Focus on Translation
This past Labor Day weekend I was in Washington, D.C., for the National Book Festival, where I spoke on a panel about publishing in the digital age, moderated by Geoffrey Kloske, vice president and publisher of Riverhead Books. It was a stimulating conversation (takeaway: reports of the death of print have been greatly exaggerated) with some very smart people—South African novelist Lynn Freed is particularly impressive—but the moment I’ll remember came earlier, during my walk to the convention center where the festival was held. Thousands of people streamed into the place to see celebrity authors such as Buzz Aldrin and literary giants including Claudia Rankine and Marilynne Robinson (page 36), which was great fun to witness, but what caught my attention was the family ahead of me: two young children so excited to attend—a book festival—that they could hardly control themselves, pulling their parents closer to this great hall of books, this mecca for readers. (They were far from the only kids there; the organizers offered a rich schedule of family-friendly activities.) I’ve been to plenty of big writers conferences, and I’m always moved by the collective energy and excitement they generate, but this was different. It gave me a whole new perspective on the power and potential reach of writing and reading.
I feel something similar whenever I work on this, our annual Independent Publishing Issue, because inevitably I learn about a small press—or a list of small presses—of which I was previously unaware. And with those new (to me) presses I am introduced to a crowd of passionate writers and readers who love, absolutely love, what these publishers do. But this year’s issue is different, and for me it opened up my thinking about the community of writers and the business of publishing. The idea to focus on translation is the happy result of feedback from our readers, many of whom expressed a desire to see more coverage of world literature and translation. I carried that idea with me to Bulgaria, in June 2014, where I met translator Angela Rodel (70), and contributing editor Jeremiah Chamberlin (56) and I discussed the concept over a cup of coffee in Sozopol. A year later we spoke further, this time in Koprovshtitsa, over a glass of something a little more spirited (rakia), marveling at the incredible voices—of writers, publishers, and translators—that now appear in these pages. I was changed, my perspective expanded, by what I found, both in Bulgaria and in this issue: The world truly is bigger than we imagine.