Contemporary literature in translation—not just translations of Tolstoy—makes up less than three percent of all books published in the U.S. This is a sad statement, especially when you think about all the great stories you could be missing out on. Chad Post and his press Open Letter Books are striving to change this. By focusing on literature in translation and community outreach programs, Post and Open Letter Books are shaking up the translating game by increasing awareness and building a community— and hopefully increasing that three percent.
Recently, Post appeared on a roundtable discussion with Jeremiah Chamberlin for Poets & Writers and colleagues at other presses to discuss the state of translations in publishing. Post transitioned into publishing from a career in bookselling because he wanted to have a hand in deciding which books are actually produced, which led to the creation of Open Letter Books in 2008. The press is a component of University of Rochester which allows Post and the press more freedom in terms of educational and community outreach programs. Post is grateful for these projects: “I think the things that define our organization, and the reasons I’m still in publishing—which can be grueling… are all the ancillary things we do for readers.”
These programs include the Three Percent blog, which is dedicated to bringing readers and translated works together, the “Best Translated Book Award” which Post started in 2007, the creation of a Translation Database, and a translation guidebook, The 100 Best International Books of the Century (So Far), which Post is compiling to provide a “snapshot of what’s being written now all over the world” according to Post’s article that appeared in the Frankfurt Show Daily for the Frankfurt Book Fair. All of these projects—and the many others that Post has in the works—strive to change “look how little is translated into English” into “look at all these great books available to readers.”
In the round-table discussion, Post agreed that one of the most important aspects of publishing, especially for small, non-profit translation presses, is to create a community around discussions of books. Ranging from informal twitter conversations to highbrow literary discussions and book clubs to mainstream reviews, Post endorses it all: “what’s most important, in my opinion, is getting people who aren’t writers or publishing people talking about books.”