Italy’s Cesare De Michelis Prize: A Partnership With Frankfurt

In News by Porter Anderson

A new liaison will see Venice’s Cesare De Michelis International Prize for Publishing’s 2025 laureate named at Frankfurt in October.

‘And it is more important to sell the books that are made than to make the books that are sold.’ The Cesare De Michelis International Prize for Publishing inaugurates a new partnership with Frankfurter Buchmesse this year, announcing the honor’s fourth laureate during the October 16 to 20 run of the trade show. Pictured: The late Cesare De Michelis and his son, Luca, the CEO of Marsilio Editori in Venice.

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘To Look at Publishing From All Over the World’
This year’s Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 16 to 20) will include the first year of a new partnership between the trade show and the Venice-based Cesare De Michelis International Prize for Publishing, Il Premio Internazionale di Editoria Cesare De Michelis.

This awards program is a project of Venice’s 63-year-old publishing house, Marsilio Editori. Today, Gruppo Feltrinelli holds a 55-percent stake in Marsilio, and it’s managed by the De Michelis family, led by CEO Luca De Michelis.

Having created and named the De Michelis Prize after his late father Cesare, who died in August of 2018, Luca has presided over the program’s designations of its first three annual winners, from India, Germany, and the United States, respectively:

  • 2022: Naveen Kishore of Seagull Books in Kolkata
  • 2023: Michael Kruger of Hanser Verlag in Munich
  • 2024: Fiona McCrae of Graywolf Press in Minneapolis

The announcement made at Frankfurt, then, will name the prize’s 2025 laureate—the fourth publisher to be honored. That event is set for Frankfurt Thursday, October 17, at 4 p.m. CEST in the Frankfurt Pavilion.

And there are two key points that Luca De Michelis makes in an exchange with Publishing Perspectives for this article, both having to do with what makes this award project unique.

“We intend to reward a publisher,” he says, “who has distinguished him- or herself internationally for his or her capacity to develop outstanding publishing projects, and whose work is driven by a cultural purpose that is in some way related to Cesare De Michelis’ idea of publishing. That is, to release books that explore society and bring new ideas.

“The publisher who receives the prize,” De Michelis says, “is one who is interested in different literatures, genres, and views; one who works closely with authors and whose publications are well edited and accurate; one who interprets and translates cultures with the aim of building up a lasting and vital catalogue, filled with books that show intellectual curiosity and inventiveness and are intended to represent a dialogue between different ways of thinking. All three so-far awarded publishers brilliantly fulfill these criteria.”

Needless to say, this is a good year for the Venetian-based De Michelis Prize to open its new link with Frankfurt, as the trade fair welcomes Guest of Honor Italy to Messe Frankfurt.

And a part of what has led to the new partnership with Frankfurt is the “borderless” element of the De Michelis Prize’s design. “The aim is to look at publishing from all over the world,” Luca De Michelis says, “but keeping in mind that the selection of candidates will be determined by their work as a publisher rather than by geography—which we will in any case try to keep as extensive as possible.

Juergen Boos

To have involved Frankfurter Buchmesse” in cooperation with Juergen Boos, Frankfurt’s president and CEO, “is a source of pride for us,” he says, particularly in that criterion of its international character. “To give the award a greater international reach, it’s difficult to think of a more suitable context than Frankfurter Buchmesse.”

The selection of the 2025 winner is to be made by a committee chaired by the Egyptian-Italian writer and publisher Teresa Cremisi; Frankfurt’s Boos; the winners of the three editions so far of the prize’s operation; and editor Francesca Varotto of Marsilio Editori.

Luca De Michelis: ‘A Shared Cultural Project’

Luca De Michelis

“Venice is where modern publishing started with Manuzio,” Luca De Michelis says, in talking about how several factors have come together to make the still-young De Michelis Prize something that now connects his publishing house, the award, Frankfurt, and the literary festival Incroci di civiltàwhich has operated since 2008 in Venice in the framework of Ca’ Foscari—the seat of Ca’ Foscari University—and Fondazione di Venezia.

“It’s Venice that brought us together in the first place, and above all a shared cultural project.”Luca De Michelis

“Marsilio Editori’s close collaboration with the Incroci festival,” he says, “is relatively recent. Our publishing house was not involved in the founding of the festival, which was initiated by the Ca’ Foscari University. Since Marsilio is set in Venice and is a prominent cultural representative in the area, it was natural to start working closer with the most important literary event taking place in the same area, with a sponsorship. It’s Venice that brought us together in the first place, and above all a shared cultural project.”

For our readers who aren’t familiar with the work of the De Michelis family’s Marsilio Editori, the house publishes fiction, nonfiction, and illustrated books, with headquarters in Venice’s Santa Marta district. It has an annual turnover of €12 million (US$12.9 million) and is among the largest cultural operations in Italy’s northeastern Triveneto region.

Marsilio’s catalogue comprises some 8,000 published titles, around 3,000 of them active. Roughly 250 new titles are released each year, currently in contemporary Italian and international fiction; political and social essays; academic essays and classics published with universities and other institutions; exhibition catalogues; and illustrated books under the recently established  Marsilio Arte brand. DAP Artbook distributes the company’s English-language books in the United States, Europe, and other world markets.

On Cesare De Michelis: ‘Literature Was Essential to Him’

Cesare De Michelis. Image: Marsilio Editori

In talking at our request about the award’s eponymous Cesare De Michelis, Luca says, “My father was the heart and soul of Marsilio for almost 60 years, until he sadly passed away. He dedicated his life to books, with passion and sagacity. The family and Marsilio wanted to create something to remember him, to keep his project alive,” which prompted them to establish their International Prize for Publishing in Cesare’s name.

“Making books, printing them, reading them, writing them, collecting them, selling them, reviewing them, it seems to me that I’ve done nothing else in my life, as if an obsessive passion had overwhelmed me as a young boy.”Cesare De Michelis

“As a young professor of Italian literature at the University of Padua,” Luca says, the elder De Michelis founded Marsilio in 1961, together with a group of friends who had just graduated.

“They wanted to continue their cultural activities,” he says, “with the common aim of offering the tools necessary to define the political reform project that Italy was developing at that time. The name of the publishing house was a tribute to Marsilio da Padua, the 14th-century philosopher and Ghibelline jurist.

“To my father, it was essential to maintain the seat of the publishing house in Venice—a city that historically connects the West and East, a place in which modern publishing was born—and I share the same purpose.

“In the 1970s,” Luca says, “next to an already rich list of nonfiction, Cesare initiated a list of Italian fiction, discovering important new literary voices and adding over the years further lists: from literary and upmarket fiction—contemporary and classics, both Italian and international—to general, academic, and narrative nonfiction, creating a quite unique catalogue in the Italian publishing market, because of its diversity.”

Cesare De Michelis “never stopped teaching contemporary literature” at Padua,” his son says, “and carried out research activities, writing scientific and press articles, publishing books and reviewing those of others. Literature was essential to him. Always curious and always open-minded, he never wanted to align himself, and he intended to give a voice even to those whose ideas he didn’t share. The sentence I like to quote from him, one that sums up his personality as a publisher, is the following:

“Making books, printing them, reading them, writing them, collecting them, selling them, reviewing them, it seems to me that I’ve done nothing else in my life, as if an obsessive passion had overwhelmed me as a young boy.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on international book and publishing awards is here, more on the Italian market is here, more on Guest of Honor Italy at Frankfurt this year is here, more on Venice and publishing is found in our coverage of the Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri here, and more on Frankfurter Buchmesse itself is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.