Handmade in Cuba: Rolando Estévez and the Beautiful Books of Ediciones Vigía

Book Cover: Somewhat abstract drawing of a woman with wings holding an oil lamp on a pale blue background

Handmade in Cuba: Rolando Estévez and the Beautiful Books of Ediciones Vigía (2020) edited by Ruth Behar, Juan María Cordones-Cook, and Kristin Schwain.

The Special Collections Research Center holds a large collection of works by Cuban book artist Rolando Estévez, including many books that he designed during his time with Ediciones Vigía and examples of those published under his own imprint, El Fortín, established in 2014. 

In 1985, poet Alfredo Zaldivar and Rolando Estévez began publishing flyers to promote literary and muscial events at La Casa del Escritor de Matanzas, and from these initial ephemeral publications, Ediciones Vigía grew. As artistic director for the press, Rolando Estévez designed over 500 books between 1985 and 2014. Each title was issued in a print run of 200 copies, some of which were allocated to designers, artisans, and libraries, while affordable copies were reserved for Cuban purchasers, ensuring that they remained locally accessible. In the early years, books were printed using mimeograph machines on brown kraft paper from butcher’s shops, and focused on young poets and writers of Matanzas. By the 1990s, they had expanded to publish works by many well-known and notable Cuban writers such as Cintio Vitier, Dulce María Loynaz, and Nancy Morejón. 

This month, the University of Florida Press is publishing a new book, Handmade in Cuba: Rolando Estévez and the Beautiful Books of Ediciones Vigía, edited by Ruth Behar, Juanamaria Cordones-Cook, and Kristin Schwain. This collection of stories, interviews, and essays by poets and scholars encompasses memoirs and personal stories of Rolando Estévez, studies of the economics and gift economy surrounding Ediciones Vigía’s books and magazines, and chapters forging connections between the artistry and design of Ediciones Vigía’s books and the political and economic history of Cuba in late 20th and early 21st century Cuba. Jacqueline Loss, author of Dreaming in Rusian: The Cuban Soviet Imaginary, notes that this collection places the books of Ediciones Vigía “into the context of the long and complex intellectual history of the city where they were made, Matanzas.” 

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Photographs of many books designed by Rolando Estévez can be seen in the 2014 online exhibit Intersections: Cultures, Identities, Narratives.

Handmade cover on brown recycled paper. Image shows a woman reading a book in a boat.
Cover of Barquitos del San Juan: La Revista de los Niños (Little Boats of San Juan: Children's Magazine) (Matanzas, Cuba: Ediciones Vigía, 1990).
wood and paper fan folding out from cover. The fan shows a garden, while the cover shows an oversized oil lamp on a checkered surface (table or floor?), with a view of the garden out a window in the background.
Cover of Miel imprevista (Unexpected reward) by Dulce María Loynaz (Matanzas, Cuba: Ediciones Vigía, 1997).
Cover with title in blue in English and Spanish, with a 3-d suitcase below, hanging open, containing a view of a beach and ocean, with real sea shells, a silver star of David, and two black and white photographs of the author.
Everything I kept (Todo lo que guardé) by Ruth Behar (Matanzas, Cuba: Ediciones Vigía, 2001).