In the 1990s post-Soviet Russia was in the political limelight, but its literature was practically unknown. Formerly banned books were just starting to return, overlooked classics were emerging from oblivion, while new authors were beginning to write. Foreign publishers were mildly interested, but disoriented. There was the need to create a new literary guide to Russian literature in a language everybody could understand and read. It was then that I launched Glas. Based in Moscow, the Glas series of Russian literature in English translation existed for twenty-five years, a small independent publisher amassing an impressive body of contemporary literary fiction covering the two post-perestroika decades plus some overlooked twentieth-century classics.
We produced anthologies at first, to introduce more names, and then moved on to single-author books. In all, Glas has showcased more than 150 authors; and for more than a decade Glas was the only source of new Russian writing in translation.
My first co-editor was Andrew Bromfield, but he was soon succeeded by Arch Tait, then Joanne Turnbull joined the team and stayed with Glas longest – to the bitter end! We never received any outside financial assistance, but did get lots of moral support from translators, many of whom later received commissions to translate whole books by authors they first worked on for Glas. Andrew Bromfield translated Victor Pelevin for us and was soon commissioned by bigger publishers to translate Pelevin’s novels. Arch Tait translated Ludmila Ulitskaya for Glas long before she became an international celebrity. Joanne Turnbull did quite a few translations for Glas before finding “her own writer”, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, a forgotten genius from the early twentieth century. (Since then she has translated several books by him for NYRB Classics.) Robert Chandler translated a collection of Platonov’s work for the centenary of that great writer, which helped promote him abroad. We also helped many aspiring translators by publishing their first efforts in Glas anthologies, through which their work was noticed.
A good example of a literary gem Glas resurrected is Anatoly Mariengof’s Cynics, published in Glas #1 in 1991. Cynics was then “discovered” twenty years later by American critic Michael Stein, who wrote a rapturous review. When Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize, the only English translation of her work then available was her “Landscape of Loneliness” published ten years earlier in Glas. The remainder of that Glas collection, as well as a reprint, sold out in a matter of days.
In spite of these successes, certain deplorable changes in world publishing eventually meant it was becoming increasingly difficult to produce translated fiction without subsidies. The Russian organisations that could have helped us chose not to. Finally, sadly, I had to put Glas on hold –not closing it completely but curtailing operations. Our books are still available in POD and e-book form – and every single book is still in demand.
Although I am no longer able to publish books, I continue to seek out and promote new Russian talent in my capacity as a literary agent. If only I could publish them as well.
By Natasha Perova
Natasha Perova is the founder and editor of Glas.