As some of you may know, I recently took a trip to New York with my university where I was lucky enough to hear from and meet a lot of publishing companies that are producing amazing work in the States and internationally. The publishing industry is a relatively small market in Australia, and I was blown away by the size, capacity and diversity of book publishing in America.
Soon after I returned home, I was contacted by Open Letter Books (OLB)- a contingent of the University of Rochester in New York and I was offered the opportunity to browse their website and request a few titles to read, review and check out. I had a look through their online catalogue and was, once again, delighted by the diverse range of books on offer: gorgeously designed, beautiful books that have been translated into English from all corners of the globe. How could I possible pick just a few?
The more I looked into OLBs’ offerings, the more I became intrigued about their publishing company. So, I got in contact with the Publisher, Chad Post, to chat about the company’s ethos, their upcoming titles, which books he is most excited about on their list and how they made editorial decisions. I hope you enjoy the interview below as much as I have enjoyed discovering OLB. Scroll down to the bottom of this post to watch my video where I share my top picks from OLB’s list and swoon over their gorgeous cover designs!
Interview with Chad Post, Publisher at Open Letter Books
Kate: What kind of books do Open Letter Books publish?
Chad: We publish literature from around the world (novels, short stories, poetry collections) that add something to the on-going conversation about books. Specifically, we want to find books with unique viewpoints, structures, or ways of writings—things that set the book apart from the norm and highlight what’s so great about reading international literature.
So rather than try and find the German Jonathan Franzen, we look for the German novel that can change the way we think about Germany, or how we think about reading, or how we think about J-Franz. These aren’t always best-selling books, but books that impact culture over the long term. Books that are discussed, argued about, taught, valued. That’s what I think the role of a non-profit publishing house should be—to present readers with new ideas that complement the books coming out from corporate houses, and which help deepen the literary conversation.
Kate: What are the values that drive Open Letter Books’ editorial decisions?
Chad: Whoops. Kind of answered that in the first question . . . In short, we want to connect English readers with works of literary art that add something to the way you read and think about books. Some of our books can be seen as ‘challenging’ for that very reason, but I guarantee that these books are also deeply rewarding. And entertaining.
I guess that is one other thing that I want to emphasize: Reading shouldn’t be like taking medicine. You don’t read international literature because it somehow makes you ‘better’ or ‘more aware.’ You read certain books because they’re funny, or have a great plot, or have a structure that’s unique and blows your mind. We seek out those books that will entertain and blow your mind in ways it has yet to be blown.
Kate: The books on Open Letter Books’ list cover a wide range of topics. What do you, as the Publisher, hope to achieve by publishing certain books?
Chad: That sort of depends on the press. Different presses focus on hitting a few main groups of readers by publishing a mix of nonfiction, poetry, fiction, children’s books, etc. We specialize in literary fiction (and an occasional book of poetry), so we try and publish a range of countries and styles in any given year. It’s easy—given my personal obsessions—to end up with six experimental Latin American writers in a row, but that would be bad.
So we make sure to hit as wide a number of regions as possible, especially when the books have different themes or literary approaches. Also, we do our best to balance the number of women and men we publish. This is a huge problem in the field right now, with women writers accounting for less than 30% of all translations coming out in a given year.
Kate: What is the best thing about working for a publishing company?
Chad: Probably the free books. Then maybe the excitement of being close to the center of a creative activity. There is a great feeling to finding an author, working closely with them—and their translator—on a book, then finally holding it in your hands, and in bookstores across the country. There are a lot of great people who work in publishing, so there’s that as well. I don’t think I’d want to work in any other industry… publishing people (and authors) have spoiled me by being so smart, witty, and good at drinking.
Kate: I adore all of your book cover design! Do you freelance the design or do you use the same designer? How would you describe the book cover design style?
Chad: Nathan Furl—our art & operations manager—designs all the recent ones, but the original design concept (a sort of mod vibe) was put into place by Milen Bozic, who did the first ten or so books and set the overall tone. We have had a few other people design covers along the way, but have tried our best to keep with a certain vibe.
Kate: Within the last year, what has been the most exciting title you have published?
Chad: The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov has to be one of the top three. It’s one of the richest, most complex, rewarding books we’ve ever done. And it’s starting to pop up on a lot of award lists, which is a testament to its quality, and that of Angela Rodel’s translation. But there are others: One of Us Is Sleeping by Josefine Klougart, Loquela by Carlos Labbé, the Volodine books, The Things We Don’t Do from Andrés Neuman.
Kate: Is there a translated language you haven’t covered in your list? If so, which country/language would you like to branch out into?
Chad: Two in particular: Japanese and Hindi. It’s more difficult to find the right books from Japan and India than one might expect, but I know that if we keep digging, keep reading, keep looking, we will find something!
A huge thank you to Chad Post and the staff at Open Letter Books for chatting with me about their company and sharing their ethos with us all. If you’d like to see which books I was fortunate enough to receive from OLB, watch, like and subscribe to my YouTube channel below: