Xosé Ballesteres, Editor-in-Chief of Kalandraka Publishing remembers a distinguished figure in the Spanish literary world: Teresa Mlawer, the American publisher of Galician ancestry.
On April 22, 2019, Maria F. Blanco announced from New York City the closing of El Banco de Papel, the last bookstore specialized in Spanish books in Queens. Headed by the Cuban Ranón Caraballo, paying respects to the poet Nicolás Guillén by his trade name. Years before, La Casa Azul had closed down in Harlem. In 2007, Macondo and Lectorum Stores had also closed. It seemed that Spanish bookstores did not have a place in New York City. But the closing of these stores were not the only cases. The reality was the boom in Internet sales and the explosion Amazon was having on book stores. Lectorum, however, was able to re-invent itself and went from being a reference bookstore to become the main distributor of Spanish books in the U.S. From the start of this ambitious project was Teresa Mlawer, who died a few days ago, victim of cancer. Teresa was one of the great women of the Spanish book industry: book seller, promoter of children and young adult books, distributor, and translator. She made it possible for the Spanish illustrated album and the best LIJ to reach every corner of the United States.
She defined herself as “a lover of books” and wanted to reach “the heart of boys and girls” with literature. She reclaimed her Latin status, “proud of who we are,” she declared, in a country that was not always opened to diversity. She opted to publish on paper “to make reading a tangible experience.” She brought up in an emotional interview, the influence her father had in her literary journey; it was he who told her tales and stories. Not reported in her official biography but told to us in confidence, was that she was born in Camposancos, in the municipality of A Garda (Galicia), Spain and had migrated to Cuba when she was very young. Years later, in 1962, she moved to the United States. Teresa had a very precise memory of her childhood: a girl riding a donkey. She only came back to her birth place to discover her homeland and origins.
In one of the many occasions we shared, Teresa told us, in the Cuban accent she never lost, that one of her favorite books was the story of Erika, the beautiful book by Ruth Vander Zee, illustrated by Roberto Innocenti. Perhaps this girl, whose parents threw her from a train on its way to a Nazi camp, made an impact on Teresa. Memory endures in books; memories and books can heal. Teresa Mlawer, along with her husband, Bill Mlawer, built and editorial project, Lectorum, which continues to be to these days, the key to the distribution of Spanish books in the United States.
When international trade shows are able to be celebrated again, and after this pandemic nightmare, hugs will also return. But we will miss Teresa’s kisses.