Passionate is a word you often hear bandied about in reference to people who work in book publishing. But optimistic? Not so much. This is one reason Chad Post, 33, seems like such an anomaly. A born-and-bred Midwesterner, Post fell in love with books at an early age and, after carving out a niche for himself in the world of nonprofit publishing, remains one of the most unjaded publishers around. Not only is Post, as the director of the 18-month-old Open Letter Press, bullish on a small section of a mature business—literature in translation—he's downright excited about finding new readers. Did someone recently predict “the end” of publishing? If so, Post wasn't listening.
Most people who work in publishing know Post through his time at Dalkey Archive Press, the nonprofit house known for its highly literary list, which was previously associated with Illinois State University. It was there that Post, who worked his way up to the position of associate director over a six-and-a-half-year tenure, became a vocal champion of international literature. But it was long before he started at Dalkey that Post envisioned a career in publishing.
“I knew I wanted to be in books, in one way or another, since I was really young,” he says. Although Post has always been a voracious reader, he knew that a career as a writer wasn't an option. “I was never good at that,” he chuckles. Instead, when he graduated from Michigan State, he moved to Grand Rapids and took a job at Schuler Books and Music. It was there that a co-worker introduced him to Dalkey Archive.
Dalkey published exactly the kind of books Post likes—“a little bit experimental, a little bit strange, high literature.” When Post relocated to North Carolina, ostensibly to start a grad program in literature at Duke, he found himself working in another bookstore, Raleigh's Quail Ridge Books.
Through reading Dalkey's library and recognizing the house “as a brand,” Post became more interested in international literature. At Quail Ridge he helped create a section of the bookstore dedicated to literature in translation because, as he explains, it was so hard to help customers find these books on the shelf. Soon Post realized international literature was just hard to find, period. Feeling that he could do more to raise the availability and awareness of international literature as a publisher, Post applied for a fellowship at Dalkey and started working at the Press shortly thereafter.
Now at Open Letter—it's funded by the University of Rochester and launched its first list this fall—Post is continuing the work he started at Dalkey. Open Letter is, in Post's phrasing, less a university press than a trade press at a university. Its mission statement declares simply its intent: “to increase access to world literature for English readers.” Post, who's something of jack of all trades there—with a full-time staff of three he's involved in everything from acquisition through marketing (though not editing)—feels his new venture is poised to grab a bigger audience than most big publishers assume exists for literature in translation. “I think readers are perfectly fine with books coming from wherever,” Post explains, adding the problem is that consumers “don't hear about these books in a way that makes them [interested].”
Certainly Post's trademark optimism will be an asset. When it comes to his job, he feels nothing short of blessed. “I always tell the interns that [in this business], you make no money and it can be really difficult, but the super-cool benefit is you get to hang out with people who are all passionate about books. I worked in various offices in college and it was always scary because I couldn't talk to people about what I was reading. But in publishing you get to go to these events, and everyone is into it, and that's so much fun.”