In most Latin American bookstores, the volumes are not organized by subject matter, but by publisher. I learned this in my first visits to Mexico City bookstores as an undergraduate in the 1980s. In my favorite bookstore, the Liberia Gandhi, many shelves and walls were taken up by the orange spines of the books published by the Fondo de Cultura Económica.
This week, the literati of Mexico City are celebrating the 80th birthday of the Fondo de Cultura Económica. The beloved Latin American institution remains one of the most important publishing houses in the Spanish language.
The Fondo de Cultura Económica, or Fund for Economic Culture, was established in 1934 by officials at the economics school of Mexico’s national university. The idea was to make essential works available to Mexican college students. The FCE’s first book was an economics treatise, but the house soon took up the publication of a wide variety of books, including fiction and history. And it distributed those books throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
In the second half of the 20th century, “the books of the Fund opened the flow of universal knowledge to our countries,” the writer and journalist José Carreño Carlón told the Madrid newspaper El País.
Carlos Fuentes, Jorge Luis Borges and Octavio Paz were all published by the FCE, which retains a catalog with more than 6,000 books in print. Among the highlights of its history was the publication in 1955 of the first edition of the classic novel “Pedro Paramo,” by Juan Rulfo, and the first widely available version of the Mayan creation story, “Popol Vuh,” published in 1947.
FCE was also the first publisher of Octavio Paz’s “The Labyrinth of Solitude,” in 1959. And FCE publishes countless classic works of world literature in translation.
On Wednesday, the publishing house began a series of lectures and public events in Mexico City and launched a book festival. Among the writers present at the opening Wednesday were Juan Villoro of Mexico, the Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez, the Cuban writer Arturo Arango and Ricardo Piglia of Argentina.
“The catalog of the Fondo is the history of a community,” Villoro said at the event that opened the festival.
The Fondo de Cultura Economica is an independent entity funded by the Mexican government. It also operates 25 bookstores in Mexico, and has offices in Spain, in several Latin America countries and in the United States.
Tobar tweets about topics literary as @TobarWriter