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7Vientos on bilingual publishing

The Chicago-based collective promotes Latin-American lit.

illustration: Jamie DiVecchio Ramsay

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The Iguana Café, a low-lit European bistro just off the Grand Blue Line stop, is a significant place for 7Vientos. It’s there I interview Daniel Parra and Kolin Jordan, two of the seven members of the Chicago-based independent publishing collective (pronounced “siete vientos,” Spanish for “seven winds”).

“7Vientos actually came out of a kind of tragedy,” Parra says with a slight laugh. A few years ago, he and two other bilingual editors were laid off from a large Chicago publishing house. The company decided to cut costs by outsourcing work to Argentina and shutting down the entire bilingual department. “We got together here and talked about how we could resist the situation. We were unemployed and unable to do what we loved,” Parra tells me, taking a sip of his Grolsch. “So we decided to fight back and start our own project.”

Despite the desire to do something, they weren’t quite sure what. The group meeting up for beers was comprised of seven literary-minded people—two Colombians, two Venezuelans, one Romanian, one Mexican and one Chicagoan (Jordan). “We figured we’d do something with books or literature—maybe writers’ workshops,” Jordan says. “But the more we thought about it, given everyone’s different skills and backgrounds, it made sense to do a publishing company.”

Since 2010, 7Vientos has focused on promoting essential Latin-American literature. Their first book, funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign, was a bilingual “flip” version of the 1978 short story collection Llegaron los hippies (And the Hippies Came), by Puerto Rican author Manuel Abreu Adorno.

“We went nuts for this book and saw the necessity of exposing it to a wider audience—not just a Spanish-speaking one, but all over the world,” Parra says. One half of the book reprints the cult classic in Spanish; flip it over, and you get the text in English.

“The publication of bilingual books has diminished,” Parra says. “Bookstores think they won’t sell. We started calling it a ‘flip’ version, rather than a bilingual book, to [counteract] that stigma.”

7Vientos’ second book, also partially funded through Kickstarter, is Saturnalia (Saturnario), another story collection in the flip format. Released on March 2, it’s a contemporary work by Chicago-based Dominican author and performance artist Rey Emmanuel Andújar. Jordan, who grew up as a native English speaker but studied Spanish in college, translated the stories—a process requiring “creativity and a lot of improvisation. It’s a fine line—you want to be true to the author’s style and rhythm, but you also don’t want to do a verbatim translation.”

Parra and Jordan handle the day-to-day operations at 7Vientos but have other full-time jobs. Parra works in the University of Chicago Office of International Affairs, and Jordan for Legacy Marketing Partners. The other members—Ariana Drule, Olivia Liendo, Giovanni Matallana, Luis Alejandro Ordonez and Natalia Roncancio—hold down day jobs as well. “Someday I want this to be our full-time thing,” Jordan says.

For now the collective is sticking to Latin-American lit, but they’re exploring the possibility of translating writers from other languages—Romanian, for example, or Portuguese. “One of the main goals of 7Vientos is to promote diversity in the U.S., to expand literary platforms that aren’t so common here. We want to persuade people that translated works aren’t so bad,” Parra says.

Saturnalia readings are Thursday 14 and Friday 15.

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