Indies Elsewhere is a series of profiles on small, independent publishers from outside the US.
Laguna Libros is among Colombia’s independent publishers with the most international reach—its books have been translated into over fifteen languages. What started as a small publisher of art books has become a well-established press that has made a strong impact year after year, most recently via an English translation published by Penguin Random House in the US.
Laguna Libros began in 2009 as a project of Felipe Gonzáles who wanted to publish art books. While publishing art was a labor of love, it was also too narrow to be financially viable, leading to the team’s decision to briefly provide “editorial services”—namely, design and developmental editing for other institutions and brands. Soon after, the company pivoted again, focusing solely on publishing, but expanding beyond art books.
Gonzáles had always been passionate about history and art, and the house soon brought such a hybrid project to life. Bogotá zombie, Inspired by the assassination of the presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitán on April 9, 1948 which provoked massive riots in the city and led to a period of violence that lasted ten years, presents the fictional front pages for April 10 of five of the biggest newspapers of the era. In actuality, no newspapers were printed that day, as the city was still in a chaos. In these fictional newspapers we are told that instead of a violent attack on on democracy and the people of Colombia, what had actually happened was a zombie uprising. The articles speak of the theories behind the fictional incident and the way the government tried to manage it, but the reader is left with the suspicion that a complex cover-up is afoot.
Shortly after the publication of Bogotá zombie in 2012, Laguna Libros began trying to publish more fiction and nonfiction. In 2012, the house published Memorias por correspondencia by Emma Reyes. Memorias por correspondencia is an epistolary memoir; Emma Reyes—a Colombian artist and author—had sent a series of letters to fellow artist German Arciniegas in the 1960s describing her childhood, which was spent in a convent after she was orphaned. This collection of documents resulted in an emotional text: Reyes moves the reader with her honest descriptions of the harrowing conditions of the convent. The book was published to immense success. To this day Memorias por correspondencia has been translated to over half a dozen languages. Last month, Penguin Random House launched The Book of Emma Reyes, the English translation by Daniel Alarcón for the US market—one of the hardest markets for a non-US publisher to break into.
During the past ten years or so Colombia has seen a golden age of independent publishing. For an equally long time, Laguna has represented the country along with a cluster of independent publishers like Rey Naranjo and Tragaluz that are making a splash internationally with their vision and editorial taste. While it is still difficult for a smaller publisher to get noticed outside of Colombia, Laguna has the support of government grants that allow them to travel and present their ever-growing catalog to publishers abroad.
One of Laguna Libros’ recent bets is on new talent. Salomé Cohen, an editor at the publisher, explained that the house is working on getting young authors from across Latin America published in Colombia as well as getting Colombian authors published elsewhere—and the publisher has particular interest in highlighting the work by female authors like Fernanda Trías and Mariana Enríquez. To accomplish this goal, Laguna Libros has created a network of similar-minded publishing houses like Eterna Cadencia and Estruendomudo. The publisher has established itself both in the local and international publishing market by remaining nimble and smart. Its hard work and sense of curiosity of pushing the boundaries of what a publishing house can do make them successful in a tough market