According to Olga Marta Pérez, 2016 National Editing Prize winner, in her profession you never stop learning, “because every book is like a person, each one is different.”
The prize is well deserved given that Pérez is one of Cuba’s most celebrated editors. She began as a copy editor for Editorial Gente Nueva in 1980, where she worked for over nine years. According to Pérez, Gente Nueva is where she learned the fundamentals of her craft, publishing children’s books about science, history and literature, later assuming the role of director of Unión Publishing, which she maintains to date.
In the beautiful gardens of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), located in the Havana neighborhood of Vedado, Olga Marta takes a brief moment to speak with Granma International about the Prize and clarify some information offered in a prior press conference regarding the participation of her publishing house in the upcoming Havana International Book Fair (February 11-21).
What does Unión represent for you?
It’s a different kind of school, looking at what Cuban writers – my colleagues – are doing, to which, in this case, I play judge and party, and it is from here that we defend contemporary Cuban literature, this living literature.”
What does the Prize mean to you?
I was overjoyedbecause editing can be a rather thankless job. It’s an award for my daily efforts, for my continual learning process.”
What qualities should an editor possess?
Firstly, be daring, go and look for books, commission them, realize what the writer is doing with a line of poetry or of a novel, encourage them, have a good nose. Take risks, that is something editors must do. Editors are important cultural figures within society; our work is a way of promoting culture. Studying the topic of reading, the role of literature, how works will be received by adult and young readers. Editors also have to be aware of what is unsuccessful. This is our job.
Tell us about the author-editor relationship…
Professional pride means thatbothwork to create the best possible book. The relationship should be relatively smooth, it all depends. At Unión we don’t alter the texts much, we work with great writers; our way of operating is different from that of other publishing houses because we work with an elite group of writers, members of the UNEAC Writers Association. We have an extensive catalog; we publish all types of works, as well as plays, historical and literary essays. We cover all themes and genres.”
How much consideration do you give to readers’ tastes?
It’s a publishing house which focuses on the author. We know how readers behave. You must understand that Unión thinks about the author, and later how best to include his or her works in different collections, effective promotion, provide information about the author’s life. You have to reach the reader, if not, we fail. From the very beginning Unión’s collections have been organized with authors in mind; this is why we have categories such as the Manjuarí Collection, for novels, then came Bolsilibros Unión and later Contemporáneos. We also have Órbitas, composed ofthe selected author’s main texts which feature research or a critical study. We are currently working on texts by Dulce María Loynaz”.
You are a children’s writer…
I decided to write for children many years ago. I like that particular way of looking at life, things, plants, the surprise of a new discovery. I enjoy making such things visible to people in this stage of life, of childhood. I also think that I have more to say to them than I do to adults.”
In addition to Tres dientes de leche, Cuentos de la maga and Papatillo y Mamá gorda which will all be presented at the Fair, what else are you currently working on?
Pequeñas biografias para mi a book which I have finished but is yet to be published. These are more than just simple characters, they are based on real life and I have written a biography for a water jug, because no one knows how important water jugs are to Cuban culinary culture. If I can bring some attention to these everyday objects, I would be very happy. I have a lot of fun writing for children.
Ediciones Unión has published some important works this year. Any new materials for the Book Fair?
UNEAC will once again act as a secondary venue, however, this year the layout of the book stands in the Cabaña fortress will be changing, the big publishing houses will have tents, while there will also be other smaller outlets. We will be there selling works at our own stand and here at our headquarters in Vedado. We have large books, the anthologies, which include a good number of writers, 19 new titles in total.”
Among books to look out for in February will be Hacer y deshacer el amor, an anthology of 14 short stories by seven authors (Leonardo Padura, Senel Paz, Arturo Arango, Francisco López. Reinaldo Montero, Miguel Mejides, Luis M García). “A gem. The theme is very appealing; it will definitely be a hit with readers. The Short story genre is a favorite of Cuban readers while the subject of love provides added appeal. These are writers of proven skill and quality,” notes Pérez.
Among the anthologies which are sure to be well received are Retrato ovalado, assembledby Soleida Ríos, with works by 34 authors: “A mix of genres and writing styles and techniques. It’s a charming amalgamation featuring short stories, poems and even an email,” Los nuevos caníbales, Antología del microcuento del Caribe hispano, and Lejos de la casa marina, an anthology of poems by Octavio Smith.
Scheduled to be presented in theMartínez Villena Hall Diálogo con mi sombra, by globally renowned author Pedro Juan Gutiérrez will no doubt be a great success. According to Alex Pausides, president of the UNEAC Writers Association, “This book somewhat compels literature toward newer, less trodden paths. It’s a self-reflection, a personal interview, revealing the author’s creative process, his environment, topics, opinion on literature, language, history, it’s a very appealing book.”
Meanwhile, two interesting titles to chose from will be La cinta métrica, a novel by Efraín Rodríguez Santana, “also a self-reflective work, exploring the life of the author,” while multi-award winning novelist Emerio Medina continues to examine human behavior in his collection of short stories entitled Los barcos terminados.
Unión is presenting a variety of works on different themes, such as a reprint of Cubanos en la música, by Mayra Martínez, while Papeles de Libertad, una odisea atlantica en la era de la emancipación, by Rebecca Scott, “a research project born in Cuban archives but which also has to do with the Caribbean region, New Orleans and Haiti,” will be presented at the Casa de las Américas.
Ediciones Unión and its director, Olga Marta Pérez, have good reason to celebrate at this year’s International Book Fair: excellent works and a well-deserved National Editing Prize.