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Cordel, crafts, cooking and Caribbean poets: Meet the Hispanic Reading Room Junior Fellows

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(The following is a guest post with Sara Kittleson, Liam Sims and Karla M. Roig Blay, Junior Fellows, Hispanic Reading Room in the Latin American, Caribbean and European Division.)

Woman standing in stairwell in front of painted murals.
Sara Kittleson at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) in Mexico City.

Sara Kittleson is originally from Salem, Oregon, and is currently in North Carolina studying for an MS in Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also has an MA in Latin American Studies from Tulane University.

What drew you to apply to the Junior Fellows program? Have you ever visited the Library in person?

As someone who wants to work with Latin American library collections, working with the Hispanic Reading Room staff in the Latin American, Caribbean, and European Division of the Library of Congress is a dream! The remote aspect of the job made it feasible for me to apply and I am so excited about the project that I’m working on. I’ve never visited the Library of Congress, but I hope to very soon!

Tell us a bit about your project and what you’ve learned or discovered thus far.

I am working with Junior Fellow Liam Sims to create a digital exhibit on the Library’s collections of cordel literature, a genre of mostly self-published chapbooks from the Brazilian Northeast that can be about anything from politics to UFOs to going down to Hell to dance with the devil. It’s a really rewarding project because the material is so great, but also because it focuses on Brazilian materials from an area outside of the major urban centers – Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo – so it feels important in terms of representation. The Library has some incredible items in its cordel collections and we’re working to make them digitally available. I’m so excited to be able to share the final product.

What do you plan to do with your free time this summer?

This summer I plan to eat peaches, visit my favorite local swimming hole, and work on some sewing projects. Last summer my plans were cancelled and I learned to sew clothes, so this year I’m hoping to make a few projects to show how much I’ve learned since then.

Tell us a fun fact about or a favorite place in your hometown (or the place you live now).

One of my favorite places in Durham, NC, where I live now, is a secondhand store with a huge selection of art supplies, fabric, craft materials, and interesting odds and ends. It’s a really affordable way to try out a craft or get creative and I wish everyone had access to a place like it.

Man smiling.
Liam Sims. Photograph by Alex Dorosin.

Liam Sims calls Washington, DC home, but he grew up abroad. Living in the U.K., Botswana and Turkey spurred his interest in studying foreign cultures. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in May with a BA in History and Political Science and with a Portuguese minor. His father’s family is from Brazil and his mother’s from Portugal, so he’s made a concerted effort over the past few years to learn the Portuguese language and more about Lusophone culture.

What drew you to apply to the Junior Fellows program? Have you ever visited the Library in person?

Unfortunately, I have not been to the Library in person, but I hope to go soon! I have had a longtime interest in libraries and archives so the opportunity to work in the largest and most prestigious library in the world was an opportunity I knew I had to take. I was drawn to many of the projects that sought to promote the accessibility of foreign-derived collections, something I have valued in my own research as a student of history.

Tell us a bit about your project and what you’ve learned or discovered thus far.

I am working on a StoryMap based around the Library’s Literatura de cordel collections with my peer Junior Fellow Sara Kittleson. Literatura de cordel is a form of popular poetry which originated in Brazil’s Northeast. Cordel refers to the string in which pamphlets decorated with woodblock prints would be hung from in marketplaces for sale. These pamphlets would be read aloud to entice potential customers, including those who may have lacked literacy. Today the cordel tradition continues in a dynamic online environment. Our project will focus on the self-publishing aspect of cordel and its evolving role in representing the often marginalized Northeastern culture of Brazil.

What do you plan to do in your free time this summer?

I spend most of my free time reading, cooking, listening to podcasts, hiking, and watching movies. I love to experiment with new cuisines and cooking styles, read about and watch films from foreign cultures, and keep up with current affairs around the world.

Tell us a fun fact about or a favorite place to visit in your hometown (or wherever you are living now).

I currently live in Pittsburgh, PA, which became known as the birthplace of Czechoslovakia after the signing of the Pittsburgh Agreement between the two nations in May 1918.

Woman standing in front of white wooden doors with Puerto Rican flag painted in gold.
Karla M. Roig Blay in front of a wooden door painted with a golden Puerto Rican flag in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Photograph by LaRayne Garza.

Karla M. Roig Blay was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and lived there until she was almost 21 years old. She began her undergraduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras campus, and then transferred in January 2018 to the University of Texas at Austin where she finished her BA in English and Museum Studies Certificate. Now she’s pursuing a Master of Science in Information Studies at UT’s iSchool.

What drew you to apply to the Junior Fellows program? Have you ever visited the Library in person?

I visited the Library of Congress during the summer of 2019 as an AFDIE fellow with the Association of Research Libraries. It was a great experience and I later learned of the Junior Fellows program. When the internship turned remote, I took it as an opportunity to apply for the program as it was more accessible to me in an online format. I have had academic library experience for the past three years working with the LLILAS Benson and the Perry Castañeda Library at UT Austin, and I wanted to branch out and learn more about other types of libraries and this internship has been the perfect way to do so.

Tell us a bit about your project and what you’ve learned or discovered thus far.

I’ll be working with the PALABRA Archive, creating a digital installation using ArcGIS StoryMaps focused on the recordings of Latin American women poets in the archive. I have been creating my dataset for the map and have discovered that there are only 80 recordings of Latin American women poets, which is about ten percent of the archive. I look forward to delving deeper into this subject and creating a narrative centered on a subsection of this dataset, particularly the women poets from the Caribbean region.

What do you like to do in your free time/any summer plans besides interning?

During my free time, I enjoy reading as many books from my local public library as I can get my hands on, as well as journaling and trying out different arts and crafts. My main plan this summer is to work on this internship and take time to enjoy my hobbies before the semester starts. I also plan to visit some friends and family later in the summer.

Tell us a fun fact about or a favorite place to visit in your hometown (or wherever you are living now).

I have many favorite places I love to visit back home in Puerto Rico. I only go once a year during Christmas, but I love going to the beach (I miss the ocean!), as well as to El Yunque National Rainforest which I always enjoy.

Learn more

  • Read about the history, politics, and society of Brazil in the Library’s digitized publication, Brazil: A Country Study.
  • Explore the American Folklife Center Collections related to Literatura de cordel.
  • Watch a webcast of the “Literatura de Cordel: Continuity and Change in Brazilian Popular Literature Symposium.”
  • Listen to recordings of writers from Spain, Portugal, Latin America, and the US Latinx community via the PALABRA Archive.
  • Find publications about Brazilian cordel, Caribbean writers, and much more in the Handbook of Latin American Studies.

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