Photo of Orianna Camejo

“I want to bring in new voices, give space to the new generation”

Interview with Orianna Camejo, editor of Lecturas de arraigo, based in Madrid, Spain

By Millie Browning and Judit Climent Torras

Where did you live in Venezuela before your migration?

In Caracas, Venezuela, the capital, I’m completely caraqueña.

Given that Caracas is a very hectic place, what was your experience living in that city?

Because it is the capital of Venezuela, also because everything was already pre-centralised, my life experience in Caracas is very different to the experience of other Venezuelans in other parts of the country. I was privileged obviously, I am very much in love with Caracas and very badly hurt by Caracas. This project has come from precisely that, since I cannot change the situation in Venezuela, I can at least build something that makes me believe that any kind of future, even a parallel one, could be realised in the city that I love so much. 

Why did you choose Spain? Because you had family there already, because you wanted to or simply because you could?

I chose Spain because my grandmother is from here, my mother has nationality, and so do I. But before coming here two years ago, I lived in Monterrey in Mexico for two years, because my boyfriend had been offered a job there. We lived in Monterrey for two years and we also decided to come here partly because we already had savings but also because over there an identity document as a migrant is extremely expensive, whereas here I don’t have to pay for an ID because we already have it. That’s why we came and also because, since 2014 during the protests in Venezuela, when I was in my third year of my degree, I had a dream of doing a diploma course in independent book publishing that I saw here and I said “Hey, I want to do that”. So I came to do it, I finished it and Lecturas de arraigo as a project came about thanks to that. 

Can you tell us a bit about your migration experience?

I don’t want to get long-winded. Obviously, my migration experience has been twofold and clearly, the first two years were extremely rough, very rough. Even so, there are a lot of different aspects because in Mexico people made me feel very welcome, even though Monterrey as a city and as a life experience is quite hostile. There, the Mexicans made me feel like family, I have a lot of friends who I still keep in touch with. When I arrived here, I had already gone through those initial stages of feeling unwelcome and they didn’t affect me so much. In any case, Madrid is also very pleasant but at the same time hostile in another way. All parts of the planet are like that… definitely. In my first two years as a migrant, I disconnected from everything I had been, what I had thought was my identity. I stopped reading. I didn’t read anything and remember, I have a degree in Literature (Philology) so for me this was… I felt very strange because I was completely disconnected from all of that. Coming here to Spain to study again for my diploma was like reconnecting which has been a bit therapeutic.  

You’ve said that Lecturas de arraigo emerged from this diploma, but were you involved in the publishing industry before leaving Venezuela or Monterrey itself, that is, before arriving in Spain? Did you have the idea in Venezuela or in Spain?

I had the idea before coming to Spain that I wanted to do it and my intention, from the beginning, was to create a publishing project. Obviously, my fear made me think about leaving it for later, later, later – and in Monterrey I wasn’t involved in any of that, I didn’t connect with culture at all. But in Caracas, when I graduated, I already had four years of work experience. I started in the second year of my degree, working, for the love of it, in a literary fanzine run by Isadoro Saturno, Domingo Michelli, Nelson Algomed. The magazine was quite playful, it was called Arepa. I was there for a year and a half, until the crisis began – well, it did not begin, the crisis deepened, so much so that those who had created the magazine had no way of financing it. So the project came to an end, and from then on I worked on a university magazine. I stopped working there because I became my own boss. After a year and a half, it was like “Well, the editors-in-chief left the country so now you are the editor-in-chief and you are 19 years old” and I was thinking… “Hey, I need to learn, I still have a lot to learn”. After that, I ended up at Efecto Cocuyo, which is a digital news medium, until I emigrated, so I also had some time as a journalist.

As a young woman who has emigrated, what was your attitude to the challenge of starting a business like a publishing house?

A lot of fear. A lot of fear and always a kind of drilling my head with the thought that I’m “not really capable of…”.  But what has happened when the Yo Te Creo movement started in Venezuela, which is the equivalent of #MeToo, is that there started to be a community of girls reporting abuse. This meant it was discovered that abuse was present at all levels and many of the perpetrators were also in the Venezuelan intellectual and literary sphere – professors who taught me at university. From this realisation, the girls who studied with me and I started to discuss this topic more and those weeks were quite challenging psychologically because it was like deconstructing many things from the past.

I realised that, in the way I was educated, even in my degree, I found myself confronted with this idea of the ‘promising young man’. A girl is only beautiful and then intelligent. If she is not beautiful, we don’t even think she is intelligent, and nothing else is said about girls who are beautiful and intelligent but the man is a promising young man in Venezuelan literature. So, that’s where I went digging.

At this stage of the game, now that I have already published the project, now that I have already published my first editorial product, I’ve already made that connection that I have to work on all of this. UBICUO arose precisely out of this need to demonstrate “I’m here!” because I hadn’t really worked in publishing in Venezuela. Anyway, a beautiful product came out of it.

Did you have someone to support you in Venezuela or in Spain, or both?

Financially, basically my family and my savings, otherwise there would be no Lecturas de arraigo, because, what I have to make very clear, what I considered or what is normally considered a publishing project in Venezuela has certain characteristics and here, in Spain, you have to add a bureaucratic, legal corset of expenses that basically makes the project unviable. I’m relying on my savings to get the project off the ground to give it a chance to break even. Apart from that, I’ve tried to build up a network of contacts to advise me because, again, I’ve never done any of this, even though I’ve consumed a lot of Venezuelan culture, I read it every day, but I haven’t been in the centre of it. During quarantine, I started doing layout courses with Faride Mereb, who is one of the great Venezuelan editorial designers. She lives in New York and I took several courses with her. Without her I wouldn’t have produced UBICUO, without her I wouldn’t have been able to understand InDesign. I have also been seeking advice from Isadoro Saturno. That has been the support.  

From what you have just said, Arraigo is a way of showing that we women are also capable and that we are here and that you don’t always have to be pretty, that you are not only good for being pretty. What political role do you consider your editorial efforts to have, considering that there was a time in Venezuela when publishers supported the government and if they stopped supporting it, they were dissidents? How do you see it? Do you consider it a priority to give a platform to women, to young people, to people who have migrated? Tell us about it.  

Almost since I was born – I am 27 years old, Chávez came to power when I was four years old – my life has been politicised, completely politicised. That has meant that our whole culture also has that lens, that we are not only politicised but polarised, and that’s the tricky issue, the ‘conchita de mango’ (mango rind) as we say. And this, my project, I don’t want to position it within a trend. There is no trend, there is a reality in Venezuela and that reality is undeniable, full stop.

My editorial effort is focused on bringing in new voices, giving space to the new generation because everything came down on us. Before Chavism everything was through the state and the publishing houses that were the most successful in Venezuela were so because of the state. As they were state-owned, our publishing structure wasn’t a market, it was simply an offer provided by the state. That is why, when Chavism arrived it all broke down and this publishing world disappeared.

The independent spaces were closed, so what we continue to consume now as contemporary Venezuelan literature, is a generation that is already mature, it’s a generation of writers aged 35 and upwards, and the consecrated ones are obviously who they are. But my intention is to attract a new vibe, a breath of fresh air. 

Do you think it is necessary to start a new canon of Venezuelan literature, to integrate it into the existing canon or simply to make a new one, another necessary branch that is politicised in the best sense of the word?

The canon will be defined in 20 years. I don’t want to say that the previous one doesn’t work – of course not – it’s just I want to broaden our experiences a little bit. Also, going back to what you asked me about the migrant…yes, Lecturas de arraigo is going publish migrant fictions but not exclusively. Lecturas de arraigo plays with this.

Lecturas de arraigo aims to rethink belonging, to play with it, beyond “I am Venezuelan in Venezuela and I don’t fit in or I do fit in or this is my new way of loving myself”. I also don’t want to differentiate between those who stayed and those who left, it’s just trying not to homogenise ourselves, but rather to enjoy our new diversity because with many staying in Venezuela and many others going to other countries, we have realised who we are, what Venezuelans are like, and we have begun to adopt many things from other places.

For example, I’ve taken a lot from Mexicans, from the Spanish. I have many friends who are now Chilean because they have been living in Chile for four years. It is a case of understanding that we are part of a world that we can cross and feed into.

Do you consider that what you have seen published in Venezuela has influenced your creative endeavour and your understanding of literature?

Yes, totally. I would also like to tell you a very personal anecdote. When I started studying a degree in literature, I was this girl who was reading books from other countries and I had the idea of writing my thesis on Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, In the first two years of my degree – in Venezuela, there are five – the content was very classical. I remember that during Hugo Chávez’s burial I had to read William Shakespeare. From the third year, the protests began. I couldn’t cope with this disconnection. From then on, I started to actively read Venezuelan literature. A little bit just to locate myself because I was born in a politicised and polarised era. It’s very difficult to really say this is my stance or this is my position because it was imposed on me anyway. I was what I heard from my parents, what I heard from many people, so understanding myself was complicated. From there, in 2014 I took a seminar with Michelle Roche – who has now been published by Anagrama – in which we thought about contemporary Venezuelan literature from the viewpoint of narratives of deterioration. The seminar started a week before the 2014 protests, and then classes were suspended, I don’t even remember how we continued that seminar but I remember that we continued it religiously every week, precisely to try to understand ourselves through literature. Venezuelan literature is very powerful, and it is very broad. The seed began to grow from there. Venezuelan literature is very powerful, very powerful, and many people don’t know about it. There are so many ways to connect with it and but people don’t. For example, in Venezuela very few people know about their own literature. There’s a lot to connect with, a lot, and that’s where this idea also began, the desire to really give all that literary effort the space it deserves.

Do you consider that this effort has allowed you to build on both what you have lived and what you want to see?

Yes, all this is also a bit of deconstruction, which is something we need a lot. To get rid of certain things that weigh us down or just to review what we can really move forward with. I am already finishing the first manuscript that is going to be published and, obviously, I am very afraid, as I mentioned before, but at the same time, because I feel that what we are doing broadens Venezuelan literature a little, changes the stereotypes. It’s a bit like putting everything in a blender and seeing what happens. 

Is the manuscript yours or are you editing it?  

I’m editing it. And that’s another thing, Lecturas de arraigo is not at all for publishing myself.

In terms of the creative process, what steps did you follow to create UBICUO? What criteria did you base it on? Do you consider that you moved away from the role of a traditional editor?

I joined the acquisition processes for both Lecturas de arraigo and UBICUO. I started on 22 October 2020. I launched the open call saying it was a double call. To this day, I still accept manuscripts. I launched the call on 22 October and it ended for UBICUO one month later, on 22 November. In that month, I received 35 responses, narrative and poetry, academic essays, manuscripts, opinion articles, lots of things. I didn’t expect that at all. Quite the opposite, I thought I was going to start small, that it was going to be hard to get the texts, and it didn’t happen like that. I’m doing this on my own, and the moment came when I was talking to a friend who is a poet there in Venezuela, Daniel Chacón, and I said to him, “Hey! I received 30 poems, where do I start?” and he said to me, “You need someone to advise you, you can’t choose everything yourself because otherwise you’ll get strung out”.

With UBICUO, I basically did everything, but without Daniel and Miguel Ortiz’s selection in poetry, and Federica Consalvi who helps me with the narrative, I wouldn’t have been able to carry out the project because it was so much work, I didn’t realise how much work it was. Even so, at the end of the call for UBICUO I had a lot of talent and I also had 18 manuscripts. 

An adventure indeed.

Yes and I didn’t expect it because when I launched the call I had 200 followers on Instagram but that obviously shows the need to open these spaces. Because it was word of mouth, many of my friends studied literature with me, I know the world of literature in Venezuela and word spread fast but, in any case, this shows that these spaces are needed and that they need to be tripled.

The people you’ve published in UBICUO, did they all come to you because of the call for submissions you made? Or are there any that – let’s say – you chose because you think they’re really worth it and you thought, OK, I know this person and I need to publish something of theirs because I think it goes with my project?

The only UBICUO texts I asked for were the two profiles of the Poeteca and the Museo del libro venezolano. Those were the only ones. Then, I was very scared of putting together the meeting point, this inventory of efforts, because it is in no way complete or exhaustive.

We loved that UBICUO is a very aesthetic idea, very sensorial, that comes from many different areas. You have the audios on Spotify and the illustrations. What was the process of choosing the illustration for a text or the text for an illustration? How did you meet the illustrators?

I already had the issue ready, I had all the written content in December 2020 and I proposed launching it by March 2021 at the latest. In December, I contacted the cover artist. He was someone we knew – not in person, he lives in Coruña at the moment and if I’m not mistaken, he lived in Santiago de Chile before. I was following him because I really liked his aesthetic. We started talking in January and it was like “Okay, I think I’m going to publish it by mid-February”. Until then we had nothing visual, the call was 100% for text.

Did an artist prepare illustrations specifically for this work?

Yes. And free of charge. Now that I’ve printed the bookwhatever comes from it is to pay the fees I owe everybody. It was complicated. For example, I received the illustration of the story ‘Un con todo’, on 26 March and I had already made it known that the issue was coming out on 28 March. I passed the story ‘Nómada y Virgen’ on to five artists, the first one is an illustrator and tattoo artist who also had several literary projects, José Miguel del Pozo, and I told him look, this story screams your name and he told me he was busy until April and I couldn’t wait that long. The good thing was that we got it all at the end. There has been no collaboration, that is, no illustrated intervention that the artist has not taken and adapted to their style, so I was also super happy, but that last week was hard. 

Your intention was for the illustrations not to accompany but to complement, wasn’t it?

Yes. For example, I showed the illustration for ‘Nómada y Virgen’ my family and all my aunts and my mum were like “Oh! That’s such a horrible picture” but it goes very well with the text, very well! It also goes with Andrés Pérez’s style, his photography is spectacular. 

Do you identify with or move away from the role of a traditional editor? 

I want to move away, let’s see how it works out for me. You always say you want to break everything, to do something new and eventually, you always end up going into certain channels, it’s natural. 

Has Venezuelan performance art influenced you? Would you say you have a style that is present in UBICUO and Lecturas de arraigo?

Now that you’re asking me, and looking back a bit the style is not mine, it seems more like my generation. The first event I covered for Arepa magazine was in a bookshop, Librería Alejandría, which is famous in Caracas. It was with a poet César Segovia, who does palindromes. What he did was to take a theme out of a fishbowl where they had put little pieces of paper with themes and then he made up a palindrome live. They had a projector, a computer and all this and it was this kind of creative movement there, a performance. Then, for the next issue, which was about kinetic art with Carlos Cruz Diez, the editors contacted people who did Tuki dance, which is a dance culture from the barrios. The presentation event was for them to go to the venue and dance Tuki, they even made some promotional videos dancing in front of Carlos Cruz Diez’s kinetic artworks. I think that’s a seed, our generation always did very guerrilla things.

Totally. Could you say it also arises out of necessity? 

Yes and a lack of spaces. A lack of spaces that have budgets for these things, a lack of opportunities that were already starting to reduce in Venezuela. 


This brings to mind a story. Books used to be presented with wine in Venezuela. It was like the christening of the book, wine was poured over it. In the end it became Guarapita, which is cane liquor, mixed with passion fruit juice and that’s it. It did the job.

You carried on regardless… 

Yes, exactly! 

What is your favourite part of UBICUO? The sound poems, the art, the stories?

My favourite part of UBICUO is that, when you take in the whole experience, the sound, illustrations, narrative, poems, the profiles, the inventory, it leaves a feeling of people trying to find themselves. Also when I put the whole issue together and saw what it was about and what this little monster had become, a way to manage grief. There is so much grief in UBICUO and it’s not only about that grief, but also how to understand oneself; the characters, what their desires are – I don’t know – it’s like that gap between wanting and having or desire and what you are or what you could be and what you are forced to be. It’s that knot that remains, that’s what I like the most. 

Has creating Lecturas de arraigo given you a new outlook on life? Is there any project that you feel Lecturas de arraigo can contribute to, not only on a political level, but in general?

I don’t want to say hope, because hope is something very general and at this point it doesn’t give much comfort. What I would like to achieve, or what I think is the open window for Arraigo, is to tackle all the issues that we have, all the issues that have marked us, all the bad or all the good, and enjoy it in literature. In other words, for Lecturas de arraigo to be a way to think about ourselves in the future, to have fun in that possible future. 

Years ago in Venezuela, they used the phrase “the possible Venezuela”, the possible country and it was like always being in a daydream, but Lecturas de arraigo is a bit more like bringing it down to Earth, bringing it down to what is happening, to who we are now.

Do you also intend to describe the present in a different way?

Yes, well, the first manuscript is called Desde la salvajada, by Alejandra Banca. She has a degree in Literature, from my class, but she has been living in Barcelona, if I’m not mistaken, for six years. This is her first book, she is a new author, and it’s sixteen stories that explore brutal themes but, even so, it leaves you feeling optimistic. It doesn’t leave you in despair, which is a common outcome with our literature. I’m not saying that’s bad, but we should try to look to the future.

Now that we are talking about this manuscript, about the writer and also about you, do you consider yourself as an heir or a product of a generation of Venezuelan poets and writers such as Ida Gramcko and Hanni Ossot?

Of course! Especially because when I was beginning to study literature, Faride Mereb began to publish all the archives of these poets through Letra Muerta. I don’t know if Hanni Ossot was the first, but in short, the archive featured poets who wrote between the 70s and the 90s and then were kind of forgotten because of the country’s situation. That’s where this compilation of archives began, which is obviously becoming more and more necessary.

Speaking of archives, do you think that Lecturas de Arriago can be an archive of this “possible world” and what you want it to be, not only in Venezuela itself, but specifically in Venezuelan literature?

Yes, I hope it can be in 20 years’ time. Clearly, regardless of what I publish, Lecturas de arraigo is going to be an overview of this period. I feel that Venezuelan literature had a publishing boom from 2012 to 2014, but it has also had a boom in themes, a boom in literary production, in authors, that’s very important. The issue of chavismo and the opposition is already getting old. We have to update those myths of identity that we have created for ourselves. While I would love to simply break them all, it’s not that easy.

Do you have any plans to write yourself?

Yes, I do. It’s not the only thing I’m doing, but I’m starting to work with Ricardo Ramírez Requena, who is the director of the Poeteca and is running autobiographical workshops. I’m doing this precisely because my mind is very active and when it’s doing a project it says, ‘Ah look, here’s three more projects’. I had the idea of writing creative non-fiction about childhood, about my childhood, which obviously is also going to be an overview of that time when everything wasn’t so bad. I have the first piece but there are many more to go.

Another question we had was about your formatting. You’ve made a very visual and aesthetic project. Is your aim to publish in the conventional way? Do you want to have all the books published in print or a part that is exclusive to the internet?

Yes, this was where I fought the hardest in the diploma. I started a project that, according to the director of my diploma, was destined to fail, well, he told me the project is beautiful, it is necessary, but it doesn’t sell. I disagree. According to the way things are done in Spain, basically I have to get married to a distributor and order a thousand copies, and they take care of the sale of e-books. All this and percentages, percentages, percentages. A lot of percentages but you keep 1% and that’s to pay the debts that are more than 1%. I want to make my own functional business structure. I have a market here in Spain of Venezuelan immigrants and Spaniards who may be interested in Venezuelan literature but, above all, I can connect with Venezuelans both within Venezuela and in other parts of the world. There are many readers too who are already more established wherever they are and they decide to buy the physical book, even paying for shipping from Spain to Argentina, from Spain to Chile, from Spain to somewhere else. Now I need to get distribution in Spain as well. That’s my dream, that’s the goal I want to achieve: to get distribution in Spain, that’s the basics.

Yes, absolutely. It is true that it can be complicated and even more so, as we spoke about before, as a young female migrant.

Yes, certainly. In fact, I was talking about this with a well-known producer here, another Venezuelan. I was telling her that in UBICUO I tried to achieve parity and she told me that true parity is when you produce a product that is 100% feminine and it is not catalogued as “women’s”. I have to aspire to that idea.

Yes, it’s also a little bit difficult, as a woman in the publishing business, to squeeze through all the obstacles.

For now it hasn’t been as uphill as I thought but I’m still not in the media, I still haven’t had that contact, that friction. We’ll see.

We have seen on Instagram and other networks that you have recently done an event, do you plan to do more? What do you think is the medium that gives you the best reach right now and is more open to a larger audience?

The event I did was like a presentation of the book. I did it in a very cosy café here in Madrid, called Masticar, it’s in Recoletos. It was an informal presentation. As we don’t have any writers who live in Madrid, we took advantage of the fact that we had the poems as sound and we played three of them, to make it seem as if they were there reciting their poetry. I’m now planning to do talks. Carla García Sánchez is coming, she is the writer of ‘La incondicionalidad del gummy bear’and lives in Asturias. Also Daniel Alexis Luis López, who is the writer of ‘Nomada y Virgin’, told me that if I was going to do a presentation or an event, to let him know in advance and he would ask for days off and come up to Madrid. So, I’m going to try to get the two of them to be here at the same time – and also virtually those who live in Caracas and Bogotá – and have a talk about the process with them.

What obstacles have you encountered in creating Lecturas de arraigo?

I’ve only been self-employed in Spain for four months, so I know that after a year something will go wrong. Legally, something is going to come about, something is going to break. Suddenly, the tax office will tell me, ‘You had to fill in this form’ or ‘Do this’ or ‘You had to go this way’. I don’t know. That’s a latent obstacle. On the other hand, I launched UBICUO and I was confident that at least I’m going to reach the Venezuelan media, they’re going to review it but it wasn’t like that. I sent the press release to one of the media that I would most like to reach, and they were very nice, they told me: “I love the project, congratulations, let us know when you’re going to release the first news and we’ll talk about how to support you”. And it’s like, “But look, I have this here, just out!”

Obviously, the big obstacle is also to reach the Spanish market, to get the Spanish to read us. It’s difficult, it’s very difficult because, if I remember correctly, in this country 9000 novels are published every year, which is ridiculous, and you need a lot of money to publish a book that in the end doesn’t even sell as much as you expected. There are a thousand obstacles. For example, right now in the editing process of this manuscript which is quite colloquial but I’m not going to translate it into neutral Spanish because we already have Fernanda Melchor, Mónica Ojeda, Lorena Salazar Masso who wrote Esta herida llena de peces (This Wound Full of Fish). We already have Latin American women telling their stories with their language, with their words, which shows you their epistemology. You really get to enter into their universe through their words. You don’t hear a Venezuelan say déjame coger el móvil [let me charge my phone, in very peninsular Spanish], that’s not going to happen. So that’s the obstacle, I’m preparing this manuscript with that in mind, to keep it true to itself, which might be a bit of a risky decision to make.

There is still a lot to be done. UBICUO is this hybrid issue, an anthology, because I wanted to do a special issue and people now think it’s a serialised magazine and it’s not. It’s registered as a book according to its ISBN. But a lot of people think that the publishing project is called Ubicuo or Oblicuo – there’s a lot of confusion around the name – so I have to do a lot of work on communication.

It is also worth commenting that, if I am not mistaken, this project has been a pandemic baby.

Yes, 100%.

Tell us then, how has the pandemic affected you? How have you seen the project? Maybe you have something positive to tell us since your own project has come out so beautifully?

I came up with the project because I’ve been in Spain for two years applying to every creative job I’ve seen and nobody wants to hire me at the moment, and coming out of quarantine I told myself:“If nobody hires me, I’m going to hire myself”. That was the driving force, that absurd phrase, and that was it.

I finished my diploma in June 2020 and the closing section was about what will become of this industry when the pandemic is over. Honestly, everyone was quite hopeful. The sector has obviously been affected and there are many things that have been lost, but particularly in Spain, everything has stayed afloat. It’s a very delicate balance, too delicate, especially here in Spain. But we’ll see.

Are you planning to translate your work and reach countries where Spanish is not spoken? Do you think it is necessary to provide this perspective to people who do not speak Spanish?

It’s something I’ve already discussed with the three authors I have at the moment. I would love to publish translations but I feel that it would be much more valuable to sell that manuscript to other publishers in other countries so they could do the translation. They already have their machinery, their niche, they would get much further than me translating. The idea is to find that connection with other publishers. The second manuscript already has an official translation that the author has already worked on because she is a translator herself. She lives in Edinburgh. She told me the translation is already done. Because I’m also going to be the agent for these three authors. When I get a publisher to buy the manuscript, the condition is that they use this English translation.

And to finish, where do you see yourself and your project in 5 years or in 10 years even?

The optimistic answer is in Venezuela, I’m one of those people. If in two years, I already have a catalogue with a collection of six books and three manuscripts in my suitcase, for me that’s going to be a tremendous achievement. I see myself there, I’m doing everything to be there.