The Art of Creating New Readers

June 10th, 2014 No Comments

The literary canon is a compendium of works that overcome the oblivion of time and continue to be read. In the operation of keeping alive books that are not strictly current – by offering them to new readers, who make new interpretations of them – a fundamental role is played by those publishers that are committed to the publication of more or less well-known classics.

Kosmopolis. Programació contínua held a round table with five publishers for whom these classics are essential to the structure of their catalogue. These are the three Catalan publishers Edicions de 1984, Minúscula, and Sajalín, Turkish publisher Metis and Dutch publisher Lebowski. Edicions de 1984 is, together with Metis, the most veteran of them: both have three decades of experience behind them. The first of the two has recovered the works of authors such as Dino Buzzati, Hans Fallada, Kurt Pinthus, Aleksander Pushkin, Honoré de Balzac, Lev Tolstoi, Juli Vallmitjana, Eduard Girbal Jaume and, more recently, Walt Whitman, William Faulkner and Alfred Döblin. In the case of Metis, founded in 1982 in Istanbul, it has dedicated a large part of its almost 800 published titles to date to “highbrow literature and critical theory”: in the first section it includes Georges Perec, Marguerite Yourcenar, Henry Bauchau and Bilge Karasu; in the second, it has published works by Ludwig Wittgenstein, Walter Benjamin, Emile Cioran and Sigmund Freud.

Minúscula, which in 2015 celebrated 15 years in the publishing business, has, from its first two titles – by Joseph Roth and Marisa Madieri – built up a catalogue that, in the words of its publisher, Valeria Bergalli, has “a marked interest in European culture, in an artistic heritage that has never known frontiers and in writers that, at decisive moments, deciphered the signs of the times with extraordinary sensitivity”. Thus, it has opted for authors such as Varlam Shalámov, Giani Stuparich, Gertrude Stein, Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Hans Keilson, Svetislav Basara, Pierre Bergounioux, Rachel Bespaloff and Shirley Jackson. Coinciding with its tenth anniversary, it launched a collection in Catalan, in which it has published Anton Chekhov, Dacia Maraini and Ferdinando Camon, among other authors.

In the case of the Dutch publisher Lebowski, it combines the publication of contemporary Dutch authors with classics such as Natsume Sooseki, Gaito Gazdanov, Erich Kästner and Cornelis Bastiaan Vaandrager and established 20th century names in American letters such as Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Charles Bukowski.

Sajalín is, of the five publishers that were present at the round table, the youngest of all. Its mission is very clear: “to publish in Spanish unpublished or forgotten works of the best contemporary foreign narrative”. In just five years, it has enabled its readers to discover the work of Edward Bunker, Seumas O’Kelly, Osamu Dazai, Kenneth Cook, Edlef Köppen, Beppe Fenoglio and Luigi Bartolini. It has recently incorporated novels by Waguih Ghali and Dambudzo Marechera.

The “Unknown Classics” round table was part of the Schwob project, which aims to make better known around Europe some forty books of high literary quality that have rarely been translated, including titles by Miklós Banffy, Tibor Déry, Kees Bordewijk, Víctor Català and Álvaro Cunqueiro. The session was followed by a second debate focused on writers who have started to open up a pathway recently. This is the case of Marina Espasa, Yannick Garcia, Jenn Díaz and David Gálvez. Espasa made her debut in 2012 with the novel La dona que es va perdre (Empúries), and publisedh her second book, El dia del cérvol (L’Altra) on 2015. Garcia, who became known with De dalt i de baix (Edicions 62), a book of poems that won the Gabriel Ferrater Prize in 2003, has returned after a parenthesis of nearly a decade with the collections of short stories Barbamecs (Cossetània, 2012) and La nostra vida vertical (L’Altra, 2014): the latter having won the Documenta Prize. Jenn Díaz is the youngest of the four authors – she is only 28 years old and, surprisingly, she is also the most published: Mare i filla (Amsterdam, 2015) is already her fifth novel, the first written in Catalan. Meanwhile Gálvez, born in Vilanova i la Geltrú but resident in Andorra, presented a first singular and very daring novel, Cartes mortes (Males Herbes), and has recentry published Res no és real (Males Herbes).

Watch the debate in this video.

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