Charco Press was founded in 2017 in Edinburgh, Scotland, initially publishing books in translation from Latin America. The word charco means puddle in Spanish, and in some Latin American countries it is used colloquially to refer to the Atlantic Ocean, with “cruzar el charco” (“crossing the puddle”) used to refer to someone who is going overseas or traveling between continents. The company’s initial list focused on books from Argentina.
Now, five years later, the firm has garnered three International Booker Prize nominations and has expanded its scope. It is publishing original work in Spanish, as well as English translations of that work, and English-language originals. The English-language Untranslated series includes new books such as Homesick, a coming-of-age novel by Jennifer Croft, who is best known as the translator of Polish Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk.
We spoke with cofounder Samuel McDowell, on behalf of himself and fellow cofounder Carolina Orloff, about the latest developments at the press.
What books are you reading right now?
We always read many books at the same time! Carolina, our editorial director, can often be found rereading our upcoming books ahead of their publication—right now that includes Claudia Piñeiro’s A Little Luck and Ana Paula Maia’s Of Cattle and Men. We are also reading Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat for fun—she grew up right here in Bruntsfield, Edinburgh, where Charco is based—and Virginia Woolf’s On Liberty because it’s so good. Finally, Carolina is also reading an upcoming translation project, Jorge Consiglio’s Sodium.
What’s one of your favorite books that most people don’t know?
Final Exam, one of Julio Cortázar’s first novels, written in 1939 but published posthumously.
What’s a big book you read recently that surprised you?
Violent Phenomena: 21 Essays on Translation, edited by Kavita Bhanot and Jeremy Tiang, surprised me in the best possible way. It is a thought-provoking, highly political book that makes you think about translation, literature, and our roles in society in renewed, critical ways.
What book, or books, made you want to be a publisher?
Most books that inspired Carolina as a teenager growing up in Argentina, and then as an adult studying Latin American literature and translation, inspired her to want to become a publisher in the English-speaking world, because they did not exist in translation. For me, there was a series of books that I came across while traveling in Latin America that proved a challenge to my Spanish skills. Finding they were not published in English opened my eyes to how much anglophone readers are missing out on. One title that has stuck with me to this day is The President’s Room by Ricardo Romero—one I completed in Spanish. It was one of the first books Charco published.
How has the business of publishing in translation changed over the course of your time in publishing?
We are only just approaching our fifth birthday, and even in that short time we have witnessed huge changes. A lot of these are common to all publishing—the effects of the pandemic, supply chain issues, rising costs, and so forth. Specific to publishing translated works, there is a lot more attention being given to translators now, and the important role they play. This is something which we have championed since starting, so it is rewarding to see this trend emerge.
Your books are a hot commodity in the U.S., where you are distributed, even though you don’t have an American publishing arm. Why do you think Charco struck such a chord with the small press community there?
We have been blown away at the reception Charco has received in the U.S. There has been immediate interest in what we are doing—exciting authors, slightly edgy publishing and a stand-out aesthetic have all helped. Combined with our focus on contemporary Latin American literature, we stand out, we are bold. And I think this has caught people’s attention.
What are some trends to watch out for in international literature?
For many years, international literature has been somewhat overlooked, but it feels like we might be approaching a turning point. We are starting to see translation emerge from the shadows and find new audiences, and as those new readers dip their toes in they realize there is a whole other world out there to explore. This change has been driven by determined, passionate publishing by a small but rapidly growing group of independent publishers. We hope to see more of this—as more readers lean into international literature, new publishers will continue to join our ranks, and existing publishers will start to take on translation, and so the readership will continue to grow. It is exciting!
Which Spanish-language writer would you pick to win the Nobel Prize in Literature next?
We would love to see legendary Uruguayan poet and author Ida Vitale receive this honor. Her body of work is extraordinary, and has rightly been recognized around the globe with the most prestigious prizes. She deserves to add this prize to that list. Plus, it has been over 30 years since a Latin American author won.