A few months ago, Jeremiah Chamberlain invited me to participate in an indie-press roundtable on publishing translations with Barbara Epler from New Directions, Michael Reynolds of Europa Editions, Jill Schoolman of Archipelago Press, and CJ Evans of Two Lines. This ended up being a long, sprawling email conversation, that just was included in the most recent issue of Poets & Writers.
It’s a really long piece, I know, I know, but one that’s loaded with great information from the other people on the panel. Here are a few samples:
What issues do you feel are most pressing for independent publishers in general and those working with literature in translation in particular?
Michael Reynolds (Europa): In my mind, the No. 1 issue concerning the publication of work in translation is that of discoverability and promotion. I’m not entirely convinced that we have to dramatically increase the number of books in translation published here at all costs, but I definitely think that we need to grow the audience for those books that are published. Over the past ten to twenty years it seems to me that the focus has been on printing as many titles in translation as possible. But printing is not the same as publishing. I would like to see us all work more, and together, on innovative and effective ways of getting our books into the hands of a larger number of readers. [. . .]
Barbara Epler (New Directions): I agree, and also, I think the main concern is finding readers for amazing books. Not necessarily flooding the market with more and more translations—as if that vision of emulating the flood of new English-language titles will get anyone anywhere. Say we wanted to have the German ratio of translated titles. Really? If we approach 40 or 50 percent, then we would have, say, 100,000 new translated titles annually. That also seems crackers.
Jill Schoolman (Archipelago): I’d say the most mysterious [issue] is how to survive. Someone should write a how-to book on the subject. How to keep our authors and translators writing, and how to stay afloat as a press when what trickles in doesn’t always amount to what’s flowing out in various directions. Because the dimensions of the industry—publishers, booksellers, librarians, reviewers and bloggers, distributors, readers, writers, agents, translators, educators—are changing so rapidly we need to find new ways of collaborating. [. . .]
Michael Reynolds (Europa): I’d like to talk a bit about the work of “outreach.” Obviously, this kind of activity fits more squarely into the mission of a nonprofit or a press connected with a university in the way Open Letter is. But I think it is also something that all presses should engage in. We have lost the ability to talk about books in meaningful ways. Most people are unable to go much further than a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, or appraise a work of literature with more than “I hated it” or “I loved it.” As a culture—I mean outside of our very limited clique—we have become critically illiterate; we no longer know how to understand, let alone express, the social, political, cultural, historical significance of a book. For that matter, we are almost incapable of expressing its significance for us even on a personal level. It may just be the way of the world—I think many people are conversant on the social and cultural significance of Breaking Bad, for example—and I should get over it. At the same time, I think a more critically literate readership would not only be important for the culture but would also mean that presses like ours would sell more books. Thus, perhaps efforts to grow this kind of critical literacy should be calculated more explicitly as part of our marketing budget. We are, after all, not simply trying to “break into the market” but also attempting to shape that market.
Let’s talk about a “critically literate readership,” the decline of which people often attribute, at least in part, to the shuttering of book pages in newspapers and decreased coverage for literature in periodicals. But at the same time, as the editor in chief of Fiction Writers Review, I also know that there are a number of venues out there for thoughtful discussion of books. So where are people having the sorts of conversations about books that you wished more readers were aware of? Or what avenues for outreach would you either direct people toward to widen those conversations or propose creating, if you’re not already engaged in doing so?
Michael Reynolds (Europa): I think you’re opening up a can of worms with this one. The conversation is long, deep, and broad. I’m going to try to condense some of my thoughts into morsels.
You’ll have to go to the full article to find those morsels . . .
If only teleporting was cheap, and, you know, possible . . .
Friday, January 23, 2009
7:00pm – 9:00pm
Housing Works Bookstore Café
126 Crosby Street
New York, NY
Panelists Esther Allen, translator, former co-director of PEN World Voices, author of International PEN report on Translation and Globalization; Yvette Chrisianse, South African poet, novelist, professor; Elizabeth Macklin, poet, translator from Basque of Uribe; Jill Schoolman, Director of Archipelago Books; Karen Emmerich, translator of NBCC award finalist Miltos Sachtouris, among other Greek writers.
Moderator: NBCC board member and poet Kevin Prufer (National Anthem), editor of Pleiades and coeditor of “New European Poets” (Graywolf).
You can find out more (and RSVP) on the Facebook event page.
This year’s Miriam Bass Award for Creativity in Independent Publishing was given to Jill Schoolman of Archipelago Books, a good friend, fantastic publisher, and energetic advocate for international literature. She truly deserves this award and all the accolades that Marianne Bohr included in her introduction:
This year’s winner, Jill Schoolman, publisher of Archipelago Books, a not-for-profit press operating out of Brooklyn, has devoted herself to publishing first-edition English translations of innovative works of classic and contemporary world literature, vital voices that deserve to be heard and that she believes English speakers should not have to live without. Her list includes a diverse group of international writers whose titles she hopes will help promote America’s awareness of other cultures.
As most of us are sadly aware, as more and more publishers focus on the almighty blockbuster, there are very few avenues for getting works in translation to see the light of day in the U.S. It was against the backdrop of this stark reality that Jill started Archipelago—it was because she saw an urgent need and believed that American readers are hungry to know what people are writing about and thinking about beyond our borders. And I am very happy to report that the press has acknowledged Jill’s efforts and Archipelago Books with some excellent coverage and stellar reviews.
In the words of National Book Network’s president, Jed Lyons, “Miriam Bass appreciated creativity in people, especially when it was in service to the book business. Miriam would have heartily approved of the selection of Jill Schoolman, one of the most dedicated and creative people in publishing today, to win this award.”
I’m sure everyone reading this blog is familiar with Archipelago Books, they do so many interesting translations, and in such beautiful editions. Personally, I’m really looking forward to reading Attila Bartis’s Tranquility, in part because of Jeff Waxman’s stellar review, but also because I’ve been hearing great things about this book from booksellers and other reviewers across the country.
Once again, congrats to Jill Schoolman, and I hope she keeps up the good work.
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