July 16, 2014 § 1 Comment
ILJA LEONARD PFEIJFFER, welcome to the Deep Vellum family!
We are proud to announce we have signed LA SUPERBA, the newest award-winning novel by one of the most inventive and exciting authors in the world today, Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer. Published in 2013 by De Arbeiderspers, and awarded the Libris Literatuur Prijs last month (the most prestigious Dutch literary prize), La Superba is the most emblematic novel of modern Europe, an irresistible combination of migrant novel, perverse travel guide, and postmodern ode to the imagination that lovingly describes the labyrinthine and magical city that Pfeijffer calls home: Genoa, Italy, the city known as “La Superba” (“The Superb City”) for its beauty and rich history.
From the Dutch Foundation for Literature’s information page on La Superba, this is what got me so stoked to publish this book, and it’s here to get you properly hyped before I get together some other marketing copy for this brilliant novel:
This novel is set in Genoa, the labyrinthine port city (nicknamed ‘the Superb’) where the author has been living for the past five years. Migration is the central theme of this autobiographical story about a writer who becomes trapped in his walk on the wild side.
‘Emigrating is like writing a new novel, without yet knowing the plot, the ending, nor even the characters that will turn out to be crucial to the progress of the story,’ says Ilja Leonardo Pfeijffer, the self-confident ‘Italophile’ who addresses us in La Superba. In a long letter home he reports on his life as an explorer in Genoa and contrasts his fate with that of the dirt poor migrant workers from Africa who can barely keep their heads above water.La Superba is more than a touching story about fortune seekers who fall through the cracks. The novel starts with the discovery, by the narrator, of a woman’s leg on the street. That leg will pop up repeatedly in his search for ‘the most beautiful girl in Genoa’, a quest that brings him into contact with the prostitutes, locals and outsiders of the port’s rougher districts and seaman’s bars. This is a pocket edition of Dante’s Inferno, written by an author who admits that he likes to exaggerate: ‘Let’s call it an exercise in style. But the fact that I exaggerate doesn’t mean what I say is untrue.’
Eventually the main character becomes hopelessly lost in his own fantasies, leaving his readers with the feeling they have been hallucinating while roaming through a metropolis. The destination was irrelevant; it was the journey that mattered. And anyone in danger of losing the thread could cling to the style of their guide, to those dynamic sentences full of depravity and high contemplation that Pfeijffer has produced in such quantities since his award-winning debut novel Rupert: A Confession (2002).
For those curious about how I came to sign La Superba: I found out about this amazing novel at the Frankfurt Book Fair last October while meeting with Victor Schiferli of the Dutch Foundation for Literature, an awesome cultural organization that promotes Dutch literature to publishers like me from all over the world, connecting Dutch authors to publishers and translators. A synopsis of the novel was included in the “Books from Holland: Fall 2013” catalog that the Foundation published for Frankfurt, and Victor and I talked about the novel. I should also add, the Dutch Foundation for Literature sponsored my recent trip to Amsterdam for two days of meetings with publishers, authors, and translators (all of which I promise I will write about soon, because it was preceded by the German Editors Trip, and that was amazing too!). One of the meetings the Foundation set up for me in Amsterdam was with a group of literary translators (who’ve published with all of my favorite publishing houses, like Harvill Secker, Pushkin Press, Archipelago Books, Open Letter, etc.) including Michele Hutchinson, who translated Pfeijffer’s debut novel from 2002, Rupert: A Confession, which Open Letter Books published in 2009. Michele also translated the sample of La Superba that Victor sent to me after Frankfurt, which I really liked. The book sounded cool, the sample was fun to read, and the author already had a book in English. All good signs. I added the book to my “Want to Publish” list (this is a real list I keep, with male and female author lists, trying to sign one-for-one). But I wasn’t looking to sign anything right after Frankfurt, I was more keen on getting the first list of titles prepped for Fall 2014. But then I signed a new distribution deal (more information coming on that soon…), and as part of graduating to the big leagues, I needed to expand my publishing timeline horizon and look for books to round out the Deep Vellum lists for spring, summer, and fall 2015 because the distributor needs information on each publishing “season” (Spring is March-August, Fall is September-February) about a year in advance. And I just wasn’t working on that kind of timeline. So I needed new titles, and fast. Fortunately, right about the same time I was confirming my Dutch Editor’s Trip (it was just me!) details, the Libris Literatuur Prijs winner was announced (and the prize jury wrote an amazing essay on their choice, it’s worth Google Translating), and it was La Superba! You’re probably asking yourself how I knew this prize had been awarded. And the answer is simple, because all the international prize information I know of is due to one man, Michael Orthofer, and his amazing Literary Saloon (the news/blog section of his incredible review website, Complete Review). Orthofer publishes the most international literary publishing news of anybody, and he’s an indispensable resource for knowing what is going on in the world, who’s publishing what, who’s winning what prizes, what the latest publishing gossip out of Japan or Nigeria or even the UK is, etc. Check out his website, and also his reviews, because his website is often the only resource to publish reviews of so many works in translation, he is an avid supporter of world literature, and he also loves Dutch and German literature (seriously, check out this list of Dutch literature under review there, most of these books have never been translated!). And so I was reading the Literary Saloon one morning (because I read it daily, seriously), and saw the news that La Superba had won the Libris Prijs! At first I was scared I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy the rights to La Superba after it won the prize. But after meeting Michele and hearing her fellow translators’ unanimous recommendation that if I were to publish one Dutch book based on the trip, it should be La Superba, I was sold. Seriously, for six translators of every age, gender, and literary taste to recommend the same book doesn’t happen. They don’t have to be so nice, even though it makes me want to publish translations by each of them in turn, it doesn’t happen like that in the fierce underworld of literary translators…but back to La Superba. After meeting Michele and hearing the praise, I asked Michele for her translation of Rupert: A Confession, which I then read on the flight from Amsterdam back to Dallas. It’s a fast read, and so hilarious, so witty, so good, I knew I had to do it. I got back to Dallas and the first thing I did after the July 4th holiday (America!) was to draft an offer for La Superba. Michele put me in touch with the publisher of La Superba, Peter Nijssen of De Arbeiderspers, and I sent him the offer. Yesterday morning I awoke to the good news that my offer had been accepted by De Arbeiderspers and by Ilja himself. I was so ecstatic I think I yelped while laying in bed and scared my cat. The rest is, and will be, history. This will be one of the most fun books to read in 2015, and will come to mark a moment in European literary history, because this novel is as important as it is fun. The rare double whammy!
But seriously, I could have saved myself all the time typing that and just said that after seeing the photo of Ilja in the Books from Holland issue, I knew it was a match made in heaven. Eat your heart out, Knausgaard, I have the newest literary heartthrob! Hey Archipelago, let’s do some readings with Knausgaard and Pfeijffer together and watch the ladies melt and the men squirm awkwardly before their manly might (or swoon too, I’m not judging).
July 11, 2014 § Leave a comment
Darnielle’s publisher, FSG, announced today the full tour itinerary for WOLF IN WHITE VAN, and it’s impressive. He’s basically doing a book tour like he would a band tour. Hitting so many cities. I love it. The novel drops September 16. Get it at your local bookstore. Or your online indie outlet of choice (*cough*Powell’s*cough*). Or request your local library to buy a copy.
Darnielle himself posted the tour announcement on The Mountain Goats website, though he does make note he’s leaving the guitar at home on this tour and focusing on the book, the reading, and being his normal literary self (he subscribes to Open Letter! He loves translated literature! He’s my ideal reader!):
Dear anybody whose question “will there be a book tour?” I have seemed to ignore, please know that I was not ignoring you, but that there was a plan to tell people about the tour I’ll be doing for Wolf In White Van. I am constitutionally predisposed to call this plan a dark and evil plan, but honestly I don’t see how going places and reading from my book can really be thought of as dark and evil, though I will do my best.
I’m putting this up here on Mountain Goats Dot Com because it seems probable that a number of people who like our music will also be interested in the book, but for purposes of clarity be advised that I am leaving my guitar at home for this one and will play no songs on this tour, though I can’t promise that Mr. Hodgman and I won’t do an a capella chorus or two of “Sing a Song About Love”, or possibly “We Bite.”
See you out there!
Full reading information is below. Sign up to attend on the Facebook event page, and preorder the book online or, better yet, buy a copy at The Wild Detectives!
And speaking of Wordspace, don’t forget that I’m hosting a discussion on July 24 at the Wild Detectives on the amazing DEFINITELY MAYBE by Boris & Arkady Strugatsky (recently re-released by Melville House in their amazing Neversink Library) as part of WordSpace’s resurrected OffWorld Reading Series, where they delve into what makes sci-fi so damn interesting. I’ll be discussing Soviet sci-fi in particular. The Wild Detectives have plenty of copies of the book in stock, grab one, read it quick (it’s a slim 140 pages), laugh your ass off (it’s a hilarious book, and weird, but mostly hilarious), and then re-read it and join us on July 24 for a night of book talkin’ & sci-fi slingin’. See you there!
June 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
THEY SAID I WAS CRAZY, they told me I was insane to think that Dallas could ever care about books, let alone translated books, BUT HOLY SMOKES, you all proved them wrong last night! What a launch party! Over 200 booklovers gathered at The Wild Detectives last night to hear what Deep Vellum is all about and to celebrate the fact that YES, there ARE booklovers in Dallas, and none of us are alone, and together we are all working to make this amazing city an even better, more literary place to live! Pictures to come soon, but this crowd was INSANE! Thank you again!
Part of the celebration included the unveiling of Deep Vellum’s cover art with some posters given away and preorders taken. Without further ado, a little sneak-peek at the covers (designed by Anna Zylicz), which will be fully finalized so soon. If you want a poster, head over to the Deep Vellum Square Marketplace page and preorder some books (aka: subscribe to 10 books, invest in the future of Deep Vellum, help me build this beautiful thing for Dallas and the whole world beyond, and I will forever love you):
In my remarks last night, I gave thanks to everybody who’s helped me get this far, and of course I wasn’t reading a prepared speech so I forgot a few names, so let me take a moment to thank Cary Darling of the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram (who I met last year at the Oak Cliff Film Festival during the “secret” screening of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints by my favorite Dallas director, David Lowery); the folks from D Magazine (aka: these folks are some of my best friends in Dallas–there were at least six people from D at the party last night, and we’re all friends through D Academy or being in Bök Clüb together–a truly remarkable group of people all working for a wonderful magazine!); and the staff and coworkers at The Common Desk in Deep Ellum for giving me a home for the past eight months (y’all are the best). I’m forgetting even more people, I know, but these were some glaring omissions from last night!!
IN ICELANDIC NEWS, Jón Gnarr‘s term as mayor of Reykjavik ended yesterday (he was only the third mayor of Reykjavik to serve out a full four-year term since 1980!!). A great look back at his time as mayor was posted in the Reykjavik Grapevine (in English). And today he celebrated his newfound political freedom (not that he ever lost it) by doing a live chat on Gawker! Check out his responses to readers’ questions, and go over to Melville House’s website and order a copy of his nonfiction book about becoming mayor: GNARR! How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World (Deep Vellum is publishing three autobiographical novels about Gnarr’s childhood and adolescence in 2015…). And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be getting news soon about Gnarr coming to Texas at the end of August…
Coming soon: information on distribution for Deep Vellum’s books (it’s big), and a few more book signings to announce…so check back SOON, and THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY BOOKLOVING HEART, I am floating as I walk around Dallas today, you have all made me believe that not only is this dream to publish world literature in Dallas possible, it is already happening in the biggest way!!! Thank you all for your time, help, and support. Let’s keep it going.
June 11, 2014 § Leave a comment
Launch party on Monday. The Wild Detectives. 7pm. Free wine & beer from Deep Ellum Brewing Company. Tacos from El Padrino. Books and booklovers, unite!
If you are coming to the launch party, be warned that parking is a drag in the Bishop Arts District. Ride to the party in style with Uber Dallas! New users who enter promo code ‘DeepVellumLaunch’ will receive $20 off their first ride. No account? Just signup here and the discount will automatically apply to your first ride!
Speaking of The Wild Detectives, their store manager, Carlos Guajardo’s was on KERA’s THINK yesterday discussing bookselling in the Dallas area, along with representatives of all the fine stores our area has to offer! Check it out!
P.S. We have softly launched a preordering page on Square Market, take a peek, order a book or two and that way if anything fouls up we’ll get it fixed before officially launching the preorders complete with finalized book covers next week. Order a subscription, why don’t you?
May 22, 2014 § 1 Comment
SAVE THE DATE: JUNE 16. That’s when Deep Vellum will have a launch party in Dallas. At The Wild Detectives. 7pm. Be there. It’ll be a party. And prepare for the grand unveiling of Deep Vellum’s cover art for the first round of books we’ve signed . . .
Speaking of launch parties, if you’re in NYC for BEA next week, let me know–Deep Vellum is throwing a launch party on May 27 (that was featured in the Publishers’ Lunch Deluxe email today, I nearly lost it with glee over that fact), and will be part of a grand translation publishers’ party on May 28 with friends/inspirations Open Letter, Archipelago, New Vessel Press, Ugly Duckling Presse, And Other Stories, Frisch & Co., Asymptote, Words Without Borders and MORE! If you’re going to be in NYC, don’t miss these parties, they will be the highlights of the week (well, until I shake Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s hand again at the New Directions party on Thursday . . .).
Man, speaking of updates, it’s been a minute since I last wrote here, and I am sorry! Life is insane! I’m trying to figure out what font to use for the text in Deep Vellum’s books (I’m leaning Minion, but have gotten recommendations for Miller and Gentium as well…). And I’ve been going back and forth with the book designer to get these covers confirmed ASAP, and in the last week we’ve had a huge breakthrough in designs, the problem now is that we have to actually make some choices, when in reality I love them all so, so much…but they won’t be unveiled until June 16 at the launch party, so hold on to your hats.
Preorders will be up as soon as I learn how to install WordPress on my computer and get a Paypal shopping cart added to this page…forgive me, though I am young, I am not as digitally-savvy as I should be.
The response to the KERA piece on Art & Seek has been phenomenal, and has introduced me to so many inspiring people who love world literature and who want to be involved in growing this publishing endeavor here in Dallas. Just today I confirmed the first Dallas-based member of Deep Vellum’s board of directors, she loves world literature so much that she regularly reads the Complete Review for book recommendations and even reads the Complete Review’s Literary Saloon, which is amazing, because that’s literally the greatest source for international publishing news and gossip on the entire internet, and I thought I would definitely be the only Dallas IP address logging on…but no! I’m not alone! People love literature here, and literature in translation to boot! I’m so overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, and excitement to get this thing going…
In other publishing news, Chad Post of Open Letter Books put up the first update for the 2014 Translation Database, which includes 442 titles to be published this year (it is missing, at least, the three Deep Vellum titles to be released in 2014, as we have yet to buy our ISBNs because there are only so many hours in the day…). Those 442 books are for fiction and poetry, and will inevitably grow a bit as more books are scheduled for release and dug out of the weird distribution graveyards some end up in, which is great, because 2012 had 453 titles published, and 2013 had the most ever recorded at 524 (Three Percent has been keeping tabs since 2007), and this year is on pace to shatter the previous record (though in reality, my guess is the final total will be right around 550). Here’s some fun facts gleaned from the Translation Database report, and if you ever want to know why I do what I do, take a look at these numbers, take a hard look, and think about how crazy this is (a point visualized well by Brooklyn Quarterly in the piece I wrote earlier this year):
- The top translated languages: French (93 books), German (50), Spanish (46), Arabic (30), Italian (23), Russian (22), Chinese (19), Swedish (18), Japanese & Portuguese (17 each).
- Dalkey Archive still publishes more translations than anybody else (32 titles), but is now followed by Seagull Books (an Indian-based publisher who put out some of the most gorgeous books in the world, and specialize in German literature, at 21), Europa Editions and Gallic Books (both at 18), AmazonCrossing (17), Other Press (15), and New Directions (12).
- No books from Thai, Latvian, Tagalog, Lithuanian, or many African or Indian languages (I know I’m leaving out a ton). Only one each from Vietnamese, Urdu, Pashto, Tamil, Hindi, Bulgarian, Estonian, Flemish (which should be under Dutch, but still, combined that would only be SIX), Croatian, and Serbian.
- Only eight (!) books published out of Mexico, and two of those are works of poetry (and one is from the Zapotec)…ONLY EIGHT BOOKS FROM MEXICO! That number will spike to ten (only ten!) when Carmen Boullosa’s Texas: The Great Theft and Sergio Pitol’s The Art of Flight join this database, but still, that’s insane.
Now the fight becomes building a readership for these 442 titles! Read some of these books! Check out the Complete Review for more reviews of translations than any other source on the planet. Tony’s Reading List and Winston’s Dad are good too.
In better news, the winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize was announced today, and it went to Hassan Blasim’s short story collection, The Iraqi Christ, translated by Jonathan Wright. This is a huge deal for so so so so many reasons, but most importantly to me are the facts that this is the first Arabic-original title to win the illustrious IFFP, it’s also the first short story collection to ever win the IFFP (!), and the publisher is Comma Press, and independent, not-for-profit UK publisher based in Manchester (a world away from the London publishing establishment), with the mission (from their website) “dedicated to promoting new writing, with an emphasis on the short story. It is committed to a spirit of risk-taking and challenging publishing, free of the commercial pressures on mainstream houses.” HELL YES (and Comma’s list of authors is insane! What is this Arnon Grunberg book they published?!?). Good work, IFFP, this is so inspiring. I just put in a request for the Dallas Public Library to buy some copies of this book, here’s hoping we can get more Comma Press titles in the States after this win. Amazing work, can’t wait to read it.
And in more fun news, to prepare you for the madness in Brazil (<3 Ronaldo <3) Three Percent is hosting the 2014 World Cup of Literature, and I’m a judge! And we want you to be involved! So here are the details:
- The World Cup of Literature will be a 32-book knock-out tournament that will run around the same time as the actual World Cup of Football Soccering. Obviously, our game schedule will be different, since we’re forgoing all that round robin stuff.
- Stealing a bit from the Morning News Tournament of Books, each “match” will pit two books against one another and will be judged by one of our 24 illustrious judges. (More on that below, but if you’re illustrious and a judge, let me know. We need a few more good readers.) They’ll assign a soccer-like score and one of the two books will move on. (No draws! Because we are America and America is about winning and teams that don’t win as the winning team.)
- All 24 judges will weigh in on the championship match.
Here’s where you all come in: We need recommendations of books for all the World Cup countries. The full list of countries is below. And I set up a special email account (email@example.com) for you to send in your ideas. There’s also a Facebook page and Twitter feed that we’ll get going over the next few days. Submit recommendations there are well!
In terms of what we’re looking for, I think the books we end up including in this competition should be fun, interesting, enjoyable, “readable,” etc. So, in contrast to the BTBA finalists, this could include more genre works and the like. Not that we want to include crap, but I don’t think this should feature 32 obscure, high modernist writers from around the world.
And to keep in the World Cup spirit of young, healthy people running around athletically, we’d like to include books published from 2000 onwards. Keep it young! (And avoid match-ups like The Tin Drum vs.The Great Gatsby.)
Please send along any and all recommendations you have by June 10th. Obviously, there are certain countries that are trickier to find good representatives from than others. (Like Costa Rica. Like Côte d’Ivoire. And good luck coming up with an American book.) I’ll post all the recommendations we get after the 10th, and we’ll announce the official representatives later that week along with a match schedule.
Also, I’m serious about looking for a few more judges. Rather than calling on all the usual suspects, I think it would be more fun to include a bunch of Three Percent/International Literature fans in the judging process. As a judge you will be assigned two matches that you’re responsible for, and can vote on the championship. The pieces you write can be as serious or as flippant as you want—it’s up to you. Just email the same address (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’re interested.
I think that’s it for now . . . So for the non-soccer obsessed, here are the countries that are participating:
- Costa Rica
- Côte d’Ivoire
- Ivory Coast
- South Korea
I’m off to New York for Book Expo America on Monday. The Global Market Forum this year at BEA is on Translation (with the … interesting subheading of “Wanderlust for the Written Word”), so you can find me camped out in that wing of the Javits Center all day on Wednesday. There will be a full wrap-up of this year’s BEA, what transpires with the Translation Global Market Forum, and what it means to launch a publishing house at BEA, rather than somewhere else (since I have ranted about BEA before, why launch during BEA now?), to come in Publishing Perspectives a week after I’m back. And remember, June 16, launch party in Dallas. Get involved in Deep Vellum! And get involved in the World Cup of Literature!! Peace for now, y’all.
May 8, 2014 § Leave a comment
The big day is finally here, Deep Vellum is “officially” launching today with a press release going out this morning!
The press release announces that Deep Vellum is launching during Book Expo America at the end of the month, with a launch party to be hosted May 27th at Hill Country BBQ in Chelsea (basically the Texas embassy in NYC).
In addition, I sat down yesterday with Jerome Weeks of KERA’s Art & Seek to discuss Deep Vellum, Dallas, publishing, translation, and more. You can check out the interview at Art & Seek’s site, “The New Face of Literary Publishing in Dallas”:
The single question Will Evans is asked most often is: Why are you setting up a publishing company — in Dallas? It’s true, his wife’s a lawyer who got a job here last year. And Evans likes the idea of getting publishing out of New York City. Ninety percent of American books are still published out of New York.
So Evans asks, why not Dallas?
“As you can imagine,” he says, “publishing is going through a period of upheaval and radical change, and so for that reason, it’s actually easier now to start a publishing house in Dallas than ever before.”
Lots more fun stuff will be announced soon, including preorders and the unveiling of the (interlinked) book art for this first list of five titles, so check back again soon, or sign up for the mailing list at the top right of the page!
With this announcement, Deep Vellum is making a case to the world that great foreign literature deserves to be read in English. We’re in the growing stages, and your support means the world to making sure we can get our books in the hands of as many readers as possible. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation through the link in the upper right-hand corner of this page in any amount to make the most impactful publishing debut this side of the Pecos/Red/Colorado/Mississippi/Rio Grande.
April 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
Back from trips to London and Los Angeles! Back in the beautiful springtime thundery (not the Kevin Durant thunder either) Dallas. Basketball and hockey playoffs are here, go Dallas, beat those dang Spurs and Ducks! And we’re at the start of baseball and soccer seasons. It’s a good time to be alive in this sports mecca…now on to books!
Deep Vellum received a warm welcome from both the weather and the British translation community in London! If you were at the panel at Society of Authors that Monday or the Literary Translation Centre panel in Earls Court on Tuesday, and if you have a picture, please send them to me! It was an honor to serve on those panels with so many of my favorite publishers and translators. I learned a lot, and made a lot of new friends, and am thankful to all the translators who introduced themselves–you guys are the reason I do this. Thank you, and I can’t wait to hear your ideas…
These days Deep Vellum is gearing up for an official “launch.” There will be an official announcement complete with a press release, cover art, and ordering information coming soon. Hope to get the website revamped this summer in time for the first books to come out this fall. Thank you for reading this blog and supporting Deep Vellum throughout the last year as I worked to get this idea off the ground. I’ll be attending Book Expo America and hope to meet some new faces there too, and I will be announcing details of BEA-week launch party soon, but I can promise you it will include lots of brisket and (veggie!) tacos at Hill Country BBQ (aka: the Texas embassy in NYC!).
In some delightful publishing news, the London Book Fair’s inaugural LBF Book Excellence Awards honored the work of our friends at Open Letter Books for their Best Translated Book Awards, now in their eighth (?) year–which won the “International Literary Translation Initiative Award.” For Chad Post, who created these awards to provide an opportunity for translated works to gain more prominence among readers (and booksellers, and other publishers, if you look at the bigger picture, trying to change the whole game!), this is a huge honor and a real signal that the BTBA is only growing in stature among publishing industry professionals worldwide. Congratulations, Chad, I’m so proud of you and thankful for all you’ve done for translation.
Speaking of the BTBA, the finalists in fiction and poetry have been announced. I wrote a “Why This Book Should Win” piece about Mircea Cărtărescu’s incredible Blinding, translated by Sean Cotter and published by Archipelago Books. You can check out the exhortation of Blinding’ brilliance here. And to show how important this award is becoming, just because it was listed on the BTBA shortlist, I picked up a copy of Mahi Binebine’s Horses of God, translated by Lulu Norman and published by Tin House, when I was at the (magnificent, amazing, mindblowing) Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. Now if we could just get the BTBA shortlist announcements to translate into some significant sales bumps among readers not already knee-deep in the game…
And continuing the debate over whether you should start your own publishing house or throw your efforts into promoting works in translation or both at the same time, Sal Robinson of Melville House wrote a great blog that summarizes parts of my argument, M. Lynx Qualey’s argument, and takes up Scott Esposito’s point that we’re all in this together, man, so let’s just work on publishing more books in translation AND promoting the ones that manage to get published (which was my original point all along, I think the title of the piece is misleading, but it sure did work at grabbing the attention of people who would never click a link called “Let’s Promote More Translated Literature, Y’all!” which we’ve all read dozens of times).
Sal’s own points come at the end of the article (which I recommend reading in full). Some choice points:
There is one other issue here that hasn’t been raised, and that is that Qualey’s response may indicate something important about translated literature, something that’s often glided over: different languages and literary cultures exist in different relationships to English-language publishing, reviewing, and bookselling. If, for instance, I was publishing a French book in translation, though this would still pose numerous challenges when it came to getting it reviewed and in front of readers, there would be a basic familiarity and context that would make the whole process easier. I wouldn’t expect to have to explain the history of French literature to reviewers. I wouldn’t have to start from virtually from zero.
But this is the situation that Arabic literature faces in English-language markets. Of five recent Arabic novels in translation that Qualey mentions in her post, only one got any kind of English-language media attention: Hassan Blasim’s collection of short stories, The Corpse Exhibition (and even then,David Kipen’s NYT review is astonishingly patronizing – I don’t know if any review that ends by saying that if the author wrote the stories in the order they appeared in the book, then he could be said to be developing as a writer and might eventually go “who knows who far” can really count as a win).
This is an acute critical drought, and the kind of seeding of the conversation Qualey proposes seems absolutely necessary here. It’s not accurate, in short, to assume that all books in translation have it equally hard: some have it much harder than others, at every stage of the game. The idea that a Great Translated Book will just emerge and find its readers, no matter what, has rarely been borne out by literary history, and it has a nasty flipside: if a Great Translated Book hasn’t emerged from your language or country yet, the suspicion grows in the metropole that maybe there’s nothing there worth reading in the first place. And this becomes an excuse for further inattention. As mild, as inappropriately literary-fray-like, as this conclusion will sound, different literatures may, in the end, just be in need of different types of advocacy.
Sal is spot-on in taking the idea of publishing vs. promotion (or the combination) into the next realm, which involves actual readers, reviewers, and critics, and the level of “education” that needs to take place to bring foreign literatures into a new culture, and a wholly new context. That is an important point to consider, and one that is often glossed over completely in reviews and among the would-be Bonos in the translation world “building bridges between cultural divides” (a phrase I’ll admit I use, especially among those not in the translation world, but an idea that is dangerous in its implied paternalism and hollow utopianism!).
The academic in me loves this debate, because it touches on issues that are rarely discussed in our field, but which underly everything we do. At the same time, the reader in me is like, “Dude, whatever, what’s good is good as long as I can find it!” and the publisher in me is like, “For fuck’s sake, film distributors and record labels don’t have to worry about this shit!” The more we place “books” (or “texts” or “the written word” or “author-driven written creative content” or whatever) on sacred pedestals, the more we are lining ourselves up for arguments that can extend into eternity about what does and doesn’t “deserve” to be translated, even as we attempt to reach readers who’d be interested in our books.
And on that point, I am of the opinion that everything deserves to be translated and that we should absolutely promote the hell out of everything that is published. Those unfamiliar with the original context can learn it through reading these unfamiliar texts (the same way I’ve been building up my understanding of world literature outside of the Russian literary heritage the last two years). The added element of the “foreign” is scary at first–and the more we exoticize translations, the more we continue to put them in their own ghetto of literature, as if “translated” meant “different”–though “world literature” as a concept can and should include English-language original texts next to French- and Arabic-language original texts. The idea is for Pitol to wind up next to Pynchon someday in the bookstores; Shishkin next to Salinger; Garréta next to Gordimer. The ideas is that even if they’re translations, they’re works of literature first and foremost.
No two novels are the same (though these days I sometimes doubt this is true), so what does it matter that one is more unfamiliar and comes from a completely different context? I didn’t understand what weird world I was stepping into the first time I read Solaris or Ender’s Game, but they both managed to create new universes in my imagination–and they’re both sci-fi, and come from completely different political and social contexts, and you can argue that the translation of Solaris I read was bad because it had been translated from French via its original Polish, but none of that really mattered when I was reading and loving the story, and being completely blown away by the originality of thought that lied therein. And the more I learn about sci-fi, and especially Soviet sci-fi, the more I can appreciate the book on new levels (and on the flip side, my original 13-year old love of Ender’s Game suffered a major blow when the author’s political inclinations didn’t line up with mine as a grownup…).
We don’t need to look down on readers all the time, they can figure out a lot along the way, but we do need to work to make sure the context is presented to them enough to figure it out. Because like Sal mentions, and we all see way too often in discussions of translations, the preexisting conditions of the reader’s mind can cloud the way the texts are read. It’s up to us to try to do something about that, but we can only do so much. So it’s up to us to find the books in their original languages, hire a damn good translator to bring each into English, publish them in all format of book that the contemporary reader may use to imbibe literature, then promote the hell out of it through a combination of reviews, literary salons, book tours, and whatever else could work to draw attention to the books, and then sit back and count the money as it rolls in…or rather, sit back and watch the cultural tide shift to being more open…or rather, there’s no way of knowing what will happen, but this is the good fight, and I’m glad to be a part of it with so many amazing people with so much diverse knowledge, I’m learning so much so fast.
We’re approaching a Borgesian (dys/u)topia in which all written texts of the world are universally accessible for the rest of time and all that remains is for the reader to find exactly what kind of book they are looking for at any time (terrifying/amazing concept). So whose side are you on, the future’s or the past’s? I’m throwing my lot in with the future and publishing all the books at the same time as I promote all the books–because it’s really the same thing, and as a publisher I am in need of Melville House to exist and thrive as much as I need M. Lynx Qualey’s literary salon to thrive, because we’re all part of the same process, and we are all equally important to each other, and play crucial roles in ensuring each other’s successes.
April 4, 2014 § 2 Comments
First off, thank you to the Mexican government’s Ministry of Culture for awarding Deep Vellum a substantial grant to support the translation of Carmen Boullosa’s Texas and the first two books in Sergio Pitol’s “Trilogy of Memory”: The Art of Flight and The Journey. This is the biggest grant Deep Vellum has received yet, and validates Deep Vellum’s commitment to publishing and publicizing Mexican literature. So excited, and so honored.
Thinking of drizzly London as I write, looking out the window at a beautiful Dallas spring day, 70 and sunny with a cool breeze. But London Book Fair, I’m coming for you! My flight arrives Saturday morning around 10am, and if you are reading this and have a hookup for Chelsea FC tickets, hook it up!
If you are in London or are attending the London Book Fair and the events surrounding it next week, come say hi. I’ll be ghosting around the Translation Centre in Earls Court 2 all week, and you’ll have the chance to hear me speak on a couple panels with some of my favorite publishers (And Other Stories! Archipelago! Frisch & Co.! Pushkin Press!) and some of the world’s greatest translators (Rosalind Harvey! Daniel Hahn!). Information on the events below:
THE FUTURE, Monday 7 April, 3:30-5:00pm, The Society of Authors (84 Drayton Gardens, London SW10 9SB)
How the translation industry can make the most of an evolving publishing landscape.
Speakers: Will Evans (Deep Vellum Publishing), EJ Van Lanen (Frisch & Co), Rosalind Harvey (translator, TA Committee), Stefan Tobler (And Other Stories). Chaired by Daniel Hahn.
MEET THE PUBLISHERS, 08 Apr 2014, 10:00 – 11:00, Literary Translation Centre (Earls Court 2)
- Stephanie Seegmuller (Chairperson), Associate Publisher and COO, Pushkin Press
- Sophie Buchan, Publisher, Weidenfeld & Nicolson Fiction
- EJ Van Lanen, Founder and Publisher, Frisch & Co.
- Jill Schoolman, Founder and Publisher, Archipelago Books
- Will Evans, Founder and Publisher, Deep Vellum Publishing
Speaking of Archipelago Books and how amazing they are, Publishing Perspectives has posted a wonderful piece on Archipelago and Jill Schoolman, who founded the press 10 years ago, and who provides an inspiration to me in starting and running Deep Vellum. If you read my piece in the Brooklyn Quarterly, “I Want You to Start Your Own Publishing House,” the structure of this article on Archipelago provides another good primer on how think about the many facets of publishing and how to put all the pieces together:
To hear Schoolman explain what she’s trying to do with each title, is to understand from where all the energy needed to run an operation such as this comes. The search for “a singular voice,” Schoolman says with eyes full of electricity, is what drives the engine at Archipelago Books. The mission is not a philosophical one. Nor is it one based on the naive idea that if we all understood one another better the world would suddenly turn utopian. No, this is less everyone shoulder to shoulder singing “We Are the World” and more Mrs. Ramsay from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, after growing upset at her children for manufacturing differences between people, saying that “people, heaven knows, were different enough without that.” The goal, it seems, is to introduce to the world a voice it hasn’t yet heard, or perhaps—in the case of their Musil, Cortazar, and Rilke titles – a voice one hasn’t yet heard in a particular way. As readers experience these new voices, Schoolman hopes, they will begin to see that, though we are different, we are not nearly as different as we sometimes – usually with very little evidence – make up our minds to be.
Congratulations on 10 amazing years, Archipelago, and here’s to the next 10, and the 100 after that!
Speaking of my piece in Brooklyn Quarterly, it has started some discussion about the role of publishers and the literary world that promotes literature. Check out M. Lynx Qualey’s ArabLit blog (the best source in English to learn about the vast and diverse Arabic literary world) for her piece, “Dear Will, Why I’m Not Starting My Own Publishing House“:
So if I were going to contribute to this ecosystem — of giving literature in translation a greater chance with English-language readers — I wouldn’t start another publishing house. I’d make this whirligig more entertaining. I would brighten the face of ArabLit; I would spark more discussions about trends in Arabic literature; I would run more zizz and contests; I would create book-club materials; I would organize events; I would run more excerpts, short stories, poems. I would also target some of this at young people who might be interested in MG and YA literature in translation.
That’s cool with me, we need as many sources helping to promote translations as possible, and salons/blogs/reviewers like M. Lynx play an invaluable role for any publisher to learn about the artists and the audience both, but the piece misses the larger point that I was making that these days publishers need to play a more active role in creating the community aspect of reading and literary culture, which I argue in the BQ, especially we indie publishers, a point that Scott Esposito picks up on in his blog Conversational Reading in a piece titled “Publishing Literature is Publicizing Literature“:
I see M. Lynx Qualey’s point, but I think this is a little off-base. The word “publish,” after all, includes the definition “to make public announcement of” and “to disseminate to the public” (which leads many authors to quip that they’ve been “privished” when their book is buried in a publisher’s list).
In other words, any publisher who is doing right by his or her work should do exactly what Quayley is asking for. It should be a built in part of their business. And, in fact, good publishers do all the things (or at least as many as they can) that she puts in her list of things that could promote Arab literature. I’d add that publishers have a great incentive to do this—they get to stay in business.
Glad to start a conversation, this is one worth having, and I would love to see more discussion on the theme of finding new ways to reach audiences outside of the traditional publishing industry model (the publishing industry is dead/dying/broken, long live the publishing industry).
March 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
HOLY MOLY, WE’VE SIGNED JÓN GNARR!
Deep Vellum will publish a trilogy of autobiographical novels by the Mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland: Jón Gnarr. “The World’s Coolest Mayor,” Jón is one of the most famous people in Iceland, he gained his fame as a singer in a punk band who went on to be a comedian and an actor, who in 2009 formed a joke political party, The Best Party, with some friends as a response to the international economic crisis that devastated Iceland’s economy, and they ended up winning most of their races (his campaign for the mayorship is captured in the 2010 documentary, Gnarr, which you can stream on Netflix!). His campaign was covered in the NY Times and the Guardian, among pretty much every other media outlet in the world too. Jón is an inspiration to me personally, and to millions of people around the world who have followed his election and vocal support for the freedom of speech and human rights around the world.
Our friends at Melville House are publishing a nonfiction work by Jón in June, after his term as mayor is up, about running for and becoming mayor, entitled Gnarr: How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World:
“If there’s two things we like at Melville House, it’s comedy and political activism, and we’ve published a lot of each,” says Melville House co-publisher Valerie Merians. ”The American political scene is a pretty humorless place these days. We can learn a lot from Jón Gnarr.”
Keep an eye out for that, and get ready for Jón to invade America this summer and fall (including some time in Texas this fall!!!!!)!
The trilogy we are publishing, The Indian (2006), The Pirate (2009), and The Outlaw (to be published in Iceland in fall 2014) recount with humor and wit his childhood and adolescence as a child with learning disabilities who did time in a home for retarded children (he has severe dyslexia and ADHD), through the bullying he received as a teenager before discovering punk rock and starting to get in trouble. In Jón’s own words, the basic plot of each book:
The Indian is used here a lot in schools. As you know I was misdiagnosed with a mental retardation and grew up alone with old parents. They are both gone.The Pirate is about early teens, punk, anarchism and such. The main core of the story is the bullying I was victim to.The Outlaw is late teens. I was sent to a juvenile home in the remote West for two years. It is really brutal and lonely.
A modest proposal: If translation is the act that allows dialogue to take place between individuals, then translated literature is the means by which entire cultures engage each other. I started Deep Vellum Publishing as an arts and education nonprofit organization with the mission to enhance the open exchange of ideas among cultures through translation, and to connect the world’s greatest un-translated literature with readers in original English translations. Not too radical, right?
But Deep Vellum was founded in Dallas, Texas, and Dallas has presented me with more challenges than I had anticipated. In Dallas, I fight a war on two fronts; every day, not only do I find myself defending translations (which I was expecting), but I also find myself defending the value of literature itself as a necessary ingredient in a city’s arts culture.
The attack is threefold. First comes the inevitable leading question, “Why should I read something that wasn’t written in English?” This query is itself a more insidious version of the second (and more common) refrain: “I don’t read translations.” But then I am still surprised by the third statement I often hear in Dallas. After asking how Deep Vellum is allowed to be an arts organization—a question that takes me aback—people utter a follow-up proclamation that actually left me speechless the first time I heard it: “Literature is not the arts.”
Why read anything not written in English? I don’t read translations. Literature is not the arts.
We, as a culture, have a problem with the way we value literature. This leads to a problem in how we value world literature, in how we value translation, in how we ignore translation’s invaluable contribution to our entire society.
This problem won’t solve itself, and it’s on each of us to do something about it. Here’s how.
You can read the manifesto in full here. Please read it, and please pass it along to anyone you know who might be interested in learning more about publishing. I want to throw open the doors to the publishing establishment and take over. Let’s do this!