Open Letter Press a new publishing house at UR dedicated to publishing international literature launched its first translated work of fiction, ‘Nobody’s Home” by Dubravka Ugresic, which has already received critical acclaim.
Though in its first year, the publisher is already the largest in the country devoted exclusively to translating literature.
The Press, located in Lattimore Hall Room 411, is a trade-oriented, nonprofit publishing house that is part of the College of Arts and Sciences at UR.
The Press publishes literature originally written in other languages and translated into English.
Director of Open Letter Press Chad Post explained that Open Letter’s process begins by finding translators for original works that are currently unavailable in English.
After editing, Open Letter publishes the titles and widely sells them around the country, including on Amazon.com and in independent bookstores.
The Press utilizes other media to market its books as well and has gotten word out through reviews, online promotions, ads and reading tours.
‘To readers outside of the University, we look like a normal, independent, nonprofit publishing company, except that we only publish international literature,” Post said.
The Press, according to Post, strives to bring new, innovative, interesting voices to English readers. Most of its titles are works of fiction, literature which Post described as unique and entertaining.
‘If it weren’t for presses like Open Letter trying to expand the amount of literature published in translation, American readers would have virtually no opportunity to encounter international voices and viewpoints,” he said.
The Press has an educational base within a University program but functions as a trade publisher. In addition to satisfying its academic base, Open Letter pursues its mission of keeping the general interest of the public in mind.
‘We’re a sort of hybrid, combining the best of university presses with the best of independent presses,” Post said.
Sept. 16 marked the beginning of a series entitled ‘Reading the World Conversation Series,” by Dubravka Ugresic and Damion Searls.
According to Post, the goal of the series is two-fold: to bring famous international authors to campus so that students and faculty have an opportunity to meet and hear some of the world’s best writers and to help promote the role translators play in the publishing process.
The next series will be on Oct.1, when there will be a translators’ roundtable featuring four diverse translators. This will include Michael Emmerich, Marian Schwartz, Martha Tennent and Edward Gauvin. All of these authors work in different languages and genres.
Publishers Weekly called ‘Nobody’s Home,” Open Letter’s first release, ‘a break-out book” for fall 2008.
‘It’s a huge triumph to have a book selected and featured by PW,” Post said. ‘For it to be the very first book you publish? Amazing. I felt really validated that our editorial program is as strong as I believe it to be. And I think this bodes well for the future.”
As director, Post has ambitions for the Press’s inaugural season; he hopes to spread the word about the Press’s books.
‘My dream is for us to be in the pantheon of great presses like New Directions, New York Review Books and Archipelago and for Open Letter to be a widely read and respected representative for Arts and Sciences at the University of Rochester,” Post said.
Post’s ultimate goal is to expand the audience for international literature and to open the eyes of American readers to all the great books being written outside of our borders.
‘But after years of becoming isolated from other cultures, this takes time,” Post said. ‘Specifically, it’s difficult for a new press to develop a fan base.”
Post went on to describe how to develop a fan base.
‘You have to make people aware of what you’re doing, get those who read and love the books to spread the word and slowly but surely cultivate a large audience that’s eager to find out what you’re going to publish next,” he said.
Attracting a widespread, large readership will be a long-term effort, according to Post.
‘I know we’ll have that sort of audience, but it takes more than one or two titles to create a group of rabid fans,” Post said. ‘We’re in a great position to attract serious readers. Open Letter is getting a lot of great coverage this fall, like all the reviews, events and TV and radio interviews for Dubravka Ugresic, will help establish us as a serious, unique press.”
When asked if he was satisfied with the first release, Post said he was very happy with the first book.
He continued on to share that he is pleased about the decision to print ‘Nobody’s Home” in the paper-over-board format.
The paper-over-board format is a hardcover without a dust jacket.It is durable with a sewn binding (compared to the glue binding found in paperbacks) that makes it easier to open without cracking the spine.
‘The format is widely used in other countries &- especially in Europe and Latin America &- but not so much in the U.S.,” Post said. ‘But it’s so elegant! And of equal importance is the fact that it’s a lot cheaper to print a P.O.B. book than a traditional hardcover, so we can publish books that will last and still keep our prices very low.”
The first season has titles between $14.95 and $17.95, whereas the typical hardcover is $25 plus.
The next release for the Open Letter Press will be ‘The Pets,” by Icelandic author Bragi Olafsson. Post described the book as a hilarious and somewhat bizarre book that has been compared to works by Franz Kafka, Paul Auster and Samuel Beckett.
‘It’s a typical novel,” Post said. ‘A boy wins the lottery, meets a girl on a plane and ends up hiding from under his bed when his past nemesis shows up at his doorstep. And, along the way, there’s a tragic incident involving a couple guinea pigs.”
Olafsson will be coming as part of the ‘Reading the World Conversation Series” on Oct. 7. He will be giving a long reading as well as discussing Icelandic literature and culture with translator Lytton Smith.
Wisch is a member of the class of 2011.