By Will Evans
NEW YORK: “In a globalized world, shouldn’t our choice of books be global?” That’s the challenge posed by New Vessel Press, a new ebook publishing house specializing in foreign literature in translation, co-founded by two internationally-minded individuals: writer and translator Ross Ufberg, a Ph.D. candidate in Slavic literature at Columbia University, and Michael Z. Wise, an author and journalist who has covered Central Europe for The Washington Post and Reuters.
The two serendipitously met at the Manhattan Spelling Bee in 2011, and bonded over a mutual appreciation for foreign literature and culture: Ufberg is an accomplished translator from Polish and Russian; Wise has published a work about architectural reconstruction in Berlin, and reads extensively in German and French.
New Vessel’s inaugural list of titles includes authors from Italy, Israel, Moldova, Poland, Argentina and Austria, a mixture of contemporary literature with older titles: The Good Life Elsewhere by Vladimir Lorchenkov (Moldova), translated by Ross Ufberg ; Cocaine by Pitigrilli (Italy), translated by Eric Mosbacher ; Killing the Second Dog by Marek Hlasko (Poland); Fanny von Arnstein: Daughter of the Enlightenment by Hilde Spiel (Austria), translated by Christine Shuttleworth; Some Day by Shemi Zarhin (Israel), translated by Yardenne Greenspan ; and The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal (Argentina), translated by Nicholas Caistor.
Translation as a Cultural Bridge and Great Entertainment
The ideal reader for New Vessel is not necessarily one who only reads literature in translation, but one who appreciates the quality of a good story. Ufberg does not see a reason why translations should only be read by a small portion of the population: “If you can read in English, you can read our books. You don’t have to be a specialist in French literature or Chinese poetry. You just have to like to read.”
Ufberg, who serves as the publisher’s president, points out that while “literature is a great way to get to know another way of life, another culture, another country, landscape, or state of mind, the dearth of translations is a shame simply because there are so many good stories being told, good books being written in other languages, and we’re missing out. Literature—and we should NEVER forget this—is also great entertainment.”
Wise adds, “There’s a huge wealth of literature in foreign languages that never gets tapped by English language publishers. Most of what does appear in English has either won a prize in its country of origin or been a bestseller. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we’re also looking for and equipped to find fresh and exciting writing that will give English speaking readers access to life elsewhere.”
Symbolism in a Name
The name “New Vessel Press” is symbolic of Ufberg and Wise’s commitment to bringing the best stories to their reader through whatever means the reader chooses. “What matters most is not where the authors hail from, nor what language they write in,” says Ufberg. “The most important thing is the quality of the work itself. Hence our name. We publish great books, just in a new vessel.”
Initially, New Vessel will sell directly to readers directly, in addition to through Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. And they also plan to make available a print-on-demand option for all of their titles—for those readers who “value the ‘old vessel,’ too.”