Ben Schrank, most recently head of Henry Holt, has been named publisher and chief operating officer of Astra Publishing House. The new company is backed by Thinkingdom Media Group, the Beijing-based company that previously acquired Boyds Mills Press and took a majority stake in minedition. Both of those children’s publishers are part of the new company and are being joined by a new adult division, Astra House.
In a statement, Schrank said the mission of Astra Publishing House is to “champion authors from all corners of the world” and to “build bridges between readers and writers from all corners of the world.”
Overseeing the Astra House adult unit is industry veteran Alessandra Bastagli, who was named editorial director. The unit plans to do 20 to 25 titles starting in spring 2021. Astra will publish books in fiction and nonfiction and about half of its list will be of translations, Bastagli said. The company is continuing to add to its editorial team, “with a preference for people who are fluent in a second language,” Bastagli said.
Astra’s adult launch list includes Art in the Age of Cancel Culture by London-based New York Times Arts and Culture writer Farah Nayeri; Winter Pasture, the memoir of bestselling Chinese author Li Juan, and her first book to be published in English; and The Biuty Queens, a collection of stories by Chilean author Iván Monalisa Ojeda, which looks at the life of New York City’s Latin American trans community.
Astra Publishing House has also added new leadership to its children’s publishing ranks. Maria Russo, former New York Times children’s books editor, has been named editorial director of mineditionUS. In her new role, Astra said, Russo “will be working with Michael Neugebauer, the founder of minedition, to expand its readership and the brand’s unique global perspective.” The publisher already has operations in Switzerland, France, Germany, Beijing, and Hong Kong.
“I've long been a big fan of minedition and its international approach to children's publishing, and I'm thrilled to be joining the Astra Publishing House team,” Russo said in a statement. At mineditionUS, Russo will be responsible for the publication of picture books and board books. Minedition already publishes such authors as Lisbeth Zwerger, Kveta Pacovska, Robert Ingpen, and Elsa Mroziewicz.
APH’s other children’s publisher, Boyds Mills & Kane, which was formed following the May 2019 purchase of Boyds Mills, will continue to be led by Juliana Lauletta.
The heads of both children’s imprints will report to Schrank. The Astra House adult titles will be distributed in the U.S. and Canada by Penguin Random House; PRH already distributes Boyds Mills & Kane books in the U.S. and will take over distribution of mineditionUS on July 1.
A final piece of the APH group is Astra Quarterly, a new literary magazine, that Astra said is “committed to publishing the best new writers from around the world." It will debut next year.
Leying Jiang, president of Boyd Mills & Kane, is president of APH. “We have been building toward this moment for a long time and are so thrilled to have these brilliant editorial and publishing talents joining the leadership team,” Jiang said in a statement. “With a clear mission of publishing books that bridge the world and connect people and cultures, we look forward to an exciting new journey for this growing global publishing program here in the U.S.”