June 18, 2012
The joy of the series
by Sal Robinson
Give me an ambitious publishing project or give me…nothing else, really. The recent announcement that The Overlook Press will be publishing at least—at least!—125 works of classic and contemporary Russian literature in translation over the next ten years sends the mind to other enterprises notable for their breadth, thoughtful design, and sheer come-hell-or-the-end-of-publishing commitment: Harvard’s I Tatti Renaissance Library (58 volumes and counting), a project to publish all the major literary, historical, philosophical, and scientific works of the Italian Renaissance written in Latin, outfitted in smart light-blue jackets dyed with a specially mixed ink, “I Tatti Blue”; Dalkey Archive’s National Literature series, currently burning its way through contemporary Hebrew, Catalan, Norwegian, Slovenian, and Swiss literature at a rate of between two to five titles a year per country; University of Plymouth Press’s “20 Romanian Writers” series, twenty books by 20th and 21st century Romanian writers, all translated into English for the first time, each with cover and interior art from leading contemporary Romanian artists; and Melville House’s own Art of the Novella series, now 42 books strong, with its special series-within-a-series, the five “Duel” novellas by five different writers.
One publishing project that I’ve been following and that I particularly hope comes through is Pilgrimages, which was initiated by the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists at Bard College back in 2010, around the time of the South African World Cup, the first World Cup to be held in Africa. Pilgrimages sent thirteen African writers to thirteen different cities to report on the life and times of these places during the World Cup. Writers like Chris Abani, Uzodinma Iweala, Abdourahman Waberi, and Binyavanga Wainaina were sent away from their home countries to cities they usually weren’t familiar with—Nimco Mahamud Hassan from Somalia went to Khartoum, Alain Mabanckou from Congo went to Lagos, and so on, in an incredible seeding of talented writers across the continent. The ultimate aim of the project is for each writer to produce “a book of nonfiction prose, travel literature, of 30,000 words, for publication in Africa and abroad.” The books aren’t out yet but the site is full of material, including blog posts and video (including Binyavanga Wainaina and Chimamanda Adichie discussing the project as a whole, with Wainaina doing a fantastic parody of academic analysis of African writing—all “frictions”, “transnationalism”, and “post-post-colonialism”).
Which series do you carry a torch for?
Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.