18 January 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Although they’ve only published one book so far — Leo Tolstoy’s How Much Land Does a Man Need, translated from the Russian by Boris Dralyuk with a foreword by Brian Evenson — Calypso Editions looks like a press worth paying attention to. Here’s how Elizabeth Myhr & Piotr Florczyk describe their mission and sensibility:

You have by now no doubt experienced, in one way or another, the publishing world’s continuing decline and know that it’s losing its ability to enrich our culture and our lives. Maybe your favorite periodical recently went bankrupt, or your favorite publisher can no longer support authors whose work doesn’t bring in money. Maybe you’ve been so alienated by big publishing that you barely remember the days when you looked forward to the release of a new novel or book of poems.

We have a solution. Here at Calypso Editions we’ve decided to go a different direction. Forget the profit. Forget the celebrity. We know there is still plenty of room for authors and readers to form supportive and rewarding relationships with books and each other. We know our time calls for great authors and great literature, and we’ve decided to make that happen for you and for dedicated readers and writing communities across the nation.

What do we publish? What do Russian writer Leo Tolstoy and Polish poet Anna Swir have in common? They are both great authors whose works have been embraced by the likes of Nobel Prize winners James Joyce and Czeslaw Milosz, and they also happen to be the authors of the first two titles forthcoming from Calypso Editions.

Available now for preorders, Leo Tolstoy’s How Much Land Does a Man Need, newly translated into English by Boris Dralyuk, will be Calypso Editions’ first title. It will be published on December 13, 2010. The editors at Calypso have worked hard to bring this new English version forward while honoring the integrity of the original Russian text. After a slew of bad translations, this new translation aims to reintroduce and reinvigorate this literary gem.

Anna Swir’s Building the Barricade and Other Poems, translated by Piotr Florczyk, is a bilingual collection of her most memorable poems. The collection includes poems from Swir’s experience of the tragic Warsaw Uprising of 1944, her preoccupations with the human body, and her experiences of love and family. Swir is a poet of profound wisdom and insight into the human condition, and we hope this new collection will ensure that her work continues to be celebrated by American and English-speaking readers everywhere. It will be published in March, 2011.1

In addition to the books themselves, Calpyso also has a blog. Not a ton of content yet, but I suspect it will grow over time as they start getting more attention, readers, etc. They did already get a great review over at the TLS by Tadzio Koelb that includes this quote:

“Joyce thought ‘How Much Land Does a Man Need the greatest story that the literature of the world knows,’ and there is little doubt that the folk tale as high art continues to have an enormous influence on contemporary writing, particularly in Eastern and Southern Europe. It would be hard to imagine Herta Müller or José Luís Peixoto without the “sense of community opinion” that Brian Evenson highlights in his informative short introduction. . . . It is hard to imagine any of the large publishers devoting this much time and space to a single short story, so we should be grateful to Calypso, a new press run collaboratively by writer and translators, for this excellent edition of a small but important work.

Also nice to find out about a new literary translation-centric press . . . The more the better . . .

1 I didn’t edit this note from them at all, but if I had, the first thing I would’ve done is delete all the double-spaces after periods!

30 July 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Thanks to Bud Parr for posting this amazing video featuring Attila Bartis, whose Tranquility won the 2009 Best Translated Book Award. The footage is mostly taken from a conversation between Brian Evenson and Bartis that took place at Idlewild Books that took a couple months ago.

Very cool. Very, very cool.

4 May 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The fifth annual PEN World Voices Festival ended on Sunday, and based on the attendance at the few events I went to, it was pretty successful. I wasn’t able to attend as many panels as I would’ve liked, which is sort of a plus and minus for the festival—there’s a lot to choose from and you really do need to choose.

This might sound biased, but the two events that I found the most interesting were the two that Jan Kjaerstad was on: “Where Truth Lies” and “Faith & Fiction.”

Aside from Jan’s presence, the one thing in common between these panels was the fact that both were actual roundtable discussions, rather than panels where each participant presents some prepared remarks. From talking with some other attendees, I’m not the only one who prefers the actual discussion panels to the serial presentation one. No matter how good the guests are, when they each read their prepared remarks, there’s a tendency for the speakers to become compartmentalized, with little interaction between the various viewpoints. And besides, with rare exception (like Paul Verhaeghen’s wonderfully imaginative and funny speech), these opening remarks tend to be a bit dry and don’t lead to the sort of debate and disagreement that can make a panel fun to watch.

The Where Truth Lies featured Jan, Horacio Castellanos Moya, Marlon James, and Roxana Robinson. Noreen Tomassi of the Mercantile Library did a wonderful job moderating, keeping the discussion relevant and interesting, and creating some tensions that fueled the debate.

One of the most interesting divisions—to me anyway—was the huge difference between Jan’s belief that “form is greatly underrated” and that it’s the novelist’s job to make things strange and provide readers with a new way of seeing. With only a limited number of “masterplots” (a point that a couple panelists disagreed with, which was sort of odd, especially since the dissenters used examples that sort of proved that there are limited archetypes but that the difference is in the details, something that no one would dispute), the novelist has to “make things new” and can utilize form to accomplish this.

Roxana Robinson—whose aesthetic ideas ran so counter to mine that I’ll never ever read her books or her New Yorker stories—completely disagreed, arguing that a writer is just there to write, not to think of the audience of changing someone’s way of seeing or anything at all like that. She also made a comment about a recent Joyce Carol Oates interview in which JCO referred to tragedy as the highest art form, which is what she personally aspires to in her work. (Someone in the audience thankfully called bullshit on this, pointing out that JCO’s work—and Robinson’s by extension—isn’t actually tragic, just glum.)

This kind of schism is what makes for an interesting discussion, and in this case it really seemed to present two different literary approaches—writing to entertain and tell a story versus writing to create art.

There wasn’t such an obvious split in the Faith & Fiction, panel but Albert Mobilio—who is consistently one of the festival’s best moderators—did a masterful job sustaining a really interesting discussion about fiction and religion that featured Jan, Ben Anastas, Nadeem Aslam, and Brian Evenson. All of the panelists were fantastic, each having his particular viewpoint and responding thoughtfully to one another to create a truly interesting discussion.

Not to mention the panel awesomely opened with Albert quoting James Wood—something to the effect that novelists are skeptics, but novels act religiously—and Jan immediately stating that James Wood is a overrated . . .

A lot of the events were recorded and will be available on PEN’s podcast page in the near future. And for more information about particular events, be sure to check out the World Voices Blogs page, which has write-ups on nearly all of the panels and readings.

7 April 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This event is not to be missed . . . On Thursday, April 9th at 7pm, Attila Bartis—author of Tranquility, which won this year’s Best Translated Book Award—will be appearing at Idlewild Books (12 West 19th St., NY) with author and translator Brian Evenson.

You can find our overview of Tranquility by clicking here, and here’s a blurb Evenson gave for the book: “Reading like the bastard child of Thomas Bernhard and Elfriede Jelinek, Tranquility is political and personal suffering distilled perfectly and transformed into dark, viscid beauty. It is among the most haunted, most honest, and most human novels I have ever read.”

According to Jill Schoolman, they’re going to try and videotape this conversation so that all of us living outside of NY will have a chance to see this incredible event . . . I’ll post an update as soon as this becomes available online.

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