Expanding rhizomes: cartoneras unlocking voices this side of the Atlantic

In their article Latin American politics underground: Networks, rhizomes and resistance in cartonera publishing1, Lucy Bell and Patrick O’Hare (two of the researchers leading the two-year AHRC funded cartonera project ) use Deleuze’s, Guattari’s and (one of the Argentinian cartonera precursors) Javier Barilaro’s theories on rhizomes to explain the course by which, since their beginning in the early 2000s, cartonera publishing networks developed and multiplied (to around 250 currently) across Latin America, forming underground horizontal alliances in similarly fertile social and cultural soils. 

The last cartonera book kindly donated to the University Library, shows how one of these rhizomes has come to enrich the UK’s publishing landscape. Unlocked (see images above), is the first UK publication that reproduces some of the intrinsic creative and social processes that characterise cartonera production (collectively and/or collaboratively creating hand-painted book covers with recycled cardboard). It is also a deeply moving book coming from an environment of exclusion and violence. It contains the writings (poems, rap, micro-fiction, biographical snapshots) of 17 male prisoners from HM Prison Nottingham who participated in 5 creative writing sessions in 2019 in the context of the Prisoner Publishing project. In it we find the raw, painful, unbarred words of men that crave for the freedom and human connections they have lost. The prisoners have hand-painted covers and bound their own books. 

The imprisoned men’s writings and experiences resonated with those of female prisoners across the ocean. In fact, the workshop replicated those that the same project carried out in Mexico’s Puente Grande females’ prison (the second largest in the country) in collaboration with the cartonera publishers La Rueda Cartonera, Viento Cartonero (both present in our catalogue) and with the Hermanas en la Sombra (Sisters in the Shadow) publishing collective. You can watch a poignant BBC short documentary about how poetry taught them “to live in freedom inside the prison” here (available for five months from now). 

The current pandemic situation and the ensuing delays in the Library’s workflows mean that the book cannot be made available for readers just yet. In the meantime, please, do get in contact with us (hispanic@lib.cam.ac.uk) should you wish to know more about the publication or discuss options for its consultation.  

Clara Panozzo

1-International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 23, 1: pp. 20-41. 

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