Bookstore Gato Caulle: A Literary Community in the South of Chile

Photo of the exterior of a bookstore swallowed up by trees
Photo courtesy of Librería Gato Caulle

BENEATH THE WARMTH of the February summer sun, I walked slowly along the streets, basking in the joy of a long-awaited homecoming of sorts to the south—the south of Chile, specifically Valdivia, a beautiful, fluvial city nestled at the confluence of three rivers. I was out in the city center following the directions I’d received a few days earlier from a bookseller in Librería Alemania; during my conversation with him, I shared that I’m a literary translator, and he immediately recommended I visit  Gato Caulle, a newer bookstore with a section featuring publishing houses and authors from the south.

So there I was, walking along the sidewalk on Yungay, listening to the sounds floating up from the river market on Río Calle-Calle, scanning for the bookstore until reaching a graffitied, arched entranceway over which hung the words “Casa de Artes y Oficios” (House of Arts and Crafts). Enchanted, I walked through the arched entrance and then up a stairway adorned with colorful crocheted designs that led to a wooden double door opening onto a lush outdoor patio, across which I saw the welcoming bright blue doors of Gato Caulle. Just arriving at the place was magical.

Photo courtesy of Librería Gato Caulle

A lively, colorful space full of natural light, Gato Caulle seems to welcome readers in to stay a while, which I certainly did. While perusing, I struck up a conversation with the bookseller, who turned out to be one of the co-owners, Diego Corvera. As we chatted about books, we began to talk about the place; when Diego and his business partner, Boris Farías, opened the bookstore back in May 2017, they wanted to offer something different: a focus on small presses, a gathering place, a literary community in the heart of Valdivia. And they seem be creating just that—from book clubs, live music, podcasts, book launches, and workshops to their magazine, and more. I was drawn to the place for its regional section, but what impacted me most was the ongoing engagement with the local community and with young people in particular. Reaching beyond the entire wall lined with children’s books in the bookstore, they have partnered with local teachers and students to hold workshops, created a magazine edition featuring stories written by local students, and invited children to write reflecting on their human rights during the second round of the 2021 Chilean presidential elections, reflections they subsequently published in a chapbook. Embodying the vision of its founders, Gato Caulle has grown to be much more than a bookstore.

On my way out that day, laden down with books recommended by Diego, I stopped for a juice at a coffee bar off the patio, one of several other little shops that make up the Casa de Artes y Oficios. As I walked down those magical steps and through the archway opening to Yungay, I daydreamed of living in Valdivia again and spending my days translating on the patio outside Gato Caulle, juice in hand.

Michelle Mirabella is the translator of “Ferns,” Catalina Infante Beovic’s English-language debut (WLT, 2020). Her work also appears in Latin American Literature Today, Firmament, Arkansas International, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and an alumna of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre.