Although they won't always admit it, Peruvians enjoy being underestimated.
"Do you realize that -- after Haiti -- Peru has the lowest literacy rate in all of Latin America? Who would have thought that the most exciting literary magazine to come out of South America would be from Lima and not somewhere like Buenos Aires or Santiago?" asks Daniel Titinger, an editor and writer with the sleek New Yorker-esque nonfiction magazine Etiqueta Negra.
The smile in Titinger's voice suggests he knows exactly who expected Etiqueta Negra to put Peru on the literary map.
Founded four years and 33 issues ago by two brothers born in a remote part of the Andes Mountains who had no experience in publishing or journalism, Etiqueta Negra has grown from an idea "that probably wouldn't make it in a place like Peru" to a circulation of 11,000. The magazine is available in the United States only via pricey special-order subscriptions (www.etiquetanegra.com.pe), but it is read across the Americas -- from Argentina to Canada. While plans are in the works to distribute the magazine more widely around the world, annual online subscriptions (PDF files) will soon be available for $30.
"We consider ourselves a magazine for the distracted," Titinger says. "Our readers are high school students, university professors, retirees, depressed divorced women -- anybody attracted to stories from a backward world."
Literally translated "Black Label," the name Etiqueta Negra was chosen to conjure up images of sophistication and quality like a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky. With stories about swingers, suicide, soccer stars, conspiracy theories and Peruvian politics, the magazine created a quick buzz across the literary landscape.
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