Let's say you took a six-month-long apprenticeship as a publisher with Open Letter Books -- a small independent publishing house at The University of Rochester in New York, dedicated to bringing great works from around the world to the English-speaking world. Now let's say you move to Dallas in 2013, a city that until recently didn't even have an indie book scene, and start your very own publishing company. How hard do you think it would be to convince some of the very best writers in the world to sign on the dotted line?
Well if your name is Will Evans, executive director of Deep Vellum Publishing, the answer to that is "easier than you would have thought."
What Evans is trying to do may seem ambitious, but if there is anyone up to the task it's him. "I wasn't offering a ton of money and I'm not offering the prestige of a big house, but I'm offering something completely unique," he says. "I've signed books I wanted and people are excited to work with a publisher in Dallas. I mean, Texas is exotic all around the world."
The authors Evans has on deck are impressive. Mikhail Shishkin is the biggest name in contemporary Russian literature and is the only writer ever (at least, so far) to win all three of Russia's major literary awards. And now, Dallas will be where his first English language book, Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories, is published.
Experimental French writer Anne Garréta's debut novel Sphinx (originally published in 1986) is also being released in English for the first time; as well as a collection of short stories titled The Art of Flight by one of Mexico's greatest living authors, Sergio Pitol; and then there's the fictional autobiographical trilogy by Icelandic funny-man turned irreverent Mayor of Reykjavik, Jon Gnarr .
Now you may be asking yourself, "If Ms. Garréta or Mr. Shishkin are such great writers, how come I've never heard of him? I'm hip, I'm well-read, what gives?" That's exactly what we asked Evans.
"Our literature is just Americans reading Americans and nothing being advanced, but if you look around the world there are all these exciting things going on," he says. The very act of translating a book is an act of assimilating the knowledge of the world, and Evans thinks that despite the rise of cosmopolitanism, there are still some people who put up resistance.
"There was a big problem with countries that were aligned with the Soviet Union and Russian became a language that was [no longer] thought of as the language of Tolstoy but the language of Stalin," Evans says.
It's all about an issue dubbed the "Three Percent Problem." Great books are being written all over the world, in every language you can think of. But it's no easy task translating a book into English, nor is it very lucrative at the moment.
"For the last hundred years English has been the dominant language in the world and so what that leads to is the idea that we don't need to translate into English, we translate out of English," he says.
But Deep Vellum is hard at work, looking to break the cycle of homogeneity in American literature, and we're all invited to the party.
Come see what else Evans has in store for our bookshelves and rainy Sunday afternoons, 7 p.m. Monday at The Wild Detectives. There will be food and drink for all, as well as the unveiling of the cover art for Deep Vellum's first round of books, set to be released beginning in the fall. For more information on Deep Vellum and the authors they have signed go to deepvellum.org.
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