When Argentina’s economy collapsed in 2001, thousands of people were forced out of work. Some made a meager living by scavenging for scraps of cardboard and paper, which could be sold to recyclers. The scavengers became known as “cartoneros” or the cardboard people. Early in 2003, a group of artists and writers came together to figure out a way to help the cartoneros earn a better wage or find them a more regular employment. From these dreams, the alternative publishing house of Eloísa Cartonera was born.
The seven-person publishing collective includes writer Santiago Vega (who publishes under the name Washington Cucurto) and the visual artist Javier Barilaro. Their small office space in Buenos Aires’ La Boca district is donated by Fernando Laguna, another artist and financial partner. Eloísa Cartonera buys the cardboard at $1.50 a kilo when the market price is $0.30, and uses the material to create unique covers for a series of books, which they sell to finance the purchase of more cardboard. Some cartoneros are also employed to help print the texts and paint the covers.
The books include the work of prominent Argentine authors such as Ricardo Piglia, César Aira, and Rodolfo Enrique. Princeton already owns around 100 titles, ranging from fiction to poetry to comics, and continues to collect thanks to the insight of Latin-American bibliographer Fernando Acosta-Rodriguez. Eloísa Cartonera now has their own website: http://www.eloisacartonera.com.ar/eloisa/home.html and has established similar projects in Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil, where it is called Dulcinéia Catadora.