On June 6, 2022 I attended a roundtable presentation on promoting Italian literature in the US. The event was part of a 3-day seminar on contemporary Italian fiction entitled Multipli Forti which was sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute of New York. The event featured appearances by prominent Italian authors, publishing houses that publish translated works, translators and educators.
Sitting on the panel were Beniamino Ambrosi, a literary agent from The Cheney Agency and the following book publishers: Dan Simon of Seven Stories Press, Tynan Kogane of New Directions, Terrie Akers, Marketing Director of Other Press and Michael Reynolds, editorial director of Europa Editions. Sarah McNally, owner of McNally Jackson Bookstores, was also on the panel which was moderated by Luca Briasco of Minimum Fax and Michael Reynolds.
Seven Stories has been in existence for 30 years and publishes political non-fiction, literature in translation, and other works of radical imagination. New Directions, founded in 1936, focuses on avant-garde works. Other Press is an independent publishing house that publishes fiction and nonfiction from countries around the world as well as from the US. Europa Editions was founded in 2005 with a mission to bring fresh international voices to the English language market
The question of how foreign literary works make it into the US market was a major topic of discussion. The answer that emerged was that books with subjects of particular interest to Americans as well as books with a strong local presence or sense of place are both attractive targets for publication in English. Reviews in the international press are important to attracting the attention of publishers of translated works as are recommendations from trusted sources such as agents and literary scouts. A book which is a big seller in its native country may also attract the attention of American publishing houses and agents more easily. Publishers also find titles at international book fairs such as the Turin book fair while international prizes such as the Booker Prize help to increase a book’s visibility among American publishers.
While common parlance dictates that translated books make up about 3% of titles published in the US in a given year, one of the panelists felt that 3% is an overstatement, i.e., that the actual number of translated works being published in the US is far below the 1% mark. Interestingly, it was mentioned that many translated works are now being published inside the EU, particularly in the UK, which has seen a rise in the number of Italian titles being published in English. It was also mentioned how the French government supports the culture of books and bookstores within the country.
When questioned about the future of Italian literature published in translation, it was mentioned that teaching Italian literature in U.S. universities could be a useful tool for promoting contemporary Italian fiction. The publishers expressed their openness to receiving pitches from American academics about Italian authors which could be good candidates for translation and eventual publication in English.