Centennial Professor Emeritus of Sociology Braulio Muñoz was a decade into writing his latest book, The Always Already, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Suddenly, he faced the prospect of waiting months — or years — for publication.
Undeterred, and feeling “the urgency of the present,” Muñoz reached out to the College Libraries staff and faculty to help him self-publish his work — a collaborative success.
Donna McKeever, administrative assistant of the Department of English Literature, copyedited the book. Maria Aghazarian, scholarly communications librarian, and Susan Dreher, visual initiatives and exhibitions librarian, took on the formatting and cover design, respectively. Other colleagues read drafts and offered encouragement.
“[My] wonderful companions ... did most of the difficult work,” says Muñoz, who reached out to the libraries staff in June, five months before the book was published.
The libraries staff noted that working directly with Muñoz made it possible to quickly troubleshoot challenges. For instance, Aghazarian had planned at first to “include interactive pronunciations” in digital editions of The Always Already. But this multimedia feature proved incompatible with Kindle, so Aghazarian and Muñoz added a glossary to the final edition for character names and frequently used Quechua words.
Aghazarian says that the project was a new and positive experience for her, and she hopes to continue helping “faculty, staff, and students with their publishing ideas and projects.” She is working with Muñoz to publish e-book editions of several of his recently published books.
Muñoz’s previous publications include novels, poetry, and numerous academic works. The acclaimed author considers all of his writing to be “one single book” tied together by thematic threads. Several issues he examines in the book recall his first novel, Alejandro and the Fishermen of Tancay, published in both Spanish (2004) and English (2008). In Alejandro, Muñoz wrote about “the enduring love of native peoples for Mother Earth” in the face of “increasing attempts to control her.”
This issue takes a new form in The Always Already. The protagonist is a young woman named Kukuli, an Oca from The Highlands. The Oca observe that far away, in The Land, humans are seeking to dominate the Earth as they grapple with their overwhelming sense of living, “a meaningless life leading to a meaningless death.”
Muñoz noted his belief that humans are not acting out of “greed or ignorance” alone when they try to mold nature to their wishes. He suggests that, following the western Enlightenment and the attendant religious shifts and modernization, modern western peoples changed the way they understood their relationship with the Earth. While the damage humans are doing to nature is a pressing concern, it remains possible to imagine a better world.
This hope is reflected in The Always Already. Kukuli is motivated by courage and compassion, despite the destruction she witnesses. She travels to The Land with a key: Wiñay Cuyai, or “all-encompassing love.” In The Land, Kukuli seeks to forge a unity based in love between people and world and find a better path forward for both.
Reflecting on his experience writing and publishing The Always Already, Muñoz says that it was one of the most meaningful projects he has undertaken. He described the process as both “an adventure” and “an odyssey” and expressed hope that Swarthmore would encourage other authors to self-publish, helping to amplify new voices and viewpoints.
The Always Already is available in print and online, as well as through the College Libraries.