University of Rochester

EVENT: How the Book Business Impacts the Literature of the Americas

October 31, 2007

Fewer than 1,000 of the more than 250,000 books published in the United States yearly are works in translation from abroad, a "shocking figure" that creates an isolated cultural atmosphere for Americans, according to a group of editors and publishers who will be discussing the business of books at the University of Rochester.

"Publishers act like a gate keeper for culture, deciding which books make it into print, and so Americans increasingly live in an echo chamber to the blatant exclusion of all else," said Chad W. Post, director of Open Letter, the University of Rochester's new publishing house of international literature. Post will moderate the roundtable discussion titled "Commerce and Culture: The Impact of the Business of Books on the Literature of the Americas," a free event that will take place at 3:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5, in Schlegel Hall, room 309, on the University of Rochester's River Campus.

The American publishing industry not only gets to select the titles the public reads, Post says, but influences how the media receives their choices, shaping our perceptions of the world.

Only about 3 percent of books published in the United States yearly are works in translation. That 3 percent figure includes all books in translation—in terms of literary fiction and poetry, the number is actually closer to 0.7 percent.

"We, by far, rank the worst, and that means we are being left out of a vital growth process that the rest of the world is sharing without us," says Post. He said that in countries ranging from Lithuania to Italy or France translations make up more than 30 percent of the total books published yearly.

Beginning in fall 2008, Open Letter will publish 12 works of modern classics and contemporary works of fiction every year. "Our goal is to find unique and lasting works, to find readers and not just merely to sell copies," Post said of Open Letter's plans (

Joining the roundtable discussion will be translator Lisa Dillman, professor of languages at the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Emory University; Jack Kirchhoff, book review editor and paperbacks columnist for Toronto's Globe & Mail; Daniel Shapiro, director of literature at the Americas Society and editor of the Review; and Jonathan Welch, co-founder and buyer for Talking Leaves Books.

"The bottom line is we don't want to miss out on the works of the next Vladimir Nabokov or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and we want to truly ask ourselves how we can all help stop that from happening," says Post.

The event is part of "Reimagining the Americas," one of nine projects funded by the Humanities Project, an initiative by the University of Rochester emphasizing the influence and contributions of the humanities to academic and civil life.