Café Cortado: Bringing Writers Together
Café Cortado: Bringing Writers Together
O: Dr. Oswaldo Estrada
H: Excited chatter, the sipping of coffee and the turning of pages- these are the sounds of Epilogue Café on Franklin Street, but more specifically, the sounds of one of their regular events called Café Cortado. Café Cortado, founded by Professor Oswaldo Estrada of the Romance Studies department, is a bi-monthly event in Spanish where special guests from all around the country come together to read their poetry, novels, or essays while participants discuss and engage with these works. In todays episode, we will be listening to Dr. Estrada tell the story of Café Cortado, its mission, and it’s goals for the future.
“Prof. Owasldo Estrada speaking in Spanish”
H: While Café Cortado is now a lively occasion with a captive audience of listeners and guests, it wasn’t always like this. It originally started out as an informal way for professors at UNC Chapel Hill? to continue engaging with guest speakers and visitors from other universities around the country.
O: [00:00:18-00:01:27] So CAF was sort of an initiative that was born, I want to say, three plus years ago. And it all started because I have like many professors here on campus, have friends who are poets, writers of all sorts. And I wanted to give them the opportunity to share their creative work with others. So that’s where Café Corchado began. And at first it was sort of it had been happening for a while before it even became CAF. Corchado In the sense that I would have a professor from the University of Florida coming over to give a talk. But that professor also happened to be a poet, or that professor happened to be a fiction writer. So they would give the talk here in Die Hall or somewhere, you and see, and then we would have sort of another informal gathering at a local cafe, or we would have it at my house.
H: These informal meetings among colleagues and friends began to happen often enough to the point where Dr. Estrada took the initiative to make them official. This not only meant finding a more permanent home for these gatherings, but also an official name. He wanted to choose a name that would accurately reflect not only the origins of the event, but also its vision of collaboration and community.
O: [00:01:44-00:02:20] I like the idea of having something that was mixed, right? A cafe in Spanish is cafe con leche. No, it’s not. Masekela. And so this hybrid name was also conveying the idea that we are sort of a weird bunch here working together. We are academics, but also writers were here sharing work that’s not necessarily pure. That’s sort of, you know, in some sort of intermediate stage. So Cafe HURTADO became this literary gathering slash workshop.
H: While Dr. Estrada’s central mission has remained at the core of Café Cortado, the workshop itself has evolved in many ways since its conception. The event has seen slow and steady growth since the days of meeting at Dr. Estrada’s house. Something that started with? a couple of UNC professors and graduate students from the Spanish department began to grow into an event which attracted creative individuals from different walks of life.
O: [00:06:44-00:07:30] So at the beginning, it was a very small gathering. Maybe. I remember Professor Irene Gomez Castellano, who started this with me, and, you know, it would be me then a couple of other professors and maybe two or three students, graduate students. And then it started growing because people heard about it and they also wanted to share some of their creation. And then it started, you know, gradually growing over time. And then you then introduced me to other people, and then I met other people along the way who are also creating stuff. And now we always have a full house when we get together. So it’s it’s grown slowly over the past few years.
H: However, this is not the only way in which Café Cortado has been able to expand- Dr. Estrada’s commitment to diversity shines through his guest speakers, who come from a variety of different backgrounds, countries, and genres.
O: [00:11:03-00:11:41] I think, you know, it’s always a unique experience when you have a poet is different than when you have a fiction writer. But I truly love the variety, the diversity that we have. So what I can tell you is that if we have, for instance, a poet in January, I like to try to have a fiction writer for the following get together, or maybe somebody working on a novel on a different kind of manuscript in. So I like to have to offer that variety because not every genre will offer you the same experience, even though it can always be rewarding.
H: While there are many factors which contributed to the success of Café Cortado, part of its popularity stems from the fact that it provides something unique to the community . According to the Town of Carrboro website, approximately 15% of the population living in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, most of which primarily use Spanish in the home. By providing an opportunity for people from all walks of life to engage with each other over their mutual love for Spanish language literatures and cultures, Café Cortado serves to fill the need for events geared towards Spanish speaking communities.
O: [00:03:14-00:03:32] it’s mostly in Spanish. And that was the idea that there are several of these literary gatherings in English taking place all over the triangle area. But we didn’t have a gathering in Spanish, you know, at Tortola where we could get together and share our work in Spanish.
[00:05:27-00:06:18] the neat thing about Café Cataldo is that it’s not an academic event. So by having it off campus at Epilogue Cafe, we do have people from the community, from the extended UNC community. So you do have, of course, graduate students, some professors who are also writers, but you certainly have people who are retired and they just happen to live here in Chapel Hill, people who were academics, maybe, you know, ten, 15 years ago. And they still want to practice their Spanish, They want to participate. And that’s the neat thing, that you have a nice combination of people, a interested in in the language, in Spanish and literature and the culture that comes with the language and that makes it a unique event.
H: Given that Café Cortado offers a unique space for a diverse group of people to engage with each other, it has made its mark on Romance studies. It has served to make literature more accessible to students, and it provides a different way for students to use and practice spanish. Through these authentic opportunities to engage with authors, faculty, community members and other UNC students, Café Cortado develops a stronger sense of community both within the department and with the local community more broadly.
O: [00:08:14-00:09:35] as a literature professor here, of course, I’m always discussing literature with my students, with my undergraduate students in English and Spanish, with my graduate students and the seminars and so on. But I think that doing something like this makes it real alive, you know, being able to to read a text that represents me in my community and that showing others that literature is not dead, that it’s happening now, even as we’re speaking, that has been so essential, you know, and also to, you know, so many people are afraid of literature. You know, these days it’s like, oh, it’s sacred ground. But when you see that, you have normal people like myself and Professor Eugenio Gomez Castellanos or other writers involved in Cafe Cataldo and thinking of local writers such as Benito Diego or Luis Correa Diaz, who’s coming from Georgia, you know, you’re less afraid of literature and you see that it is approachable, that you can relate to it, that you can find, you know, a part of yourself in it. And that’s what I love about it, you know, just making it down to earth and very accessible.
O: [00:09:43-00:10:03] I think it creates a sense of community in the sense that besides all of the activities that you might have, the academic activities, the graduate seminars, I know the Graduate Association is also very involved in several activities. You have this extra stuff that. Just or mainly for those who speak Spanish.
H: While Café Cortado creates a tight-knit sense of community on a departmental and local level, it also pushes beyond Chapel Hill to develop deeper connections with authors from other regions, states and countries.
O: [00:10:04-00:10:39] it’s nice to be able to get together with native speakers of the language, writers from Colombia, from Mexico, and also to get to know people not just from Chapel Hill or Carrboro. I’m thinking, for instance, a writer, Veronica LaRose, who teaches at UNC Greensboro. She’s a poet and also participates regularly. It’s nice to know that, yes, we have a tight community and you know, we are good friends, but also the extended community beyond Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
H: It is clear that Café Cortado is a successful event, but this hasn’t stopped Dr. Estrada from considering new ways to expand on what he has already achieved. When looking towards the future, he expressed interest in finding ways to bring in even more speakers from both inside and outside the United States and potentially finding more sources of funding for the Café Cortado events.
O: [00:11:56-00:12:31] I don’t know if I’m capable of doing this, but it would be nice to to raise funds in order to bring every now and then, say once a semester a special writer, a speaker from elsewhere. As of now, we don’t have that kind of funding, but it would be nice to raise money collectively to bring, I don’t know, a writer from New York, for instance, or to bring a writer from a different part who Latin American writer who lives here in the US. That would be really meaningful, and I have been able to do so to a certain extent.
O: [00:12:59-00:13:14] It’s been a wonderful experience and I hope that more people come to our Cafe HURTADO and support this local event that has great ambitions. And hopefully it’ll grow to something even bigger in the future.
H: With these inspiring words from Dr. Estrada, we conclude todays episode. Here in Romance studies, our goal is to create meaningful opportunities for students, professors, and members of the community to engage with Romance languages, literatures and cultures. Through his hard work and dedication, Dr. Estrada continues to demonstrate the department’s commitment to diversity, authenticity, and creating such opportunities for students and the community alike. Don’t forget to pass by Epilogue in Chapel Hill one Friday night to take a deep breath from your exhausting week, where the warm embrace of coffee and Spanish poetry welcome you. The door of Café Cortado is always open.
This episode was written and produced by Caro Register, one of our graduate student from the program in Romance Studies, editing by faculty member Paola Cadena and graduate student Jeonghwan Kim.Music was done by Mike Forristell, with additional audios recorded by Paola and Caro at the Café Cortado event. Don’t forget to follow us on Spotify, Apple podcast, Google podcast, or your preferred app maybe, that way you will know when our second episode is released. Adios, Chao, Au revior, adeus, and we will see you next time