I suspect most people reading this blog are familiar with Ira Silverberg already, either from his days at Serpent’s Tail, his role at CLMP, his stylish dressing and giving of great quote, or his time as an agent at Sterling Lord Literalistic. And I’m sure most everyone knows that he was recently named as the new literature director at the NEA. Regardless (or irregardless), the NEA posted an interview with Ira that’s definitely worth checking out:
NEA: What do you hope to accomplish while you’re at the NEA?
SILVERBERG: My goal is make sure our grantees in literary publishing—the non-profit presses and journals—are set up for the new digital age. There is a great deal of technical assistance needed to be a good publisher these days. Many of our grantees have grown up more as curators of great art—but getting it out in a difficult and changing publishing environment is a new part of the challenge. I hope that’s where the literature department can make a difference in the next few years.
NEA: What are you most proud of accomplishing in your career to date?
SILVERBERG: Seeing the first copy of a book I’ve edited or represented as an agent always provokes a feeling of great pride. Working with great writers for so many years still provides a great thrill. What could be better than helping get their words out into the world? Having three clients—Adam Haslett, Christopher Sorrentino, and René Steinke—nominated for the National Book Award in fiction has been a thrill; seeing former child soldier Ishmael Beah hit number one on The New York Times bestseller list was one of the most emotionally satisfying moments in my life; and helping to secure publication in The New Yorker for clients like Gabe Hudson, David Bezmozgis, and Sam Lipsyte always makes me feel triumphant.
This is just fantastic news all around. I really like Ira, and I think he’ll be great for the NEA. Well done.
Washington, DC—The National Endowment for the Arts welcomes Ira Silverberg as its new director of literature on December 5, 2011. Silverberg brings 26 years of experience in book publishing and literary professions to the NEA. He has been a literary agent, editor, director of his own public relations firm, and a frequent guest speaker and panelist at literary events and organizations.
“I’m delighted to welcome Ira Silverberg to the National Endowment for the Arts,” said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. “Ira brings a wealth and variety of expertise that will be of great value to the agency. The NEA’s already robust literary portfolio will benefit further from Ira’s skills and connections to both the national and international literary communities.”
As the director of literature, Silverberg will be responsible for managing a staff of four, assembling the application review panels that recommend NEA grants to organizations as well as fellowships to individual creative writers and translators. He will manage the grantmaking process with recipients including small presses, literary magazines, and national literary centers as well as oversee NEA initiatives such as The Big Read.
“I’m excited to take my experience in the private sector of publishing to serve the not-for-profit sector,” said Silverberg. “As the digitization of the book industry creates a new publishing ecosystem, we want grantees to be strong and ready for the challenge of this brave new world. It’s an exciting time in the literature field and I look forward to leading the charge at NEA’s Literature Office.”
Most recently Silverberg was a literary agent and director of foreign rights with Sterling Lord Literistic (SLL) in New York City. As an agent with SLL since January 2008, he managed a client list of award-winning fiction and nonfiction authors including Adam Haslett and Wayne Koestenbaum, placing works with U.S. and foreign publishers, executing contracts, and implementing digital strategies for new and backlist books. As director of foreign rights, he represented SLL’s full list to the foreign market, creating all marketing materials and digital strategies and negotiating contracts.
From September 1998 to December 2008, Silverberg was with Donadio and Olsen also as a literary agent and director of foreign rights. Previous to Donadio and Olsen, he served as editor-in-chief with Grove Press, and U.S. publisher and co-editorial director for Serpent’s Tail, a British publishing company that he brought to the U.S.
Silverberg’s experience in public relations spans 11 years, including five years as director of public relations for Grove Press and Grove/Weidenfeld, and more than six years leading his own public relations firm Ira Silverberg Communications.
Silverberg has served on the boards of PEN American Center, the Portable Lower East Side, The Gregory Kolovakos Award for AIDS Writing, and the Accompanied Literary Society. He has also been a panelist with the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Wallace Fund, and the Mellon Foundation.
Silverberg replaces Jon Parrish Peede who left the agency in September 2011 to pursue his own writing.
This actually came out in last week’s Time Out New York, but Michael Miller’s piece on how a book goes from writer to reader is pretty interesting and touches on some of the knotty issues surrounding publication and publicity.
Miller briefly hits on the various gate keepers of book culture: agents, editors, critics.
It really is insane to think about all that goes into making a single book “take off.” Especially when you consider that over 250,000 books are published a year—over 12,000 of which are works of fiction and poetry. Throw in there that the average American (according to the NEA) reads about 4 books a year and it seems almost impossible that any book (especially a work of literary fiction) rises above the fray. (Conversely, the idea that 250,000 books are published seems equally crazy. It’s as if any off-the-wall proposal can find a publisher out there.)
It would take tomes to fully explore and explain this issue, but Miller gets some good quotes/viewpoints into his piece, especially from Lorin Stein and Ira Silverberg:
Ira Silverberg, an agent at Sterling Lord Literistic who represents Sam Lipsyte, Christopher Sorrentino and Rene Steinke, puts it another way: “We are the first line of defense—we keep it safe to read in America, because most of the stuff that people write is shit.”
We generally don’t work with many agents for Open Letter titles. (Of our first 14 acquisitions, 5 were agented.) Most of the time we work with foreign publishers or the author him/herself. The fact that the book was published elsewhere takes the place of the vetting process that agents serve for American writers. (Still, there’s a lot of dreck out there . . .)
Questing for great books to publish is frequently considered the “fun part” of publishing (for Christ’s sake, I get to go to Buenos Aires in a couple weeks to meet editors and authors and to immerse myself in the culture of Argentina . . . Does it get any better than that?) The part of this process that most fascinates me is actually the end result—finding a way to get people to pick up a particular book and spend their cash and time to read it.
Once a book is printed, it reaches a new and complex series of gatekeepers—namely the media, blogs, bookstores and readers themselves. Most publicists confer that no one thing can make an author a household name. Almost everyone agrees that a long interview on NPR’s Fresh Air can be a huge boost (one industry insider said that “Terry Gross blows [New York Times reviewer] Michiko Kakutani out of the water”), but that selling books requires a tricky mix of review attention, bookseller enthusiasm and word-of-mouth praise.
That uncertainty is what I find incredibly enjoyable about publishing. That and seeing someone reading a book you acquired/published on the subway . . .
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