University of Rochester

Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Open Letter celebrates first release, welcomes international writers to Rochester
By June Avignone

A Croatian exile's voice finds a new audience

Nobody's Home

Croatian exile and author Dubravka Ugresic will visit Rochester on Tuesday, September 16, at 6 p.m. in Rush Rhees Library to discuss her essay collection,Nobody’s Home—the first release by the University’s translations press, Open Letter. Her appearance is part of a new reading series featuring the authors of Open Letter’s upcoming books, including Bragi Olafsson, former bassist of the popular Icelandic rock band the Sugarcubes, on Tuesday, October 7.

Chad Post, director of Open Letter, was “beyond thrilled” when the first copies of Nobody’s Home;by internationally acclaimed Croatian author Dubravka Ugresic arrived at his office from the printer a couple of weeks ago. For good reason.

Nobody’s Home is a collection of essays that offers life from the exile’s point of view, with all its tragic absurdities (http://catalog. authors/1). Scheduled to arrive on bookstore shelves any day, this first title released by Open Letter, the University’s new translation press, has already been selected by Publishers Weekly as a “break-out book for fall 2008” based on early reviews and bookseller buzz.

As Post notes, only about 3 percent of books published in the United States yearly are works in translation. That figure includes all books in translation—in terms of literary fiction and poetry, the number is less than 1 percent.

“It is absolutely crucial that voices like Ugresic’s be heard and made available English to readers. There is much to learn from her perspective on the world, her brilliant writing style, and I think this is true of all of our books this year,” says Post of the press’s inaugural list of 12 modern classics and contemporary works of fiction that include authors from Brazil, Iceland, Lithuania, Norway, and France.

After the outbreak of the war in 1991 in former Yugoslavia, Ugresic wrote critically about nationalism and the travesty of war. She was labeled a “traitor” and “public enemy,” exposed to harsh and persistent media harassment, and left Croatia in 1993.

“Dubravka Ugresic’s book addresses familiar issues such as nationalism, exile, identity, nostalgia, and globalization, but she manages to make you look at these things in unexpected, sometimes even startling ways,” says Thomas DiPiero, dean of humanities and professor of French and visual and cultural studies, “I can’t imagine a better debut book for Open Letter.”

Indeed, the Times Literary Supplement calls Ugresic “sharp, funny and unafraid…Orwell would approve,” and Kirkus Reviews describes Nobody’s Home as “taut, timely pieces by a writer who sees the cosmic in the quotidian.”

Post and the staff at Open Letter are also excited these days about a new program of public events called “Reading the World Conversation Series,” the first of which will feature Urgesic and translator Damion Searls on Tuesday, September 16, at 6 p.m. in the Hawkins-Carlson Room of Rush Rhees Library. 

“In addition to our books, we’re able to bring a number of these quality writers to campus, allowing the people of Rochester to meet them, hear them read, and discuss their works,” says Post. “By putting writers in conversation with a translator, we hope to open up a wide-ranging discussion about books, culture, and the process of writing.”

Also part of the series is a roundtable featuring a panel of four translators working in a number of different aspects of translation—from graphic novels to retranslations of Russian classics—that will take place on Wednesday, October 1, at 5 p.m. in the Plutzik Library. Author Bragi Olafsson, former bassist of the popular Icelandic rock band the Sugarcubes, will discuss literature and writing with translator Lytton Smith on Tuesday, October 7, at 6 p.m. in the Hawkins-Carlson Room. His novel, The Pets, which features a protagonist who hides under his bed for almost the entire book, was nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize and is the first of his books to be translated into English.

“The lineup is truly stellar,” says Post. “Dubravka has interesting and sharply funny observations about any number of topics, and I can’t wait to hear Bragi talk about his time in the Sugarcubes, touring with U2, and how this led to becoming a writer.”

Support for Open Letter is crucial, says Post. A fall subscription for six Open Letter titles costs $65 and an annual subscription $120. For details, visit or contact Chad Post at or 319-0823. Among the first to purchase a fall subscription is former Open Letter intern Rhea Lyons ’08, the first student to receive a Certificate in Literary Translation Studies with Open Letter.

“Open Letter’s mission is to publish cool, edgy books from around the world that stretch the boundaries of imaginative literature,” says Lyons, who now works at Random House in New York City. “I will always support Open Letter, which has opened so many doors for me.”

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