The Community of Literary Magazines and Presses, formerly the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, is a nonprofit organization comprised of 900+ small publishers of books, journals, magazines, and more. Founded in 1967, CLMP’s mission is to help small literary publishers get their works from writers to readers. New to CLMP this year is Chelsea Oei Kern, who serves as its program director, and who will manage the organization’s booth at Frankfurt. Kern leads the administration of the programs that deliver technical assistance, funding, and other means of support to CLMP’s membership—much, but not all of which is located in the U.S. Kern came to CLMP from the University of California in Los Angeles, where she received a PhD and taught and wrote about contemporary U.S. fiction. Kern spoke with us about her view on the international book world right now and her expectations for this year’s fair.
What books are you reading right now?
I just finished Our Wives Under the Sea, by Julia Armfield (Flatiron Books)—phenomenal! And I recently attended a reading by Elizabeth Brooks from her new novel The House in the Orchard (Tin House), so I’m really looking forward to reading that next. Both books feel very appropriate for this spooky season!
What’s one of your favorite books that most people don’t know?
Island by Siri Ranva Hjelm Jacobsen and translated by Caroline Waight (Pushkin Press), which I read earlier this year, immediately got a spot in my favorites. I can’t even remember how I came across it—it might have just been the cover, which is so striking, that caught my attention on the shelf.
What’s a hotly anticipated title you read recently that surprised you in a good way? In a bad way?
I have to admit that I’m a little behind on hotly anticipated titles, but I read Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House (Graywolf) recently, and I loved it so much that I read it again immediately after I finished, and once again since. As for recently published titles, CLMP’s annual Firecracker Awards highlight incredible books from indie publishers, and make for a great reading list. I’m especially pleased that we got to showcase book of the other: small in comparison, a new poetry collection by Truong Tran (Kaya Press), which I added to my to-read pile right away. We’re now accepting submissions for next year’s awards, and I’m already getting excited about my 2023 reading list.
What book (or books) made you want to be in the book business?
I’ve always been a reader, but didn’t expect to be working in the book business until it actually happened. Since I joined CLMP last year, I’ve gotten to learn about so many independent publishers and magazines whose work makes me love doing my job. I’m sure, though, that reading everything Tamora Pierce ever wrote when I was a kid planted the seed.
Are you going to Frankfurt this year? If so, how many years is it since you were last there? What’s the thing you’re most looking forward to about attending the fair in person? Least?
This will be my first time going to Frankfurt! I’m looking forward to getting to meet a few of CLMP’s members in person and learn about the beautiful books they are making. Probably what I’m least excited about is the very long journey I’ll be making to get there, but I think it’ll be worth it.
What are your expectations for your first Frankfurt Book Fair?
I’m hoping to hear about the books and authors our international colleagues are most fired up about. Though we’re based in the U.S., CLMP has many international members. Frankfurt is also an opportunity for us to learn more about the publishing industry in other countries, so we can better serve this important segment of our membership.
What has CLMP’s role been, traditionally, at the fair? Are you doing anything new this year?
CLMP attends the fair to shine some well-deserved light on our members’ contributions to literature and to learn more about the international scene. This year, we’ll be joined by representatives from Akashic Books, Berlinica Publishing, Dalkey Archive Press, Deep Vellum, Catapult, Futurepoem Books, McPherson & Co., New Vessel Press, Open Letter Books, Red Hen Press, Restless Books, Sandorf Passage, and the Feminist Press at our booth.
Some observers in the U.S. book business have noted that translated literature is on the rise here in the States. You work with a lot of independent presses, and magazines and journals publishing literature, at CLMP. Judging by your interactions with them, would you agree?
I would. But I’d also add that independent literary magazines and presses have been dedicated to publishing stellar works in translation for years. If you look at the National Book Award longlist in translation this year, for example, indie lit publishers dominate—Archipelago Books, Bellevue Literary Press, Coffee House Press, New Directions, Tin House Books, and Transit Books. These presses, and others—just to name a few—Deep Vellum, Europa Editions, Graywolf Press, Laertes Press, Open Letter, Two Lines Press, White Pine Press, and Lost Horse Press, whose Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry Series has become especially relevant as of late, have been doing this work all along. This year’s Nobel Prize-winner Annie Ernaux is published by Seven Stories Press in the U.S.! Magazines are committed to translation, too. A quick search in CLMP’s Directory of Publishers database shows that over 100 literary magazines feature translation.
What are some trends in international literature that interest you or your membership?
On this, we checked in with CLMP member Words Without Borders, whose mission involves expanding access to international writing. Digital director & senior editor Eric M. B. Becker says, “A crucial part of our work at Words Without Borders is ensuring that we don’t stop simply at providing a platform for international writers and translators, but for voices that are underrepresented not just here in the U.S. but in their own cities, countries, languages. In recent years, it’s been great to see, and to play a role in, the growing emphasis on recognizing the value of heritage speakers as translators, as well as the work of translators and writers of color from around the world, be it women writers of the African and South Asian diasporas who are dispelling traditional notions of culture, or those doing the work to make sure that the international writers we read challenge racism and monoculture across the globe.”
What are some trends in American literature you or your members are most excited about? What are some that are tiring?
There’s more work to be done, of course, but, in general, it seems that many publishers are working on becoming more representative in their lists. And some small presses are getting more recognition and support for their longstanding commitment to publishing a diverse range of voices. Last year, CLMP established the Constellation Award, underwritten by Penguin Random House and given to honor an independent literary press that is led by and/or champions the writing of people of color for excellence in publishing. Nomadic Press was the inaugural winner, and we can’t wait to announce this year’s winner in December! As for trends that we are tiring of? How difficult it is for literary magazines and small presses to be visible in a crowded marketplace. Without them, so many authors wouldn’t have a home for their work.