Italian publishing house 21letters is opening an U.S. subsidiary, 26letters, which is publishing its first title this month. The company was founded in Modena in 2019 by Alberto Bisi and publishes six titles per year, with a focus on translated fiction and graphic novels; its Italian name derives from the fact that there are 21 letters in the Italian alphabet, and the U.S. name reflects the use of 26 letter in English.
Authors on the publisher’s Italian list include Lois Lowry, Yu Miri, Walter Mosley, and Mikhail Shiskin. The first U.S. title is Sempé in New York, a collection of covers the French-born cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé drew for the New Yorker magazine. The art work will be accompanied by an original essay on New York as inspiration for Sempé, who died in August 2022. The book will be published on December 5 and will be distributed by Cardinal Publishers Group.
“For our first step in America, we wanted to be accompanied by Sempé, for whom this looks like coming home with his complete collection of the New Yorker covers,” Bisi said. “This past year there was an open air exhibition in New York City of his drawings. You often see his postcards being sold around the city, and so the book comes as a natural tribute to him and his work.”
Bisi is relocating with his family to the United States and recently attended the Texas Book Festival in Austin. He said that his plan is to continue on the same path of publishing a small list of high quality titles that have garnered the publishing house two Strega prizes—the equivalent of National Book Awards—in just four years. “As a small publisher, we focus on quality over quantity,” Bisi said. “I am moving to America where I feel there is a positive attitude and the energy, especially around publishing.”
21letters will continue to publish six titles a year in Italy. In the U.S., 26letters has announced its next book will be an English-language translation of The Dames of Faubourg by French author Jean Diwo, with further titles coming thereafter.