Galley Club: Making books Brazilian street-kid style

When one of her students told Catherine Dixon in a typography seminar that they had relatives who taught typography  in a Brazilian favela, it was an opportunity not to be missed. Catherine has now visited the printing press in the favelas numerous times and we were lucky enough to hear all about it at last night’s Galley Club event.


Typography is one of several classes that run in these favelas, which are designed to not only educate communities but also to give them a platform through which to find an identity. Although densely populated, there is a certain anonymity for the people in these areas of high crime and poor living conditions. The classes run for a range of age groups and Catherine was focussing on adolescents.


The typography classes result in a range of beautiful books, which contain innovative lettering and are often illustrated with wood block techniques. The work was printed on a proofing press by hand. Highly acclaimed typographists and wood carvers come to the classes to facilitate, not dictate, learning and experimentation.


Through Catherine’s talk, it became apparent that it was just as much about what the classes were doing for the wider community as what the education, improved literacy, safety and moment of expression was offering the individuals. The community was benefiting from beautifully made posters and materials for their events such as the breast-feeding clinic. This gave an amazing sense of independence and sustainable social improvement as the community was genuinely helping itself by communicating its own message of health; had the posters been shipped in from the comparably affluent city, I think it would have had a very different feel. Indeed, we learned about Brazilian culture of using home-grown books to spread messages of social enablement; it’s not uncommon for locally produced books to be distributed at markets among the community.


This is not about celebrating what ‘those less fortunate’ are producing and it’s not about a ‘favela chic’ movement where the products coming out of favelas are being commoditised and capitalised upon. It’s simply about people having something to say and using the power of the book to say it; it’s about giving a voice and letting that be heard.


Diversity is at the top of the agenda for all publishers today as we want more voices to be heard in the workplace and by authors. There are countless reasons to increase diversity within publishing and also to use publishing as a vehicle to spread the message about diversity; as we discuss and take action on the topic, let’s not forget that the industry we’re in and the process by which a book gets from A-Z is an amazing opportunity for any kind of voice to be heard.