A popular topic on Archipelago Books’s blog and news page is the writing and popularity of Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose work was first written in Norwegian and published in Norway before being picked up by Archipelago. Knausgaard’s My Struggle series consists of incredibly detailed and controversial autobiographical books. His books have been lauded and recognized by numerous councils and individuals, earning him several awards.
Many of Archipelago’s titles have received awards from their countries of origin. In turn, many translations of these award-winning pieces of literature have also received prizes and recognition. The company website honestly reflects on this notion, stating, “While our efforts, especially those of our translators and authors, have been recognized by numerous literary awards, the sort of recognition we seek is for those largely unknown and forgotten locales...and the writing that allows our readers to see these places through the eyes of the people who live there.”
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A Decade of Translation for Global Understanding
Over a decade ago, Archipelago Books (Archipelago) was founded by Jill Schoolman as a nonprofit, independent press with a strong and far-reaching ambition. Kendall Storey, the associate editor and publicist at Archipelago, said, “Jill Schoolman founded Archipelago ten years ago in order to address a vital need in the literary landscape.”
That need, as it is laid out on the press’s website, is for global understanding. To bring to life foreign places as well as illuminate ideas that originated outside of the Anglosphere is the driving force behind Schoolman’s decision to start the press.
On the founding of the company, Storey continued, “Translations make up just three percent of what is published in this country. We are doing what we can to change this lamentable reality. So many important international writers, both living and dead, are simply not being introduced and read here. But Jill admits it was more out of love than duty. She is naturally drawn toward literature beyond our borders. It’s what she loves to read. Reading is a voyage, and for Jill it can be as eye-opening (and moving) as traveling abroad.”
Archipelago Books continues to be a certified nonprofit supported by “foundations, international cultural organizations, and the vital contributions of individual donors,” all of whom are thanked graciously on the company’s website. Since its inception, the press has published over 90 books. These books have been translated from over 25 languages—a testament to Archipelago’s willingness to step outside even its own explored territory.
Translating and publishing books from such an array of cultures would seem a daunting task, but Storey explained the undeniable importance of the books that Archipelago chooses to publish. “What we are most drawn to is an original voice and point of view, and an author that has something urgent or profound to say. We also have an affinity for the terrain where poetry meets prose.”
She further detailed the acquisitions process: “Authors and titles make their way to us in a variety of ways: through editors and rights’ directors in various countries, through translators and professors and readers and writers, and by reading excerpts.”
Support from every facet of Archipelago’s mission and practice is crucial to the success of the company. The empowering feeling of supporting this press manifests in tangible ways as new projects come from so many different avenues and individuals with different levels of involvement in the company. The press stays in touch with its booksellers, readers, writers, and all through their impressively active blog and social media platforms.
While Archipelago’s backlist is expansive, its list of staff is quite short. “We are a small staff, made up of two full time employees and a part time assistant editor,” Storey pointed out. “We also have a remarkable group of interns and volunteers who work with us.
“A small staff is an advantage is the sense that we all have our hands in everything. We see the books brought to life, from acquisition through the editorial process, into production, and we all do our part tomake sure the books find themselves in the hands of readers.”
Even with a small staff, numerous events for Archipelago’s upcoming and published titles take place throughout the year and all over the country. From conversations with the translators to book launch parties, events in remembrance of influential authors, auctions, festivals, and celebrations, events centered on the titles published by this influential press illustrate their wide reach and appeal.
In illustration of these points, a presentation of Ready to Burstby Frankétienneand translated by Kaiama L. Glover from French to English, as well as an appearance by the author at the Brooklyn Book Festival have both occurred for the book’s recent release in the last month. Frankétiennewill also attend the Miami Book Fair this November.
Archipelago Books is not only turning award-winning original books into award-winning translations, but also doing so under the increasingly popular subscription model. While the press’s books can be found and bought traditionally, the press also invites its patrons to subscribe to it as a way to receive its latest upcoming titles.
Subscriptions run from six months to a full year, three years, and five years. Subscribers are the first to receive each of Archipelago’s new releases as they become available throughout the duration of the subscription. Members may also receive an additional book from Archipelago’s backlist, depending on the subscription.
An innovative but flexible business model within the clearly focused sector of translated works has clearly paid off for Archipelago as it celebrates its tenth year this fall. It is clear that having a close and multifaceted connection with its community is a top priority for Archipelago as it continues its long run in translating noteworthy pieces of literature and poetry with a noble goal.
Storey quoted Schoolman, who said, “My dream is that our books will open people’s minds and speak to their hearts, that they might chisel away at stereotypes and awaken curiosity about other cultures and ways of seeing and being. I hope that our books might touch people deeply and serve as catalysts for social change and that they might bring people together.”
Ariel Bronson is a University of Michigan alumna with a degree in English and communication studies. She is also a graduate of the University of Denver Publishing Institute.