It is often said that miracles are de rigueur in Jerusalem, and a modern-day one seems to have occurred earlier this month. The fact is that the 20th Jerusalem International Book Fair, held May 7—11, not only went off without hitch or incident, but attracted the best crop of international publishing executives within recent memory, along with large, bookish crowds who were in a spending mood. All sightseeing excursions, events and evening parties stayed on schedule, and many of the foreign visitors even ventured into nearby Palestinian territory and visited historic places in East Jerusalem. At the opening ceremony, renowned Israeli writer Meir Shalev said, "Jerusalem was always a kinder place for its visitors than for its inhabitants." The fair's charismatic executive director, Zev Birger, was certainly pleased and relieved that this adage held true for his international and local guests.
The public side of the fair actually grew this year, in large part because admission was for the first time free (cost per person was in the past about $6). Many folks came several times in the course of the week to peruse and buy books. "Some of the best readers now are Russian immigrants, and they know that they can buy a book for the price of the entrance ticket," explained Ilana Steimatzky, who with brother Eri and sister Eliora supervised the large international compound, with individual booths for publishers and groups such as Random House, Time-Warner, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Putnam, McGraw-Hill, Abrams, Abbeville, and America's Holtzbrinck publishers. Books from most exhibiting publishers could be purchased on the spot. Steimatzky, Israel's biggest distributor and bookstore group, was giving an across-the-board discount of 15%; some Israeli publishers offered as much as 25%. "The fair is the biggest display of books for sale in the country," Eri Steimatzky explained.
All the same, the Israeli economy has been hard hit by the tense political situation. Hotels, restaurants and shops catering to tourists are nearly empty; downtown shops carry signs offering "Big Discounts for the Tourists Who Are Coming to Israel in These Difficult Times."
The fair takes place in a state-of-the-art convention center, although, this being Jerusalem, it was built on the site of an earthenware factory operated by the Roman legion responsible for maintaining order at the beginning of the Christian era. There were some 500 exhibiting imprints, showing on 220 stands.
New and Former Fellows
What makes the Jerusalem Fair different from any other is certainly its Editorial Fellowship program, the brainchild of Newmarket president Esther Margolis and inaugurated in 1985. It gathers up young editors selected by committees of their seniors in the U.S., U.K. and continental Europe, who by fair's end become friends and sometimes publishing partners. This year's 31 fellows were joined by a respectable number of alumni fellows—of which there are now 184, many of whom have moved up to very senior positions since their first Jerusalem. Among this year's returnees was Leonello Brandolini, now president and publisher of one of France's leading commercial imprints, Laffont. Two other alumni, Julie Grau (editorial director of Riverhead Books) and Héloise d'Ormesson (ditto at France's Denoël), threw a wine-and-beer party in a downtown pub for editorial fellows old and new.
The new crop from the U.S. was an impressive group, and Israeli publishers and agents as well as attendees from other countries rated them as one of the stronger U.S. contingents to grace the program. Among the participants were Timothy Bartlett of OUP; Andre Bernard of Harvest Books; Jill Bialosky of Norton; Joy deMenil of Random House; Robin Desser of Knopf; Jennifer Hershey of Morrow/Avon; Kristen Kiser of Crown; Jeremy William Langford of Sheed & Ward; Paul Slovak of Viking Penguin; Lauren Wein of Grove/Atlantic. The U.K. fellows were also an erudite and savvy group. Among them were Jamie Byng of Canongate in Edinburgh; Rosemary Davidson of Bloomsbury; Ravi Mirchandani of Heinemann; Simon Prosser of Hamish Hamilton; Robert Violette of his own imprint. They were joined by fellows from Canada, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Israel and even China.
But something new had been added. Thanks to a grant organized by Jane Friedman, CEO of HarperCollins, the creation of a fellowship for agents and scouts brought eight young professionals to the fair as first-timers: from the U.S. were Ira Silverberg of Donadio; Kim Witherspoon of Witherspoon; and Philippa Brophy of Sterling Lord Literistic; from the U.K. came Felicity Bryan of her own agency; Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown U.K.; and Octavia Wiseman of Abner Stein. With them were Gloria Gutiérrez of the Balcells agency in Spain, and Susanna Lea of her own agency in France, both seasoned agents who lost no time in turning Jerusalem into a mini-Frankfurt. Editorial and agent fellows were guests at major events and received briefings on Israeli publishing and writing, with an opportunity to meet their local counterparts.
Building on the successful fellowship program, a new fellowship will henceforth bring a young Indian trade publisher to the fair, all expenses paid. The project is being underwritten by the Alfred, Lee and Peter Mayer Foundation (in the names of Peter Mayer of Overlook Press and his deceased parents); the fellowship will be named for British publishing innovator Paul Hamlyn, a longtime supporter of the Indian book trade.
The editorial and agent fellows had lots of time to network and seemed to take advantage of every minute to gather in small and large groups; the lobby and bar area at the Crowne Plaza, where most of them were based, was a busy place until the wee hours of the morning. For many it was a first trip to Jerusalem, and for a number of the Americans, it was a first visit to an international fair.
These talented, sought-after young visitors were pleased with the opportunities presented in the program. They especially lauded the rare chance to meet so many colleagues from around the world and have the luxury of time to actually talk about their passions—books and more books—in an exotic and historical venue like Jerusalem. Crown executive editor Kristin Kiser eloquently summed up the feelings of many of the fellows: "Everyone I had talked to who had gone in previous years had said that the program was a life-changing experience, and I have to agree with them. There is something so special about meeting in a country that just vibrates with history." She was especially pleased with "the opportunity to talk in such great detail with editors from different countries," noting that at every turn she learned something that would be useful and/or inspiring. "Some of the editors successfully ran small presses, others had authored books, and everyone had edited writers who I greatly admired. Their passion and enthusiasm has helped reenergize me and my commitment to book publishing.'
Her colleague from the other side of the world, Wuping Zhao, editor-in-chief of China Weekly Reader in Beijing, echoed her sentiments. He not only got to make new friends, but was able establish new business partners. He cited the beginning of plans with fellows from the U.K. (Hamish Hamilton's Simon Prosser and Robert Violette) and the U.S. (Andre Bernard, editor-in-chief of Harvest Books) that he expects will lead to book deals. And, in fact, on a bus ride from a cocktail party back to the hotel, Bernard sold him Ed Hirsch's How to Read a Poem, to translate into Chinese. He also met with Jason Epstein, a participant on the Aspen Institute panel, "From Gutenberg to Gates: Transforming the Culture of Book"; they discussed translating Epstein's Book Business: Publishing: Past, Present, and Future into Chinese.
From Holland, De Arbeiderspers Publishing House's commissioning editor Ellik Lettinga said, "In Jerusalem, there was time for profound discussion about the state of publishing—why we're in it and what books we have loved." Jakob Malling Lambert, editor-in-chief at Rosinante Forlag in Denmark, said, "The biggest attraction is that so many international publishers go and that you have much more time to get to know people."
The first meeting of agent fellows got off to a very successful start. U.S. agent Kim Witherspoon described the fair and fellowship program "as an intimate environment for like-minded individual to meet and discuss all elements of publishing—sort of like a retreat for publishers and agents." Another U.S. agent, Ira Silverberg, wholeheartedly agreed: "The mix of agents, fellows and fair attendees from around the world is a heady brew of established and emerging publishing folk—all of whom are deeply committed to quality writing.
Action on the Floor
While all major German trade groups showed their colors at the fair—often in the persons of their owners or managing directors—few American executives of similar standing or buying power made it to Israel this time, often because of sales conferences back home. But one who did come helped to compensate for the no-shows: Peter Olson, chairman and president of Random House, which of course now means the global trade publishing group of Bertelsmann, America's and the world's number one. PW watched (from afar) as Olson sat in a corner of the large Random stand, talking things over with half a dozen editorial fellows from the U.S. and Europe who belonged to companies in his group.
Notable figures among the Germans included Monika Schoeller of S. Fischer Verlag, one of the owners of the transatlantic Holtzbrinck group and a leading supporter of the Fellows program, with Fischer's managing director Frank Trümper; Peter Wilfert, CEO of Holtzbrinck's Rowohlt. Also Lothar Menne, publisher at Ullstein (part of the Econ Ullstein List group owned by Axel Springer); Michael Krüger of independent Carl Hanser; and Bernd Lunkewitz of East Berlin's renascent Aufbau Verlag. Lunkewitz, who called Jerusalem the "best fair" because it allowed time to get to the bottom of things, brought three people with him, including Aufbau editorial director René Strien.
All the above were among the most visible and active presences on the floor, but PW also spotted Patricia Reiman, editor at Munich's trade paperback innovator DTV, deep in conversation with Deborah Harris of Jerusalem's Harris/Elon agency. And Ernst Piper, publisher of Zurich's small Pendo Verlag, scouring the list of Nilli Cohen's Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature. Both Munich's Ursula Bender and Zurich's Eva Koralnik were omnipresent. So was the new director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Lorenzo Rudolf.
The French fielded some real pros, thanks largely to the return visits of former fellows, but also to the presence of new publisher Olivier Nora of Editions Grasset, assisted by his editor Christophe Bataille, who was among this year's editorial fellows. And to Vera and Jan Michalski, owner-publishers of the fast-growing Noir sur Blanc group in France (and Poland), which now includes Buchet-Chastel; they brought along their American-in-Paris editor, Cynthia Liebow. Where were the Italians? Almost no one besides agent Susanna Zevi and editorial fellow Alessandra Mascaretti, a Rizzoli junior editor, were present. The Scandinavians? The Dutch? One former fellow, Eva Cossee, had made the pilgrimage, with husband Christoph Buchwald—ex-Suhrkamp of Germany—with plans for the launching of their own Dutch imprint.
Among Israeli publishers with significant international activity, the veteran must be Schocken (founded in 1938 after the migration of that publishing dynasty from Nazi Germany). Owner-publisher Racheli Edelman called PW's attention to her translated list, representing some 50% of the catalogue, and including Isabel Allende, Margaret Atwood, Thomas Bernhard, Jostein Gaarder, Ted Hughes and Mario Vargas Llosa—just to skim the top of the alphabet. This year Edelman was showing a major biography of Heinrich Heine, a Jewish convert to Christianity, but focusing on his Jewish origins and his influence on German Judaism.
Keter had a smallish stand—it is the country's largest integrated publisher, printer and distributor—but apparently sold a lot of books. It had another asset in Ornit Cohen-Barak, foreign editor and one of this year's editorial fellows, who was scouting promising foreign titles for a list that already includes Michael Cunningham, Grace Paley, Mario Vargas Llosa, Susan Sontag and—closer to home—Amos Oz.
Among publishers/packagers, Carta had brought along recent productions done for foreign customers, like an Historical Atlas of Christianity sold to Continuum but still available for other languages, along with similar atlases on Islam, Judaism and Jerusalem.
Jerusalem Publishing House, with publisher Shlomo Gafni and manager Rachel Gilon, may have been the only exhibiting publisher that doesn't publish for Israel at all; its projects are international, such as a three-volume Encyclopedia of Jewish Life—before and during the Holocaust—coming out from New York University Press (and still available for other countries). An illustrated Ranking Nations (listing countries according to vital statistics and other political and social criteria) seemed a sure seller into a number of languages.
Editorial fellow Tamar Fox of Israel's Kinneret described an imprint that was launched to do children's books, moved into textbooks, then into translated fiction some 10 years ago; Umberto Eco is one of its stars. After a dozen years in Britain as editor and translator, Fox was taken on last year to edit the translated-from-English books and to build up an original Hebrew-language list. Meanwhile nine books in 10 here (and there are some 150 published annually) are translations. London's Peter Halban Publishers always had one foot in Israel (Halban began as an agent there); he came to the fair with several titles for which he was selling world rights, including the new stories of British-Israel Naomi Shepherd and a memoir of life in a Polish shtetl, Botchki, by the late David Zagier.
Inside the Jerusalem Rights Center, agents Deborah Harris of Harris/Elon and Nilli Cohen of the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature seemed part of the furniture; they didn't have to move, for everybody sought them out. Harris was actually running auctions, notably for Tom Segev's The New Zionists, spotlighting the people who think that Israel should henceforth just behave like any other country (Sara Bershtel had picked it up for Metropolitan Books as part of a two-book contract just before the fair). There was an historical novel about Josephus Flavius by a leading Israeli archeologist, Yoram Zafrir, and another novel with a contemporary setting, Ammir Gutfreund's Our Holocaust, focusing on a group of survivors in a Haifa suburb who keep the details of what happened "over there" from the child protagonist.
Nilli Cohen took appointments every half hour (except for mealtimes) all day long, and the fair ran from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. She managed to see all the editorial fellows and alumni, and every serious publisher at the fair—some 50 people in all, with a few drop-in visitors such as Overlook's Peter Mayer. One of the achievements of which she was proudest: all but concluding the sale to a leading European house for Israel's "monumental" novel, the 1,000-page The Days of Ziklag by S. Yizhar, who has become something of a monument himself.
Prizes and Powwows
One event counts most at each biennial fair: the bestowal of the Jerusalem Prize, given for a writing career expressing the "freedom of the individual in society." This year's award, voted by a jury chaired by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, went to America's Susan Sontag, and her presence—and anticipating what she might say—caused greater than usual excitement, especially since she was to be introduced by Jerusalem's mayor, Ehud Olmert, a Likkud man identified with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Olmert lessened the tension by acknowledging his guest's right to her opinions. Sontag, after asserting that a writer must not be an opinion machine but must tell the truth in writing, allowed that one had a right to one's opinions all the same. In the Israeli context, for example, she believed that collective punishment was never justified militarily or ethically. "I mean the use of disproportionate firepower against civilians, the demolition of their homes and destruction of their orchards...." She stated, too, that "there can be no peace here until the planting of Israel communities in the Territories is halted, followed by the eventual dismantling of these settlements."
Two opinions at the heart of the Israeli dilemma—her declaration was followed by a burst of applause; others in disagreement politely listened, and reiterated another comment in her speech: "I have opinions, political opinions, some of them formed on the basis of reading and discussing, and reflecting, but not of first-hand experience." But the worst was said, and still Jerusalem's mayor renewed his initial signs of admiration and affection for Sontag. Few of the prize-winners who had preceded her, as Sontag observed in her speech, had spoken as frankly.
In another ceremony, two book fair faithfuls received medals as Friends of Jerusalem from Mayor Olmert—Jane Friedman, president and CEO of HarperCollins, and Germany's Lothar Menne, longtime member of the fair's European advisory committee.
"There are many book fairs in the world," the fair's chairman, Zev Birger, said in his welcoming speech, "but none of the others have friends and groupies." "There are bonds created here that span the world," said Friedman in her brief speech of thanks. Menne acknowledged that he was "part of the conspiracy of Jerusalem Fair unconditionals." He movingly described his first visit to Jerusalem in the early '60s, remembering the "very young man fleeing from the burden of his own nation's guilt, he went to the city, where the very notion of guilt had been invented thousands of years earlier. The more profane reason of his visit was named Susan." He admitted happily that he was much more successful in his relationship with Jerusalem.
The Aspen Institute Forum was Jerusalem's 10th. Panelists included Richard Ben Cramer, Pulitzer journalist and author of Joe DiMaggio, who remarked that he felt more welcome now than ever before in Israel: at the airport the taxi driver had looked at him with joy and a feeling of protection, "like a gamekeeper." Before he left the States, Cramer's sister had expressed anxiety about his trip—"You won't know which way to go for safety," she had said. He said that he had replied: "Come, come, e-books won't be that bad."
For Aspen's subject was "From Gutenberg to Gates: Transforming the Culture of Books," keynoted by Jason Epstein, who put his faith in print-on-demand. Other speakers, Lothar Menne among them, saw the future as coexistence between e-books and paper.
As part of the fellowship program, an alumni seminar heard Victoria Barnsley, new CEO and publisher of HarperCollins U.K., telling of her own transition "From Lone Independent to Global Conglomerate"—from her own Fourth Estate to HC, of course. Speaking to a group including some unreconstructed independents—among them Britain's Andrew Franklin (who founded Profile Books after being eased out of Penguin) and Jamie Byng of Scotland's Canongate—she admitted that Fourth Estate's one defining quality had been its independence, an independence she had abandoned after 16 years at the helm for Harper's attractive offer—not only for the money, she insisted, but because the question of independence now seemed to her irrelevant. She argued for tolerance toward conglomerates, for they corresponded to the revolution in retailing; she pointed out that it was Woolworth that had launched Penguin paperbacks. In one of the responses from the floor, Fischer Verlag's Frank Trümper observed that the real challenge was to combine the creativity of the independents with the strength of the conglomerates, something he was now trying to achieve.
Of all the programs on the fair docket, the fellows were particularly impressed with this meeting and recommended that more opportunities for the fellows to talk about their publishing experiences be scheduled in future fairs. "We could present some of our titles and discuss what we see as the challenges facing editors today. We could discuss what might help in facilitating buying and selling rights abroad," suggested Norton senior editor and v-p Jill Bialosky. Another fellow, Thomas Rathnow, nonfiction editor at Germany's Ullstein Heyne, suggested more roundtable meetings for the fellows.
For sure, the next fair in Jerusalem will reflect a lot of the fellows' recommendations, as JIBF organizers and participants recognize that they are the future of this biennial event.
And as for the future of the book, we harken back to Shalev's words at the fair's opening ceremony: "It is such a pleasure to see a small army of publishers and agents converge on the city in order to write, translate, publish, and buy and sell books—and to remember what many have already forgotten: that once, many years ago, Jerusalem was a fount of moral texts, spiritual ideas, inspiration and words, uttered and written here, that reached the entire world." And everyone involved in the fair—organizers and participants—hopes that this "small army," representing all faiths and constituents, descends on Jerusalem for the 2003 fair in even greater numbers.