Jill Schoolman founded Archipelago Books in 2003 as a nonprofit focused on publishing foreign-language works in English translation. Over 10 years later, she has published more than 100 books (translated from 26 languages) from some of the world’s best known and bestselling authors.
After a stint in film production, Schoolman began her editorial career at Seven Stories Press, working with acclaimed writers such as Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Assia Djebar, and Koigi wa Wamwere. After three years at Seven Stories, Schoolman realized she had a knack and passion for bringing foreign literature to the American market, and decided to establish Archipelago Books and pursue only international titles. Located within the old American Can factory in Brooklyn, N.Y., the press began with Schoolman and one other employee and has continued for a decade at nearly the same size: interns, a California-based book designer, and one part-time employee round out the staff.
Running the press as a nonprofit has allowed Schoolman the flexibility to follow her eclectic tastes, and her list displays a global scope. Archipelago has published five of Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury’s novels, including the renowned Gate of the Sun (which was a New York Times Notable Book and won the Palestine Prize), as well as books by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Polish novelist Magdalena Tulli, and Bosnian writer Miljenko Jergovic´. In addition to foreign contemporary novelists, Archipelago also publishes works from some of literature’s biggest names: Julio Cortázar’s Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness’s Hero, Bohumil Hrabal’s Harlequin’s Millions, and Auguste Rodin by Rainer Maria Rilke. The breadth of the list is truly remarkable, especially considering that each title is personally handled by Schoolman.
Possibly the most intriguing Schoolman acquisition has been the six books of Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgård’s opus, My Struggle—a title that echoes that of Hitler’s autobiography. Widely acclaimed for its scope and style, controversial for Knausgård’s title choice and his autobiographical approach to a fictional work, the book has sold nearly half a million copies in Norway. The attention has only mounted as Knausgård continues to find an American audience. Archipelago’s hardcover edition of the third volume, published last May, is already selling more copies than the first two volumes combined. In its starred review (April 14, 2014), PW called the latest volume a “genre-defying and unusual novel [that] will leave readers hungry for the following installments.” Next May, Schoolman will release the fourth volume, which follows Knausgård’s move to a tiny village in the Arctic Circle after graduating high school.
Raised in Kansas City, Schoolman believes that “growing up in such a land-locked place made me long to travel.” She’s fluent in French and proficient in Spanish and Italian; her experience with foreign languages comes from a lifelong love of travel. She remembers a trip to Tanzania as particularly eye-opening, as well as a summer in Rome where she became engrossed with Italian film. After graduating from Yale, Schoolman followed her film ambitions to Paris and found a job delivering pizzas via moped. “I think that my time in Paris and elsewhere in Europe opened things up and shifted the center for me in a visceral way,” she said. It was exciting “to witness and experience the cultural influences from various parts of the world... this vital ebb and flow.” Later she found a job as a film editing apprentice in a West African film production house called Atriascope. “I still remember how welcoming and generous they were with me, not to mention patient with my spotty French. And what a joy it was to be able to see films from all corners of the world at 10 in the morning!” As much as Schoolman liked living and working in Paris, when her work permit expired she decided to head back to the U.S., where she worked in film in New York for a year before joining Seven Stories.
Loyalty to Schoolman’s vision seems to be the lifeblood of Archipelago, with her curated list more like a brilliant friend’s recommendations than a traditional output of smaller titles bolstered by bestsellers. A subscription program is available for readers who’d like to receive all of Archipelago’s frontlist titles. Upcoming books include Ready to Burst, by Haitian writer Franketienne, which explores the oppression and cruelty of the Duvalier dictatorship through a young narrator and his alter-ego, and the Selected Stories of Turkish writer Sait Faik Abasıyanık, a collection centered on the daily lives of people in Istanbul.
Current title: Publisher, editor-in-chief, Archipelgo Books
Almost became: A documentary film director or vagabond
Higher education: B.A., Yale
Early literary influences: Dostoyevski, Flannery O’Connor, Yukio Mishima