Open Letter Book’s Chad Post on the State of Translation

In News by Dennis Abrams

Three Percent and Open Letter Books publisher Chad Post talks with Caitlyn Christensen at Sampsonia Way about the contemporary literary scene, publishing and translation.

By Dennis Abrams

Chad Post

Chad Post

Here at Publishing Perspectives, we love Chad Post — frequent contributor and editor/reviewer/blogger at the literary website Three Percent, and publisher at the University of Rochester’s Open Letter Books which publishes ten translated works per year — and, of course, we love translation. So you can imagine our excitement when we read the interview that Chad did with Caitlyn Christensen at Sampsonia Way on topics such as the contemporary literary scene, publishing, and, of course, translation.

Some highlights:

Since its launch in 2007, how has Three Percent impacted modern and contemporary literature in translation?

We’ve been a part of the growing tide of publications that have helped bring attention to great voices from around the world, in a way that demonstrates to readers that translation isn’t scary, that reading a book from Romania can be fun. In a practical sense, we’ve become a leading outlet for book reviews of international fiction coming out from smaller, university presses. We created the Translation Database to quantify and track all original translations available to American readers. Most importantly, we launched the Best Translated Book Award, which has brought significant attention and prize money to works in translation.

How do you select the books that you feature on your blog? Are you looking for any criteria in particular, besides the fact that a work is translated?

That depends. In terms of reviews, we try and match up interesting sounding books — “interesting” in the broadest sense possible — with reviewers who are excited about particular titles and want to present them to readers. When it comes to my own writing on the blog — like my monthly translation previews, which, granted, are equal parts creative joke-making on my part and genuine previews of forthcoming titles — I pick out the books that I personally want to read. These are usually strange books, books translated by people I respect, authors I’ve heard of and either love or want to discover, titles that others might pass on by. I have to admit that over the past year of writing up these previews, I’ve never had a hard time finding ten translations that I want to feature in a given month. More often than not, I’m cutting out books that deserve a plug. And this goes back to the earlier question—we need to pay more attention to what we have available.

What is the state of translated literature in 2014? Would you still agree with the assessment that only three percent of international literature is translated? Who is reading it?

It’s probably less than three percent, depending on what you count as a “book.” If you include self-published works (of translation and not) then the percentage of translated works published in America is probably like .001 percent. But of fiction and poetry, we are right at that three percent figure.

Are more people reading international literature? Maybe. I’d like to hope that everyone’s efforts have resulted in more translations being stocked in stores, more readers being willing to take a chance on something from a foreign country, etc. But most likely, literary readers — who read all forms of literature regardless of original language — are reading deeper. Finding books that may have passed by unnoticed a decade ago, and finding other readers to share their thoughts with.

Have you noticed any thematic trends in the international literature that’s come out in the past four years? Anything that indicates these books speak to global concerns?

Aside from the popularity of Scandinavian crime? Which is interesting because it points to the fact that people aren’t afraid of international literature as long as it’s a form with which they are familiar. More likely that they’re afraid of “difficult” books, whether they are written in English or Estonian.

One thing that I find interesting is how many unique, incredible Spanish-language authors are coming out these days. Sure, this is a post-Bolaño thing, but at the same time, I think editors are finding that there’s a wealth of great Spanish-language material deserving an English readership. Because of the interest and focus on international literature, editors are in a much better position to find books from all corners of the world. This enabling of editors is a trend that I like.

As a publisher, do you ever experience anxiety about the amount of international literature the American reader might never see?

Are there great books readers don’t currently have access to? Sure. But I’d rather talk about what we have, about all the new presses starting up (New Vessel! Deep Vellum!), and about new books we should all be reading. Sure, I’d like more things to get translated, but I think the best path to accomplishing that is to get more readers reading and talking about the books that are available.

To read the rest of the interview, including Post’s thoughts on the biggest challenges facing literary translation publishers, the biggest challenges facing translators, and what goes into selecting books for publication at Open Letter Books, click here.

To read more about contemporary Spanish-language novels, click here.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.