For about thirty years, I worked outside my native Italy – first as a teacher of Italian literature at the universities of Uppsala and Caen, then as a cultural attaché in Paris, Stockholm and Brussels. In all these posts I had a single objective: to make contemporary Italian literature – both that of the twenty-first century and that of the twentieth – better known. And I did this without a national institution delegated to the promotion of books standing behind me (I am thinking of those that exist in other countries, such as the French Bureau international de l’Edition française, the BIEF).
In each situation, I tried to implement different strategies, adapting to the context in which I was working. In Sweden, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, most local publishers did not have Italian-speaking editors, so they often relied on recommendations from translators and Italian teachers, and found it difficult to differentiate between the most popular current authors. As for older authors – the ‘historical’ ones from the twentieth century – they seemed to consider them as voices of the past, to be forgotten. To counter this rather bleak situation, I created a bilingual Italian/Swedish magazine, whose very name, Cartaditalia, announced its ambition to offer the Swedish public a map of contemporary Italian culture. The first issue was dedicated to the contemporary Italian novel and included texts by ten authors who had never been translated into Swedish (Roberto Alajmo, Franco Arminio, Andrea Bajani, Diego De Silva, Giulia Fazzi, Elena Ferrante, Valeria Parrella, Antonio Scurati, Vitaliano Trevisan, Sandro Veronesi). In the space of a couple of years, five of these authors had been published by Swedish publishers, large (Nordstedts) and small (Contempo, Astor). The second issue was on contemporary Italian poetry, something almost unknown in Sweden, with texts by Giampiero Neri, Fabio Pusterla, Eugenio De Signoribus, Franco Buffoni, Luciano Cecchinel, Jolanda Insana, Patrizia Cavalli, Mariangela Gualtieri, Antonella Anedda, Maria Grazia Calandrone and Maria Luisa Vezzali.
All that was left to think about was the twentieth century, to which I decided to dedicate a series, ‘I libri di Cartaditalia’, of which I published twelve volumes in three years, with titles (unpublished in Sweden) by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Giuseppe Dessí, Antonio Tabucchi, Claudio Magris, Italo Calvino, Elsa Morante and Primo Levi.
When I launched this series in Stockholm, I already had the experience of starting a similar series in France, which is still in progress: the ‘Cahiers de l’Hôtel de Galliffet’, a series born in 2004 and now counting more than fifty titles. Created to publish the proceedings of Italianist conferences, the ‘Cahiers’ has for over ten years specialised in twentieth-century Italian writers who are little known or forgotten in France, and often in Italy too. The catalogue today includes authors such as Antonio Delfini, Nicola Chiaromonte, Aldo Capitini, Goffredo Parise, Luciano Bianciardi, Raffaele La Capria, Piero Jahier, Gesualdo Bufalino and Corrado Alvaro. And it devotes important attention to poetry, to Anna Maria Ortese, Giorgio Bassani, Eugenio De Signoribus and others. You can go to the ‘Cahiers Galliffet’ website to see this.
Sweden’s Cartaditalia was later revived and expanded in Brussels in a quadrilingual edition and became the basis for the concept of a digital platform from which Italian publishing could reach the world. We launched the pilot scheme, www.booksinitaly.it, thanks to the support of the Mondadori Foundation, and it ran for three years between 2014 and 2017. Then, in 2019, the Istituto della Enciclopedia Treccani, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation as well as the Ministry of Culture jointly launched www.newitalianbooks.it. Initially bilingual Italian/English, the site has now been trilingual since mid-2021, thanks to a new version in French. Conceived with the aim of offering all Italian publishers a shopfront on the international market – free of charge and with no restriction on the number of titles – newitalianbooks has been warmly welcomed by the Italian publishing industry. Today there are more than 1,700 book entries on the platform, uploaded by around 260 publishers. Publishers who register with newitalianbooks undertake to upload the information, including the details of the rights manager, about their titles in two languages, Italian and English. Publishers can also upload translated sample texts. However, newitalianbooks also aims to be a more flexible tool, available to all those who work in the book industry – publishers and agents, of course, but also translators, booksellers and librarians. In short, we aim to provide insights into the Italian book situation for the whole world. Special attention should be paid to the ‘In-depth’ area, which includes surveys from the world of books and interviews with leading figures from publishing.
One section that is very important to me, and which is a feather in the platform’s cap, is that dedicated to translation. This section is called ‘In other languages’ and is a collection of material dedicated to Italian authors in translation. Dozens and dozens of specialists, scattered all over the world, regularly send short reports of the translation situation for our most important Italian authors, from the classics to contemporary writers. These reports are extremely valuable, as they allow us to understand foreign publishers’ relationships with Italian writing. This is a little explored field of study; in fact, there are no databases that systematically collect information on the sale of Italian authors’ rights abroad, and on the translation of Italian works into various languages. The results, if read carefully, are often surprising, and can be of great help in guiding the Italian publishing industry’s decision-making. Thus, newitalianbooks potentially offers a large resource for the study of the dissemination of Italian literature around the world.
Responses from publishers to newitalianbooks are comforting: many have told us that thanks to newitalianbooks they have attracted attention from publishers operating in countries with whom they had no previous dealings. This feedback is very important and encourages us to continue along the path we have taken. Our next step, after French, will be to further expand newitalianbooks with a German version, in anticipation of the 2024 Frankfurt Book Fair, where Italy will be the Guest of Honour country. From the second half of 2022 newitalianbooks will therefore be quadrilingual. A lot has changed since the beginning of the new century!
By Paolo Grossi
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