Special Report to Publishing Perspectives
Jaworski: ‘Fostering Stronger Relations’With Polish literature expanding its international reach in recent years—as exemplified by the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature award to novelist Olga Tokarczuk—the Polish Book Institute is seizing the moment to promote its country’s literary depth this autumn.
Established in 2003 and overseen by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the institute is headquartered in Krakow, a city in the country’s south that once was home to two of Poland’s Nobel laureates—the 1980 winner Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska, who was awarded the honor in 1996.
The institute’s focus remains on stimulating book readership in Poland and encouraging readers abroad to explore Polish authors, but in recent months, the programming has also included new initiatives designed to cope with the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has radically shifted the reality in which we operated in 2020 to perform our responsibilities,” the institute’s director Dariusz Jaworski tells Publishing Perspectives.
“Previously, the institute was organizing the Polish booth at several book fairs, including the ones in Frankfurt, London, and Bologna, and additionally acting as a guest of honor: in 2020, we were planning to represent Poland in the Czech Republic, and the program was very advanced.”
On the other hand, recent events have helped to widen Polish authors’ visibility abroad.
“It can’t be said that Polish literature has found itself in crisis because of this year’s events,”
Jaworski says. “On the contrary, since Olga Tokarczuk received her Nobel Prize, The Witcher—a series of fantasy books by novelist Andrzej Sapkowski—has served as the canvas of a highly-popular series on Netflix.”
Urbanowska: ‘Fascinating Case Studies’
Agnieszka Urbanowska, project manager for foreign programs at the institute, notes that the concept for another recent series for Netflix, Into The Night, was largely based on The Old Axolotl, a science fiction novel by Jacek Dukaj, another instance of Poland’s activity in the books-to-screen trends in world publishing.
Urbanowska says, “The latest English-language translations of books by reporter Witold Szabłowski—How to Feed a Dictator: Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot Through the Eyes of Their Cooks—and Szczepan Twardoch’s novel The King of Warsaw, are collecting great reviews. Elzbieta Cherezinska’s The Widow Queen, an epic historical novel with a pinch of fantasy, is scheduled to be released in April 2021.
Urbanowska says that most publishers who reach out to the institute for more information on Polish books are interested in contemporary novels, but she says authors in other genres are also carving out a growing role on the global literary scene, too.
“Polish children’s books have become a well-established brand,” she says. “This year, author and illustrator Iwona Chmielewska was awarded the Italian Bologna Ragazzi Prize for a third time, in the New Horizons category. One of numerous examples of talented illustrators from the younger generation is Kasia Walentynowicz, winner of the Grand Jury Prize in the BIBF Ananas International Illustration Exhibition in Beijing any many Polish awards.
“Polish publishers,” Urbanowska says, “such as Nasza Księgarnia, Adamada, Wytwórnia, Druganoga, and many others represent fascinating case studies of how hard work, professionalism, and unwavering enthusiasm can generate excellent results and spur international sales.”
One of these global bestsellers, Maps by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizieliński, was released—with sequels and expanded editions to follow—in 2012. Since then, it has sold into 35 countries in which it has sold in more than 3 million copies, she says. Maps was also the recipient of the prestigious French Prix Sorcières and Italian Premio Andersen children’s book prizes.
A number of other books released by Dwie Siostry have also gained international acclaim, including Bees: A Honeyed History by Piotr Socha and Greek Myths and Mazes by Jan Bajtlik. And more Polish children’s book authors are also working to expand their international footprint, one example being the bestselling The Incredible Adventures of Ten Socks by Justyna Bednarek with illustrations by Daniel de Latour.
Koehler: ‘New Books From Poland,’ Fall 2020
Krzysztof Koehler, deputy director of the institute, tells Publishing Perspectives that the New Books from Poland catalog, prepared every year by the institute, serves as inspiration to international publishers.
The catalog presents the most noteworthy titles newly published in Poland.
An all-new, 73-page Fall 2020 edition of New Books from Poland is ready for download (PDF).
“In our choice of titles, in cooperation with researchers, critics and journalists,” Koehler says, “we have two goals.
“One is to ensure a diversity of genres, and the other is the attractiveness of the message conveyed by the selected literary works.
“That’s why the catalog offers a broad range of genres, from literary novels to comic books; from genre fiction, short stories, poetry, and plays, to essays.”
Funding and Programs for Translators and Publishers
The pandemic has postponed and canceled physical book fairs but it hasn’t stopped the institute’s flagship Poland Translation Program, which allows publishers from abroad to apply for funding that can be used to translate Polish-language books, purchase copyrights, or partially finance printing costs.
“Thanks to these translation grants,” Urbanowska says, “more than 2,500 books by Polish authors have been translated into close to 50 languages and countries including Thailand and Ethiopia.
“Many translators from Polish to other languages eagerly use our sample program,” she says, “under which they obtain remuneration for translating parts of books that can be later offered to publishers.”
More plans in this field include organizing the 2021 edition of a congress for translators of Polish-language literature, an event that takes place in Krakow every four years. The program is scheduled for June, pending pandemic conditions at that point.
And the institute is working to keep translators updated on the latest developments on Poland’s literary scene.
Under a program launched in March as Poland entered its first lockdown, the institute has sent out a regular newsletter intended for translators, compiling an overview of new titles worthy of their interest and offering assistance in obtaining manuscripts or ebooks. New this year, Polish in-house rights managers are also able to apply to the Polish Book Institute to obtain grants for additional or extended publishing proposals for titles they sell.
International translators are also welcome to visit Poland on an institute-sponsored scholarship under the Translators’ Collegium initiative. This year, the program allowed several professionals to spend time in either Krakow or Warsaw, joining the ranks of more than 100 translators who have benefited from the program to date. Applications for a 2021 Collegium stay are open now through December 15.
Weathering the Pandemic
Overall, Jaworski says, the shift to online activities this year under the constraints of the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t been a major impediment to the institute’s long-term relations with its Polish and international partners.
“Naturally, he says, our email exchanges and teleconferences lack the closeness and directness characteristic of face-to-face interactions, but these tools allow us to efficiently communicate and foster stronger relations.
“What remains a challenge is, above all, to develop new relations, and also to take care of our general visibility and the recognition of our ‘brand’.
“But we believe that with all of our activities and programs, we’ll be able to make up for the losses generated by the pandemic.”
More from Publishing Perspectives on the Polish publishing and books market is here, more on the international rights trade is here, and more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here