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Laberinto Press: Bringing ESL Voices to Canadian Publishing

Posted on: March 16 2022

Writers from all over the world call Canada home, but once in Canada, they don’t always get the opportunity to become published writers—not if English is their second language.

One of those writers is Luciana Erregue-Sacchi, a Canadian-Argentinian editor, writer—and now publisher—who like many hyphenated Canadians, rarely saw or heard underrepresented ESL voices in Canada’s largely anglo-centric publishing industry. In 2020 she changed that, launching Laberinto Press—Western Canada’s first press to publish writers whose first language is not English, and world literature in translation. Its mandate? Produce literature by culturally diverse writers that do not pander to tokenism, but touch on the true diversity, multiplicity, and complexity of the human experience. As Errugue-Sacchi explains, that mandate extends to every detail of the press, including its name.

“Laberinto is the Spanish word for labyrinth, one of the main literary tropes of Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, who writes about intersecting and diverging stories and lives in his short story “The Garden of Forking Paths.” As a child, I was also fascinated with the story of the Minotaur, and as a young immigrant, that idea of losing and finding yourself resonated with me,” says Erregue-Sacchi. “Laberinto Press is the synthesis of those converging and diverging stories we tell each other. It is a site of encounters and experiences.”

Thanks in part to a cultural diversity grant from the Edmonton Arts Council (EAC), Erregue-Sacchi was able to actualize her editorial mandate by publishing Beyond the Food Court: An Anthology of Literary Cuisines. As Erregue-Sacchi explains, discovering the EAC’s grant allowed her to do much more than publish her first book.

“It was a perfect convergence of what I wanted to create and the avenues to pursue that project,” says Erregue-Sacchi. “I came across the grant just browsing their website, and it has been a life-changing investment. I managed to create not just an anthology with 14 local authors, I got to hire local editors, designers, pay for the printing, the marketing materials, and get started with my press, which has already produced its second book. Most importantly, it gave me a huge sense of accomplishment and, probably, I am still unable to see the actual ramifications of this. That is to say, grants do a lot more than support a particular project—grants are a massive vote of confidence for artists, cultural workers, and the communities they represent and serve.”

Laberinto’s second publication, Beyond the Gallery, continues the anthology series, this time featuring a broad range of writings on visual culture by Spanish-speaking writers, artists, and cultural workers. Though Erregue-Sacchi happily admits that anthologies are one of her favourite genres, her decision to publish them as Laberinto’s first two books was as practical as it was personally gratifying.

“I really wanted to showcase as many of our writers as possible,” says Erregue-Sacchi. “I wanted people to focus on the deep value of diverse narratives and the power of brief stories to create conversation. In my case, I decided I wanted to tackle two senses: taste (Beyond the Food Court) and sight-non-sight (Beyond the Gallery), and showcase wildly different stories from writers who live here in Canada. I want to demystify difference by engaging with it.

Creating spaces that don’t yet exist is an all-too-common necessity for the BIPOC community, but if you’re lucky enough to chat with Erregue-Sacchi, you’ll discover that the deliberate joy in what she brings to publishing is as intentional as her editorial mandate. But as grateful as she is for the support she’s received, the realities of carving out a space for Laberinto Press in Canadian publishing has been exhausting to navigate.

“As much as I want to thank local festival organizers, independent bookstores, distributors, and granting bodies in the province who believe in diversifying the publishing industry, there is still lots to be done,” says Erregue-Sacchi, adding that “agencies like the Canadian Book Fund do not fund emerging BIPOC publishers like myself, instead prioritizing ‘diverse’ books by established presses who have earnings of above $50,000. Likewise, The Canada Council has funding schemes for publishers, but as Erregue-Sacchi points out, “it’s rarely for publishers at the earliest, shall we say, embryonic stages of their business life.”

The logistical gymnastics don’t end there. “Funding bodies mostly require that the applicants be non-profit organizations or loose groups of collaborators, rather than businesses that, ultimately, support BIPOC artists,” notes Erregue-Sacchi. “Sometimes other bodies request that a publisher fulfills a certain annual quota of titles produced or does not self-publish in order to fully join, when the reality is that self-publishing sometimes is the only option for new underrepresented authors. Other times, certain book awards make sales figures or marketing efforts a determinant factor in awarding prizes, a feat for presses like mine. It is quite the Twilight Zone from this perspective.”

Despite all the hurdles, Laberinto Press, Erregue-Sacchi, and the 22 hyphenated Canadian writers she’s published are slowly shifting the structures of Western narratives—starting right here in Edmonton. It’s a shift Erregue-Sacchi hopes will continue to help shape the answer to “What is Edmonton culture?”

“I hope Laberinto continues to show that difference is experiential, deeply personal, and has value beyond the stereotypical. I want us, as a community, to focus more on the diversity of lived experiences. Someone who writes about their homeland is still an Edmontonian, or an Albertan. It is a ‘very Edmonton’ thing to be a creator from somewhere else. I want Edmonton culture to be a breathing, living organism formed by ever-changing humans, institutions, and groups.”

About Luciana Erregue-Sacchi

Luciana Erregue is an Argentinian-Canadian publisher, writer, and cultural worker. She is the founder of Laberinto Press, a Banff Centre Literary Arts Program alumni, and maintains her blog SpectatorCurator where she muses about art and life in AMISKWACIWÂSKAHIKAN (ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ ).

 

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