The Spanish Riveter: Indie Press Publishing and Spanish Literature CHAD W. POST of Open Letter Books and Dalkey Archive Press interviewed by Katie Whittemore

Katie Whittemore: First could you talk about Open Letter and Dalkey Archive and your role with both presses?

Chad Post: Sure thing. I started in publishing in 2000 with a ‘fellowship’ at Dalkey Archive Press, which was, at the time, one of the three to four largest nonprofit publishers in the United States, specialising in ‘experimental’ literature from around the world. That was where I cut my teeth on editing and acquiring international books – frequently seeking out titles that might not be ‘bestselling’ but add something unique to the corpus of world literature. As John O’Brien (Dalkey’s founder) and I travelled the world on editorial trips, we cultivated relationships with presses with whom we had an affinity. Again, not necessarily the big, corporate presses, but the ones with a strong editorial vision. This carried over to what we did at Open Letter, which launched in 2007 – great, unique international voices, oftentimes from smaller, more boutique presses. 

And just to clarify the last part of your question: I’m the publisher of Open Letter, responsible for all aspects of the business, and the editorial director for Dalkey Archive, overseeing new acquisitions while reissuing ‘Dalkey Essentials’ to continue John O’Brien’s vision of preserving great, strange works for future generations of readers.

You mention ‘boutique presses’ that you like to work with – any from Spain?

Definitely! For both Open Letter and Dalkey. Back in 2017, I was invited to Barcelona as part of an editorial trip arranged by Institut Ramón Llull, where author Jordi Nopca gave an overview of Catalan literature. He highlighted a number of well-established authors – two of whom, Mercè Rodoreda and Quim Monzó, we’d been publishing for years – along with a number of contemporary writers, including Max Besora, published by Editorial Males Herbes, a relatively young press (founded in 2012) dedicated to publishing ‘prose that takes the risk of creating its own world and own language.’ We were able to meet in person, and hit it off right away, and, long story short, we’re doing three Besora novels (the first of which, The Adventures and Misadventures of the Extraordinary and Admirable Joan Orpí, Conquistador and Founder of New Catalonia won its translator, Mara Faye Lethem, the inaugural Spain-USA Foundation Translation Award) and Muriel Villanueva’s The Left Parenthesis.

Any other Spanish presses you’ve discovered this way?

When I first started looking at Dalkey Archive’s current publishing list, I read, worked on, and fell in love with Carlos Maleno’s The Endless Rose, a must-read for any and all Bolaño fans. (The title is an allusion to one of Archimboldi’s books that appears in The Savage Detectives and 2666). I devoured The Irish Sea, the earlier Maleno book Dalkey had published, which, along with Luis Magrinyà’s Double Room and the works of Julián Ríos, is one of the most structurally interesting books I’ve ever read from Spain; and through both of these books, discovered Editorial Sloper, a Mallorca-based press that’s also pushing boundaries.

So, there’s affinity out there between indie presses internationally?

We have published a number of authors published by larger Spanish presses like Lumen, Seix Barral, Anagrama, etc. (including Sara Mesa, Lara Moreno, and Spain-based Latin American writers, like Rodrigo Fresán and Andrés Neuman), but there is something fun about looking at the network of smaller, indie presses around the world who share authors, a similar passion for literature that goes beyond making money, and a desire to produce important works of art that may not be read by millions, but will have a deep impact on the fortunate readers who discover these voices. (Like Barcelona and UK-based Fum d’Estampa, who also shares an author with Dalkey Archive.) Frequently, big presses prefer only to sign on translations once that book has been acquired by presses in six or more different countries. Works like Javier Serena’s Last Words on Earth fly under their radar but are there for the picking. Galaxia Gutenberg’s Pilar Adón titles (Of Beasts and Fowls and The Mayflies will be published by Open Letter) are a similar situation that requires a special connection between international publishers to discover some of the most interesting works.

Why do you think so many books from Spain are published in translation?

Lot to unpack here, but back in 2008, I started the Translation Database to keep track of every work of fiction and poetry that was translated into English for the first time ever and sold in America. As a stat nerd, well, I wanted data! I wanted to know how many new international voices were reaching our shores, who was doing them, where they came from.

The Translation Database – now housed at Publishers Weekly, and available to all – has expanded to include nonfiction and children’s books, and with more than fifteen years of data, is an irreplaceable source for anyone wanting to get a snapshot of the state of translation in the US.

I’m not going to drown you in numbers, but of the 9,500+ titles included in the database, 1,306 (~14%) have been translated from Spanish, with 520 – over a third of all the Spanish-language books – from Spain. Part of this is due to the size of the country, the strength of its literary history, and presses like the defunct Hispabooks, which focused exclusively on works from Spain, but I don’t think this quite captures the full picture. 

This is my half-baked theory, but I think that Spanish – like German and French – is the most-translated language both because more Americans speak this than, say, Finnish, and because Spanish-language authors have had commercial success. A lot of publishing – and entertainment media in general – is about trying to capture the magic of previous successes through repetition. The Boom opened the door to a lot of Latin American and Mexican authors, and ‘magical realism’ gave way to exploring other styles and trends from Spanish-language authors around the world.

What do you see as the future for books from Spain translated into English?

I think it’s very bright! Being Guest of Honour at Frankfurt this past year is going to be a huge boom for Spanish lit, perhaps especially for non-Castilian writers. The interest in Basque, Galician and Catalan writers continues to grow as publishers, editors and translators seek out new talent. And as an indie publisher, I look forward to continuing to publish some of the greatest Spanish authors of our time.

Read The Spanish Riveter here or order your paper copy from here.

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