On September 23, the Croatian author Dubravka Ugrešić read in Rochester, N.Y., as part of a fund-raiser for Open Letter Books, the translation-focused nonprofit publishing house based at the University of Rochester. The choice of Ugrešić as a speaker was deliberate: Nobody’s Home, one of her collections of essays, was the inaugural title by the press, first appearing in bookstores in 2008 in a handsome paper-over-board edition. A decade later, Open Letter has published 103 books from 44 countries and 26 languages.
That Ugrešić, who had been published by Dalkey Archive, would take the risk 10 years ago to move to the then-fledgling publishing house is entirely the result of her loyalty to Chad Post, the publisher of Open Letter. Anyone who has worked with Post cannot help but note his unflagging energy. More than a year before Open Letter’s first books were published, he launched the website Three Percent (an allusion to the approximate portion of American trade books that are translations), and it quickly established itself as the go-to online resource for anyone interested in translated literature. He then built, and still maintains, a database that tracks translations published in the U.S. (now administered by Publishers Weekly); created the Best Translated Book Award for fiction and poetry; and started the Three Percent podcast, which has run continuously for eight years and is nearing its 150th episode. As part of his responsibilities to the University of Rochester, he also teaches classes on literary translation and world literature.
Coinciding with Open Letter Books’ 10th anniversary, Post is being honored with the 2018 Words Without Borders Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature. It will be presented by Will Evans, founder of Deep Vellum Books in Dallas, at the Words Without Borders 15th Anniversary Gala on October 30 in New York City.
“Chad’s true power is that he is both an inspiration and a tireless advocate for literary translation,” said Evans, who credits Post with motivating him to start Deep Vellum and calls Post his mentor. “He has used his platform to open up the industry to the idea that literary translation really matters, and now he is at the center of how translations get talked about, marketed, and sold.”
Many others could also credit Post and Open Letter with helping them get started in publishing. Among those are translators, such as NEA fellowship recipient Will Vanderhyden; agents, such as Allie Levick, an assistant at Writers House Literary Agency; and editors, such as Kaija Straumanis, Open Letter’s editorial director.
When asked to reflect on what winning the prize meant to him, Post demurred, opting instead to praise the authors and translators who helped put the press on the international map. He called out Ugrešić again, and in particular her book Karaoke Culture, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism and was the first Open Letter title nominated for a major book award. He also pointed to Mercè Rodoreda and her book Death in Spring, which was the first of five Rodoreda books Open Letter contracted, and the first of the press’s titles to go into multiple print runs. Another key author he mentioned is Rodrigo Fresán, whose The Bottom of the Sky was the 100th book Open Letter published, and whose previous book, The Invented Part, was a critical and commercial success.
Looking back over his career, Post said, “It all started at Quail Ridge Books [in Raleigh, N.C.], where I was a bookseller who fell in love with the work of Argentine author Julio Cortázar, and they allowed me to do my own section of translated books. Then, there were my several years at Dalkey Archive, and now a decade at Open Letter.” Post added that his only mission in publishing—whether he’s running a house, mentoring, blogging, or podcasting—has been to get more people to appreciate the scope of global literature. “I’ve been consistent in my message: ‘There is a whole world out there. You need to pay more attention to it!’ ”