By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘To See Directly Into the Eyes of the Other’
This year’s PW Star Watch “Superstar” is AmazonCrossing editorial director Gabriella Page-Fort, who in seven years has led her Amazon Publishing imprint to be the biggest producer of translated literature in the US market.
“I made a big mistake,” Page-Fort likes to say. “I confessed to the hiring manager for AmazonCrossing that this was my dream job.”
And her pleasure in the work is part of what has distinguished AmazonCrossing among the 13 imprints of Amazon Publishing, the company’s trade publishing house, not to be confused with the self-publishing platform.
AmazonCrossing will release as many as 62 new titles in translation this year, and last year alone published books into English from Danish, Hebrew, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, Indonesian, Italian, Swedish, Finnish, French, Chinese, Spanish, and German.
Page-Fort was named Wednesday evening at an announcement party in New York for the 2017 PW Star Watch program, which is a partnership program of Frankfurt Book Fair and Publishers Weekly. Since 2015, PW Star Watch has identified “gifted rising stars of the US publishing community,” and provides one “Superstar” with an all-expenses-paid trip to Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 11-15).
“A huge opportunity for books in translation, to show readers the world as it is, a little bit of awareness, just through fiction.”Gabriella Page-Fort
The prize also includes a full six-day all-access membership in the Business Club in Hall 4.
With close to 200 nominations from the industry this year, a group of 45 top honorees was announced in August. Page-Fort was one of five finalists selected from that group which also included:
- Andrea Montejo, founder of Indent Literary Agency
- Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books
- Daniel Loedel, associate editor at Scribner
- Colleen AF Venable, art director with Workman’s children’s book group
And Page-Fort’s selection by Publishers Weekly editors, Buchmesse representatives, and other industry players was announced and toasted this evening at Chelsea’s TAO Downtown nightclub.
Previous PW Star Watch Superstars are Andrew Harwell, senior editor with HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2016, and Helen Yentus, art director with Riverhead Books in 2015.
‘Getting Really Close to Goethe’
“The way books reach readers may not change. But the way books affect readers could shift public opinion toward understanding.”Gabriella Page-Fort
Gabriella Page-Fort’s guiding insight into translation and the need to make it more popular among consumers–especially in the English-language markets–may well lie in her focus on “a good story” over category.
Rather than align the house’s work with literary fiction, which is the tradition in translated books, Page-Fort has led her team to translate work in popular genres as well as literary work. AmazonCrossing titles include romance, mystery, thriller, historical, and more, effectively offering a list that’s attractive to a much wider segment of the readership than a focus on literary fiction would draw.
So it is that AmazonCrossing released French bestseller Marc Levy’s contemporary romance P.S. From Paris at the beginning of this month in a translation by Sam Taylor, to be followed by his All Those Things We Never Said, translated by Chris Murray, on November 14. Polina Dashkova’s Madness Treads Lightly, with its tale of a woman sleuth in post-Soviet society, is slated for a release on September 12 in a translation from the Russian by Marian Schwartz.
Chinese author Jia Pingwa’s Happy Dreams is out on October 1 in a translation by Nicky Harman. Lena Manta’s family tail The House by the River releases a month later, on November 1, in an eloquent translation by Gail Holst-Warhaft. And Dublin IMPAC-nominated Croatian author Igor Štiks’ The Judgment of Richard Richter is out this month in a translation by Ellen Elias-Bursac, a work of historical fiction set in Sarajevo.
The popularity of genre work not only can make translated literature a likelier sell to a wider audience but it also helps translations connect with the formidable consumer-driven dynamic of Amazon retail. For example, almost a month before its release, Jia Pingwa’s Happy Dreams is already listing as an Amazon bestseller in Chinese literature.
In a kind of parallel to this sense for AmazonCrossing’s potential, Page-Fort, herself, is deeply read in literary work but has a sharp ear for popular appeal. And some of this may have to do with the broad range of her early experience in publishing.
Her career began 17 years ago with a nearly eight-year stint at Continuum. The company would be bought by Bloomsbury in 2011. But even before she’d gone to work at Continuum in 2000, Page-Fort had studied Romance languages and creative writing at NYU “with the intention of focusing on translation,” she tells Publishing Perspectives.
“I was in a translation workshop with a woman called Toby Talbot, who was also a film scholar.” Talbot, the author of The New Yorker Theater and Other Scenes From a Life at the Movies (Columbia University Press, 2009) is also the translator of Jacobo Timerman’s Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without a Number (Univeristy of Wisconsin Press, 2002) and has taught on the faculty of The New School.
“She inspired me so much,” Page-Fort says, “and early on in my NYU time. It really planted a seed. My honors thesis was focused on literary translation and I did two short translations, one from the French and one from the Spanish, and wrote about translation theory in French for my thesis.”
Page-Fort was already an intern at Continuum while at NYU, she says–and hardly afraid of large-scale challenges, even at that age.
“My first project was to try to figure out how to finish the 100-volume German Library series,” published between 1982 and 2010 as a comprehensive survey of German literature from the Medieval era forward. “We were at Number 81 in the series when I got there,” she says, “and I had the opportunity to work very closely with the series editor, Evander Lomke,” who would spend almost 25 years at Continuum, becoming vice-president and senior editor.
“He really taught me a lot about how you acquire rights and then publish in another language, how you find translators–and how do you tell if they’re good? And, of course, reading Wittgenstein in translation is a very healthy thing for a young person to do. I was getting really close to Goethe.
“And at that time, we were also looking at a lot of contemporary literature, which was a really fun project. So that kind of proved for me that within the context of publishing, translation was something I was really passionate about.”
‘A Lot of Stress About the State of the World’
“I think we’re all paying closer attention to the bigger world right now than maybe we have in my lifetime.”Gabriella Page-Fort
When Page-Fort travels to Frankfurt in October, little of the emphasis she’ll find there on the freedom to publish and challenges to free expression will be lost on her,.
“I’m feeling a lot of stress about the state of the world,” she says. “I think we’re all paying closer attention to the bigger world right now than maybe we have in my lifetime. And I think that’s a huge opportunity for books in translation.
“The way that’s influencing AmazonCrossing is that we’re doubling down on the intention of what we’ve been doing all along, which is trying to find the stories that make people feel more similar than different. Things that make it so you can connect and see directly into the eyes of whatever today’s ‘other’ looks like.
“That’s going to come through in more diversity in terms of language and countries of origin in the books we publish. There’s an additional focus on nonfiction. We’re finding some really exciting projects of people telling their own story in their own voice.
“And I really do feel this sense of responsibility. Because we have this opportunity to present books to readers, to show readers the world as it is. And to bring a little bit of awareness, just through fiction.
“To have the experience of reading Madness Treads Lightly isn’t to feel that you’ve just read one more mystery about a murder. Instead, you feel as though you’ve entered into a world in post-Soviet Russia and you understand a bit about what it feels like to be a woman and a mother at that time. You also get a very interesting personal peek into a period in history that in the US we don’t have an enormous amount of connection with–that time after the USSR.
“The way books reach readers may not change,” says Gabriella Page-Fort. “But the way books affect readers could, potentially, shift public opinion toward understanding.”