Conversation: Open Letter’s Translated Works Find a Ready Audience

BY Molly Finnegan  March 26, 2010 at 2:53 PM EST

The Next Chapter of Reading

Only 3 percent of all books published each year in the United States are works of fiction or poetry that have been translated into English from another language. Consider then, that the 2009 Nobel Laureate was Romanian-born author Herta Mueller, and the year before, it was Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, a French writer. There may have been some very savvy readers who already had them in their libraries, but many others probably tried searching in vain at their local bookstores for copies.

Open Letter Books, a small press operating out of the University of Rochester in New York, is trying to offer those readers a head start. Unlike some large publishing houses that occasionally release translated works, Open Letter only publishes works in translation. Its printings are small — just about 3,000 per book — but the press serves its devoted readers by offering them a subscription service, a kind of book-of-the-month club featuring international writers. Open Letter also runs a blog called Three Percent, as well as a conversation series called Reading the World.

Chad Post is the director of Open Letter Books. He joined me to talk about their particular niche in the publishing industry:

Editor’s Note: You can listen to more conversations in our series, “The Next Chapter of Reading,” including authors Alberto Manguel, Ursula Le Guin, and Rick Moody. We’ve also talked about the latest in consumer e-reader technology, and on the NewsHour we had a report about the Google Books plan to digitize and offer millions of books online.