Two new independent publishers, Calisi Press and Les Fugitives, are launching with the remit of publishing only women in translation.
Les Fugitives will solely publish women writing in French, although its founder is choosing to remain anonymous: “I like the idea that Les Fugitives could evolve into a collective with different editors, without a main figurehead, still developing the same editorial line.” Les Fugitives evolved rather unconventionally; its founder was translating a title to contribute to a friend’s new publishing venture, and when the friend pulled out, the translator took over, changed the name and successfully applied for a grant from the French government to fund the project.
That book was Les Fugitives’ first release, Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger (out now, £12). The founder said: “I elaborated the [women in translation] concept to apply for the grant, so it came from this first book rather than having a concept and finding the book.” Advice was then sought from several friends in publishing, including Meike Ziervogel, director of Peirene Press, and Max Porter senior editor at Granta, who “said I needed a clear idea to stick to because few people manage that”.
Les Fugitives will publish its next book as a coedition with Charles Boyle of CB Editions: “We had very similar views on the literary world but I’m also very aware that to have staying power you have to have money and a plan and a distributor—and Charles has a great distributor with Inpress.”
Calisi Press was founded by commercial translator Franca Simpson. She said of the project: “After realising how difficult it was going to be to get my first literary commission I decided to put my time, reputation and resources into Calisi Press. Calisi aims to publish “beautifully written stories, by women and mostly about women, but not just for women”.
Simpson’s decision to focus on women came when she attended the “Where Are Women in Translation?” session at the International Translation Day at the British Library: “It was an easy decision to make. My shortlist of titles was, coincidentally, all women. And from a commercial point of view it made sense to be selective.” Calisi’s launch title is My Mother is a River by Donatella Di Pietrantonio (November, £10). Simpson saw the title in the catalogue of Di Pietrantonio’s Italian publisher, Elliott, and negotiated the rights herself.
Views on women’s voices in translation vary. The founder of Les Fugitives said: “I hate this self-righteous attitude that says we should publish more women. For me focusing on female writers is a project, a way of defining something and creating a collection of texts with a unity to it. I’m in charge, I finance it, so I do what the hell I want.”
The most successful book of the year so far for Pushkin Press, which publishes numerous translated texts, has been Israeli writer Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s One Night, Markovitch (out now, £8.99), translated by Sondra Silverston. Adam Freudenheim, publisher and managing director, said: “So many of our most prominent authors are women but it doesn’t really come into it for us. We’re looking for great books and great writers. I’m pleased that our contemporary list is roughly 50% men and 50% women. I think that’s what I would hope would happen when you are focusing on the quality of the books.”
Daniela Petracco, director of Europa Editions UK, which will publish the final instalment in Elena Ferrante’s popular Neapolitan series this week, said: “We look for good books first and foremost, but we’re very much attuned to female voices. Only a tiny proportion of women of nationalities other than English get published and find a market in the UK.” Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, translated by Ann Goldstein, has sold 54,818 copies to date according to Nielsen BookScan.
And Other Stories has recently taken up Kamila Shamsie on her challenge to publish solely women in 2018. It has several titles by women in translation forthcoming, including Portuguese author Susana Moreira Marques’ Now and At the Hour of our Death, translated by Julia Sanches (published today, £8.99). Publisher Stefan Tobler said: “We encourage translators to tell us about their favourite writers but in spite of making an effort to open up publishing in this way we still find that most of the foreign writers suggested to us are male. We’ve been keen to get the word out that we welcome more tips about women authors. The unconscious biases against women writers are particularly strong in some countries. Jenny Erpendeck’s The End of Days was only the second book by a woman to win the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.”
Granta, Erpendeck’s publisher, also boasts several women in translation on its list. Editor Anne Meadows said: “We have always published a number of extraordinary women from around the world—championing translated fiction by women is in our blood.” In January Granta enjoyed acclaim with South Korean author Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, translated by Deborah Smith, and it will publish her next book, Human Acts, in January 2016 (£12.99). Meadows has also recently signed Argentine writer Mariana Enriquez, which Granta will publish in 2017.
Meadows said: “Ferrante’s success proves to me that there’s no hesitation on the part of readers. They want women writers’ voices and they want international fiction. Publishers simply need to be bold and determined in what they acquire.”