#TranslatedLit Why Charco Press? by Samuel McDowell

For those not familiar with Charco Press, allow me to give a brief introduction.

Charco is an independent publisher based in Edinburgh, Scotland. We set out, in 2017, to bring extraordinary, contemporary literature from Latin America to English-speaking readers. There are so many talented and ground-breaking authors stemming from this part of the world that we, in the anglophone world, have simply been missing out on for decades. In a nutshell, we wanted to try and help close the gap.

A selection of Charco titles

People sometimes refer to Charco as a ‘niche’ publisher, presumably because we only focus on literature from Latin America. But we see things very, very differently.

This is a region with a combined population of around 650 million people – or one third greater again than the populations of the US and UK put together. It encompasses a myriad of indigenous peoples and languages, some civilizations and cultures long disappeared, and others struggling to maintain a presence in today’s world.  These are countries that have witnessed invasions, civil wars, political upheaval, revolution and counter-revolution at numerous points in their history. They have seen democracy come and go, and have been ruled by a full gamut of kings, military dictatorships and socialist governments. They have known times of plenty, and more than their fair share of times of hardship.

The geography ranges from the driest deserts to the wettest rainforests, and sweeps from tropical islands in the north, to vast mountain ranges and plains to its southern tip reaching icily towards the Antarctic.

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, translated by Fiona Mackintosh & Iona Macintyre, which was shortlisted for the 2020 International Booker Prize

What a huge pool of humanity, then—and indeed of human experience—from which to draw upon when searching for literary talent. ‘Niche’ does not seem appropriate.

As we were travelling and living in parts of Latin America, picking up on which authors were currently making a splash, we were constantly surprised to find they were not available in English. We are talking about established, international prize-winning authors.  Authors that have been widely translated—except into English. Why are we missing out on our shores? It is not that everyone MUST read these authors—but why should we not even be given the choice? And, more importantly, what was needed to bring about change?

This is where Charco begins. Our goal is to bring authors into English who have not yet been translated so as to give readers the opportunity to experience this vast array of styles of writing, to give them the choice. And, so far at least, we are seeing readers welcome these new voices with open arms. We are also achieving award recognition along the way, with two titles listed for the International Booker Prize, among many other awards and nominations received in our short life.

If you are reading this blog it will not be news to you how small a percentage of translated literature is consumed in the English-speaking world. The figure is normally quoted around the 4% mark here in the UK, and an even more paltry 3% in the US, as ironically signposted by the well-known Three Percent Blog out of Rochester. Compare this with our friends in Europe, where the figure is in the mid-teens. In Latin America, this percentage raises to the twenties.

Samuel McDowell, Co-Founder of Charco Press

The ‘niche’, then, really pertains to how insignificant a space on our shelves is made up of translated literature. But the signs are there that this is beginning to change. As readers are being given more keys to explore, they are choosing in greater numbers to unlock those doors previously closed to them. And we are here to do our part.

(Samuel McDowell is co-founder of Charco Press.)

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