Since it launched in 2013, Dallas, Texas’s Deep Vellum Publishing has continued to grow into one of the most significant American independent publishers of translated literature of its time. In addition to its namesake publisher, DV operates a bookstore in Dallas’s Deep Ellum neighborhood, along with four imprints: the Texas-focused imprint La Reunion Publishing; Phoneme Media and A Strange Object, whose backlists DV acquired in 2019; and the Dalkey Archive, the pioneering independent publisher launched by the late John O'Brien. Deep Vellum founder and publisher Will Evans, with the help of Chad W. Post of Open Letter Books, relaunched Dalkey earlier this year, with a list including the iconoclastic Russian writer Vladimir Sorokin’s The Four Hearts. It’s part of what has proven a consistent expansion for the publisher, which plans to open offices in the U.K. by the end of this year. We spoke with Evans by email about the latest developments at the press and other bookish matters.
What books are you reading right now?
My kids are 6 and 4, so I don’t get a lot of time to read adult literature these days. But my oldest and I have been making our way for the first time through some Diary of a Wimpy Kid volumes, his first long, mostly-text books; and he’s in a bilingual class at school, so we’re currently reading a few days each night of Diario de Greg: Arrasa con todo. My younger daughter is loving The Magic School Bus: Volcanoes. When I do get to read adult books, I usually read books from the Deep Vellum and Dalkey Archive universe, both forthcoming titles and backlist. I’m about to finish Andrey Kurkov’s Diary of an Invasion, which was just delivered to us from Mountain Leopard Press in the U.K. to publish here in North America, written while Kurkov was in Kyiv weathering the earliest days of Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine. We just got in the translation of Rumena Bužarovska’s second book for Dalkey Archive, I’m Not Going Anywhere, which the author co-translated with Steven Bradbury, and I’m absolutely blown away. She is a pure star in the making. And I’m reading Arno Schmidt’s Nobodaddy’s Children: Scenes from the Life of a Faun, translated by John E. Woods.
What’s one of your favorite books that most people don’t know?
I am pretty open about my reading journey in life, and my lifelong obsession to read anything and everything possible, and also that Maxim Gorky’s Life of a Useless Man in Moura Budberg’s translation was the book that set me on my current path in life at 14. I have tattoos of some Russian and Ukrainian writers alongside a Vonnegut tattoo. So one that you wouldn’t expect? I’m obsessed with Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers, but again, not surprising for a kid from a small town in the South. Maybe the books that I read as a 10-14 year old before I got obsessed with Russia and Vonnegut that still stick, none more so than Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, and the sequel, The Angel of Darkness. Those books are so dark, and such evocative historical fiction worldbuilding. So much of what I seek in literature, I still crave from those moments of awe and terror in Carr’s universe.
What's a big book you read recently that surprised you in a good way? In a bad way?
Riley Rennhack, Deep Vellum’s bookstore manager, is the biggest fan of Mesha Maren, and she was raving about her newest, Perpetual West. I don’t know if that’s the “big book” you mean, but I don’t read so many books published under the Hachette banner. I guess this is a product of Workman’s legendary indie editors. Riley is right, Mesha is an absolute badass, and it brings me great joy that she teaches at Duke, my graduate school alma mater (and where Anne Garréta also teaches!). As for other “big books,” The Books of Jacob delivers, which isn’t a surprise because Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer Croft can’t miss, and a recent massive book that doesn’t get the love it deserves for its wild look at New York is The Five Books of (Robert) Moses by Arthur Nersesian, published by the always adventurous Akashic Books.
What book (or books) made you want to be a publisher?
I turned down a PhD in Russian literature to go on tour and work in the music business, and after 5 years of that, I was looking for a change, living in Austin, Tex., booking shows at a venue, and I went to the Austin Public Library one day and saw Vilnius Poker by Ričardas Gavelis, translated by Elizabeth Novickas. I loved the cover and love any book set in the former Soviet sphere and couldn’t think of another Lithuanian book I’d ever read, so I researched the publisher, Open Letter Books, which was my introduction to the world of Chad W. Post, who became my mentor and my colleague. That same day, when I walked up to the counter to check out, I learned you can use your public library card in Texas to get a library card for any university library, so went to the University of Texas and checked out some Russian books and chanced into walking through the Russian department, and that’s what got me to go to graduate school. There I got more into translation, and I tried my hand at it, and then in researching who would publish it, thanks to Chad, I was inspired to start Deep Vellum. So all in all I think it was Vilnius Poker, such a dark and strange and marvelous book, that led me to publishing. Or my mom reading me Misty of Chincoteague when I was a little kid. Same planet, different worlds.
How has the business of publishing in translation changed over the course of your time in publishing?
There are a lot more independent publishers doing such extraordinary, complementary work, and an uptick in interest from the traditional literary establishment realizing, not for the first time, that translated work smokes most of the corporate literary output in the English language.
We've heard rumblings of Deep Vellum opening an office in London. Can you share any details?
We hope to have an office in the U.K. open by the end of the year, though our hope is to have the headquarters in the U.K. outside of London. Just as our office in Texas allows us a decidedly not-New-York approach to publishing and literary culture, we hope to bring the same approach of introducing the readers of the U.K. to great writers wherever they may be in creative and engaging ways—not just in New York in London.
DV relaunched Dalkey Archive this past April. How has that process been going? What are some exciting achievements so far?
The greatest achievements have been working with Chad W. Post in relaunching some of the most classic Dalkey Archive works through a new Dalkey Archive Essentials series, with cover designs created by Justin Childress, alongside publishing such debut American writers as Dashiel Carrera, Emily Hall, and Ashton Politanoff, who fit in perfectly with and, at the same time, expand the Dalkey Archive tradition. Also, publishing legendary Russian writer Vladimir Sorokin in Max Lawton’s translations has to be an all-time highlight for me. I’ve studied Sorokin’s work in university for the past 20+ years, and to now work with him is a dream come true. And Max is an extraordinary translator and writer with an unparalleled energy and vision for what literature is and can be.
DV publishes a fair amount of Eastern European literature, including Russian-language literature, and published Ukrainian Stories, an anthology, in August. How has the war affected the business? How is Deep Vellum adjusting?
The war is pure hell and must be stopped immediately. Russia’s invasion is horrific and wrong on every level, and has hurt our Russian writers, who have all been persecuted for their anti-war stance, several of whom have had to leave the country, some of whom have been sent to jail. But that is nothing compared to what our Ukrainian authors are going through, and have gone through ever since Deep Vellum started. It is pure agony to watch the greatest living Ukrainian writers having to serve in the armed forces, suffering and witnessing horrific tragedies, and additional writers having to flee their homes to stay alive.
I went to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2013 and signed Serhiy Zhadan’s Voroshilovgrad, only to witness the next year Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea, the Donbass, and the Luhansk region where Zhadan’s novel is set. Our first book came out in December 2014, so our entire publishing existence has existed in a world where Russia is illegally occupying Ukraine, and as a result, we’ve made Ukrainian literature an integral part of what we publish—to share voices that the English reading world needs to know. This amazing anthology, Love in Defiance of Pain: Ukrainian Stories, is just one example, alongside works by Oleg Sentsov (who was unjustly imprisoned for 5 years in a Siberian prison camp because he supported Crimea remaining a part of Ukraine after the invasion, and who became Europe’s most visible political prisoner before he was released at the end of 2019; we are publishing his prison diary next fall), Oksana Lutsyshyna (whose debut novel in English we’ll publish next year, after signing it 3 years ago!), and Ukraine’s bestselling author, Andrey Kurkov, whose Grey Bees, translated by Boris Dralyuk, had a publication date of March 2022. That ended up being fortuitous in that it became the novel of the invasion, and Kurkov has become the most visible artistic face in the world discussing the war, appearing on TV, with essays appearing in the leading magazines of the world, including a profile in the New York Times Magazine and the front cover of the New York Times Book Review. So the book sold out before its publication date, then we had to go through every layer of the current supply chain inferno to try to keep some books available for readers to engage with, often the first Ukrainian book they’d ever read. That was incredible to witness.
This war has brought to the world’s consciousness the very idea of Ukraine as a nation, and has led so many to seek out Ukrainian literature as a way to learn more about the country and the way its citizens and artists see the world, and what readers are finding is extraordinary, from this ancient culture and vibrant country that has been under the Russian shadow for too long. It's now stepping out fully into its own, and when this horrific war is over, the world will fall in love with more and more writers and artists of all types from every corner of Ukraine.
What are some trends to watch out for in international literature?
Short, genre-defying novels blurring fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art by women writers from every corner of the globe are the most ambitious writing experiments going, hands down.
What are some trends in American literature your international book business friends and contacts are most excited about? What are some they're tired of?
I fell asleep thinking about this question.