such as Washington & Lee in Lexington, Virginia.
Our work is documented though two digital forums: a website
http://memphiscartonera.weebly.com/ and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Memphis-Cartonera-1693509454250014/
In the future, we plan to bring Memphis Cartonera to a diversity of public spaces by continuing the “Memphis Cartonera Little Library” initiative (started this Spring) and starting a new one focused on promoting literacy through public transportation in local buses (funding pending for both projects). We hope to present all our accomplishments at the 6th International Cartonera Publishers Conference in Santiago de Chile this Fall of 2017.
This project received the support of Mellon Faculty Innovation Fellowship Program, The Rhodes Fellowship Program, and the Buckman Center.
Director of Latin American Studies, Associate Professor of Spanish
Dr. Pettinaroli studies the literatures of the Early Modern Hispanic world in a comparative context, focusing on the elaboration of notions of space and place, and literary history.