Juan Milà is editorial director of HarperVia, an imprint at the HarperOne Group in the U.S., dedicated to publishing international voices. He also acquires for HarperCollins Español and was previously an editor at Salamandra, in Spain. His new and forthcoming titles include Mary and the Birth of Frankenstein by Anne Eekhout, Bad Habit by Alana S. Portero, and The Last Dream by Pedro Almodóvar. We spoke with Milà about the latest literary trends in the U.S., and around the world.
Tell us a little about HarperVia.
Our international imprint publishes fiction and nonfiction, mostly in translation, offering readers a chance to encounter other lives and other experiences, other realities and other points of view. The imprint celebrates the universal desire for discovery, understanding, and connection through exceptional storytelling, embracing works in translation to open up the field to authors from around the world. Because fiction enlivens conversation and strengthens bonds between cultures, our international imprint publishes stories that spark the imaginations of readers everywhere. Since launching our first book in September 2019 we’ve published 83 original titles, and approximately 60% of those are in translation.
What books are you reading right now?
I’m reading Isabel Wilkerson’s riveting account of America’s Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns. I also just started Zadie Smith’s The Fraud. And I can’t wait to read Abraham Verghese’s new novel, The Covenant of Water, which I have eagerly anticipated since first reading Cutting for Stone some 14 years ago.
What’s one of your favorite books that most people don’t know?
An Imaginary Life by David Malouf immediately comes to mind. It’s a truly moving short novel about the once revered poet Ovid, who, banished to the remote corner of the Roman empire, finds himself surrounded by people with whom he doesn’t share a language and begins to relearn everything.
What’s a big book you read recently that surprised you in a good way?
I read Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand, the winner of last year’s International Booker and tremendously enjoyed its wild and playful storytelling and the inventiveness of its language, as beautifully rendered by Daisy Rockwell’s crisp translation. Then, months later, I listened to the audiobook while walking around suburban New Jersey, yet again entranced!
What book made you want to be an editor?
For me, it wasn’t so much a particular book as my hope to be able to continuously read. At the time I was coming of age in Spain, during a period of lively political and cultural dialogue, and publishers took a prominent place in the public discourse. Being an editor seemed like such a relevant occupation.
What are your expectations for this year’s fair?
As someone who comes to fairs to acquire rights, my expectations will be the same as every year: finding the next García Márquez—and to reunite with international colleagues to discuss projects and opportunities. One must always be vigilant, because valuable information comes up in unplanned, unexpected ways.
Are there any trends you’re watching out for in international literature?
As the number of titles translated into English multiplies, so does the diversity of languages and regions. Fiction from Japan and Korea keeps growing, as well as Eastern Europe––Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Georgia, for example. Some of the international trends I’ve been discussing are speculative fiction, fiction that embraces elements of horror, innovative approaches to the natural world, and fiction that oversteps the boundaries of nonfiction. But amid the noise, original, category-defying storytelling always emerges.
Are there any trends in American literature your international book business friends and contacts are most excited about?
In general, I think a diversification of the kinds of stories that make it to the mainstream is a process that’s taking place in many countries, though it’s happening in very different ways and with unique nuances in different countries. For example, in the U.S. there’s a lot of discussion around who is the best person to tell a particular story, whereas in other countries people might be more concerned with issues of representation. And this trend seems to also have been accelerated by the pandemic.
Any hot new agents and editors to watch out for, in the U.S. or abroad?
Editors Alexa Frank and Gretchen Schmid are both building impressive lists at HarperVia. Among the new agents to watch, I’ll mention Elianna Kan at Regal Hoffmann, who sells Spanish rights.