We interviewed Senior Lecturer Samuel Sotillo about the recent 15th anniversary of A Contracorriente:
What was the process of creating A Contracorriente like?
First, we need to distinguish between two different incarnations of A Contracorriente. The first was the online Journal, founded by prof. Greg Dawes and others in the fall of 2003. I didn’t participate in this part of the process. I came along later, in 2009, when as a graduate student Greg invited me to be the new production editor for the Journal. My predecessor was graduating and moving on to another institution.
Back then the Journal was built upon a very basic backend that needed to be put together at hand each time a new issue was released. Since I had a tech background, my first task as production editor was to oversight the migration of the backend from this basic architecture to a new one based on Open Journal System (OJS). We were fortunate and had the full support of CHASS IT, particularly Carrie Bekerman and Chris Smith to carry out this project.
OJS provides a series of services that allow journal managers to control the whole publishing workflow, from manuscript submission to final publication. Thanks to OJS we were able to streamline our publication process and at the same time to improve our website look-and-feel, getting a more professional appearance.
What was the inspiration behind starting this project?
As I have said, my first involvement was with the Journal, the first incarnation of A Contracorriente. Then, in early 2011, when OJS was pretty much up and running, Greg and I had a conversation about this dream of his, having a sister academic press meant to publish anthologies of articles initially published by the Journal but in the form of books. Again, given my background I told him that we could try setting up such a press with a new technology called print-on-demand (POD). I have read a little about this technology and wanted to try it.
We started doing some research, contacted the NC State Library’s Office of Copyright and found out about Lulu.com, a Raleigh-based company that offers POD services. Having a clear idea of what we needed to do, we started looking for sponsorship. Fortunately, we have a great Department Head, Dr. Ruth Gross, and she fully supported us from the beginning.
That’s how we got involved with out first project, a manuscript suggested by one of the Journal’s associate editors, Ana Peluffo, from UC-Davis. That project —Otras voces, edited by Alejandro Solomianski from Cal State U– became our first published book in 2011. That’s in a nutshell how the second incarnation of A Contracorriente was born.
Are there any specific moments in your career that you attribute to the success with A Contracorriente?
I guess one big moment was the migration to OJS, although I have to recognize the incredible support and guidance of our IT team at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences led by Justin Daves.
As someone from the tecn world, I didn’t like at all the way how the original Journal was built. It was inefficient and the look wasn’t very professional. I think that moving to OJS was a great decision that improved the Journal’s standing in the field.
It was a great moment for me professionally because it helped me to make the transition from a tech person to the sort of hybrid professional that I am now. I mean, someone fluent enough with technology but also able to do stuff related to the humanities, like copyediting, teaching, etc.
Another important moment was publishing that first book in 2011. At first I thought that setting up the whole infrastructure for the Press would be easier. It’s not only about having a good book project to start with –which we had– but also having access to the right technology and know-how. I had to select the software for typesetting the books, learn everything about copyediting, proofreading, typesetting, printing, cover design, etc.
I did have experience with desktop publishing technology and also with project management. So, in a way, the technical aspects of setting up the “working infrastructure” for the Press wasn’t that much of a challenge.
I also had some vague knowledge of the business of publishing itself. A couple of times I had tried with some friends to set up two literary magazines in Venezuela. However, for multiple reasons, those projects never materialized. I had also worked as a writer, and co-wrote a column on environmental issues for a local newspaper when I was in college. Also, I contributed articles on literature, politics, and technology to online magazines in Venezuela, and published a few articles in the US and Germany. Additionally, I did some short-term work as a copyeditor for a local newspaper in Venezuela but a long long time ago.
However, all these previous experiences were limited and did not really ease much of that initial, say, “child’s birth” pain when we started the Press. So, being able to do the feat has really being a great ride for me, say, career-wise.
What would you consider to be a highlight in your career?
Of course, there is no a single highlight. I have been very fortunate to be able to do many things –maybe too many, some people may say. Not so fortunate to do other things I’ve wanted, but pretty much lucky so far.
Just finishing 2018 with ten published books this year only has undoubtedly been a great achievement –a big highlight.
Of course, I should mention my partnership with Greg Dawes. Meeting him first as my professor when I was in grad school and them working together have been a big highlight in my career. His initial mentoring and subsequent friendship have been a blessing.
Finally, I should mention also our involvement with UNC Press. In 2016 we signed an agreement with the University of North Carolina Press to take over the printing and distribution of our publications. After several years of successful partnership with Lulu.com, we decided that UNC Press was a better match giving our focus on the academic world and also because UNC Press has a better presence in the academic libraries market. It was a big challenge for me personally, because we needed to migrate our whole portfolio from Lulu.com to a completely new platform. Fortunately, the UNC Press team was very generous and supportive so we were able to do the switch without any glitches. Thanks to this change our books are now available as ebooks to most universities and colleges in the US and many other places around the world.
How has your experience as a senior lecturer in the Department of FLL been at NC State?
That’s another of my great satisfaction. I mean teaching. I really enjoy having the opportunity to interact with students, to learn as much from them as they learn from me –sometimes I think that I am the one who benefits the most from the exchange though.
Do you have a favorite memory from your work with the Department of FLL?
Too many to just single one out.
What drew you to a career in teaching?
Actually, my very first job here in the States was teaching part-time. Back then, I taught several introductory computer classes to adult learners, mostly migrants. During college in Venezuela, I had taught high school math and other subjects as a part-time job. It was more like tutoring groups of adult learners who were in rehab for addiction problems. A great experience though.
Anyway, after finishing my Master’s degree in Spanish Languages and Literatures, the department gave me the opportunity to stay as a lecturer and I’m very grateful for that.
What advice do you have for current NC State students studying foreign languages and literatures?
My advice is go abroad! Here at NC State we have great teachers and a great FLL program but research shows that the best way to gain high proficiency in a second language is by being immersed in it 24/7. And what better time to do so than now, when you are in college!
Additionally, we have wonderful study-abroad choices to pick from –be it spending a summer in Peru or France or studying a full semester in Spain or other places. So, I think that’s the best piece of advice I can give students: go abroad!
How has being proficient in a foreign language opened doors for you in your life?
Well, despite our times, I still am an old liberal globalist. I believe in the free flow and exchange of ideas. I don’t like walls nor barriers. I prefer people to communicate and negotiate rather than to get divided and/or isolated by conflicts. I think than having the ability to communicate in another language opens you a world of possibilities and adventures. You meet interesting people. You learn about new ways to look at the world, new kinds of food, new kinds of music, new ways to better live your life. It’s true that doing it is a challenge and requires a lot of work but personally I like challenges.
You know, the world we live in it’s a complicated place, filled with risks and things that sometimes we might not like. However, if you look at for instance Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, one big thing we can take from this novel is how Gulliver is able to navigate through a world like ours, with many places that are very very different and some of them even unpleasant. Despite the diversity of cultures and beliefs he encounters on each one of those places, some of them are very very different to his native England, he learns ways to cope with such apparent chaos and finds a friend everywhere he goes. Why? Because he learns their languages. Languages are a great vehicle for friendship and understanding.