Interview with Chad Post of Open Letter Books
Interview taken by Zdravka Evtimova with the Open Letter Books’ director Chad Post.
ZE: Open Letter Books is a young publishing institution and its first publication was “Nobody’s Home” by Dubravka Ugresic in 2008. Its work is dedicated entirely to international literature. What were the reasons that led to establishing Open Letter Books? Why was it established to the University of Rochester?
CP: Open Letter Books came about mainly through the initiative of the professors and adminstrators at the University of Rochester. They were all interested in developing a series of "translation studies programs" to help address the so-called "3% problem" (the fact that less than 3% of all books published in America are in translation--a situation that many have pointed to as a root cause of our "cultural isolation" from the rest of the world.) In addition to having classes on the theory and practice of translation, the U of R people creating this really wanted to include a publishing venture where students would have an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of book publishing. Nate, E.J., and myself had recently left Dalkey Archive Press (a very prestigious nonprofit publishing house) with a ton of connections, knowledge, and excitement about creating something new . . . so it all sort of worked out!
ZE: Are there other publishers of international literature in USA?
What makes Open Letter Books unique in this respect?
CP: There are a number of presses in the U.S. that are doing translations: Dalkey Archive, Archipelago, Europa Editions, New Directions in terms of fiction, Host Publications, White Pine, Ugly Duckling Presse, in terms of poetry. The vast majority only do a few titles a year though. (All the actual statistics and details can be found in our Translation Database: http://www.rochester.edu/College/translation/threepercent/index.php?s=database.)Open Letter (and Archipelago with one minor exception) is the only one that does *only* literature in translation. And our aesthetic is fairly specific--20th and 21st century unique, innovative works from around the world. But what really sets us apart is our general approach to publishing. Rather than rush out as many books as we can, we're only doing 10 a year, encouraging people to subscribe to our series, and using a lot of new media tactics to identify readers.
ZE: What can you say about the joint endeavors of Open Letter Books and
Elizabeth Kostova Foundation with a view to promoting Bulgarian literature?
CP: I'm really excited about both of these main projects. It's great being able to have Zdravka Evtimova over here for a few weeks to work on her translation of Boyan Biolchev's short stories and to learn a bit about working with American publishers. (And I've learned a bit more about Bulgarian literature!) And I'm really excited that we'll be publishing Milen Ruskov's Thrown into Nature. It's a wonderful novel and something I think the reading public will really appreciate.
These are exactly the sort of initiatives needed to increase the number of Bulgarian works making their way to English-speaking readers. And the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation is very forward-looking and admirable for all that they're doing to promote Bulgarian lit and these sorts of cultural exchanges!