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Today in International Lit

By David Varno

Liu Xiaobo Sentenced, PEN Press Conference to Follow

A message from The PEN American Center:  

As you have heard, the Chinese government has sentenced our colleague Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison in China.

This Thursday, we will hold an outdoor press event in midtown Manhattan to protest the verdict and press for Liu's release. We believe this is both a good way to underscore PEN's commitment to this case and to ring in a year that marks the 50th anniversary of PEN's organized efforts to defend imprisoned and persecuted writers around the world.

Please join us for this important show of solidarity.

The event will take place at 11 a.m. Thursday at a convenient midtown Manhattan location.

Check back on PEN's website and sign up for their mailing lists for updates on the press conference's location and more news.

Three of Liu Xiaobo's poems have just been translated by Jeffrey Wang for PEN America, and the website includes a recording of readings by Paul Auster.  Jenna Krajeski has some wonderful commentary on the poems in today's Book Bench.

Here is last week's press release from PEN, in response to the sentencing, from Larry Siems. Also available on PEN's website is a video of Liu interviewed by the Chinese PEN Center in 2006, in which he says, "After the cold war, the degree of liberty in China is related to the whole world, and has directly corresponded to the progress of world civilization...if the Chinese people had the support of the whole world, we work together to change China from...a state without freedom of writing into a free nation."

Literature in Translation as Niche Market

Last week's article in the New York Times on American publishers who specialize in literature in translation, "Small Publisher Finds Its Mission in Translation," by Larry Rohter, which focused on Open Letter Books, showed how director Chad Post and leaders at other presses such as Dalkey Archive, Archipelago, and Europa find ways to market books by authors who are unknown to most American  readers.  As Post has it, there is a demand from readers for their horizons to be expanded, which has yet to be met:  “There’s a set of readers out there that’s very interested in translations and international literature and is not getting what it we believe our business model can work. American literature has a lot of great works. But English-speaking readers don’t have full access to voices and viewpoints from around the world, and we’re trying to rectify that.”

Rohter explains the strategy of Open Letter's marketing:  

To increase Open Letter’s reach, Mr. Post talks about finding ways to tap into specialized audiences, like the people who go to movie theaters known for showing foreign films. One thing he has already done is to ensure that all of Open Letter’s books have the same distinctively lean, uncluttered design, almost as if he were running a specialty jazz label like Blue Note or Impulse!, which built a loyal cadre of customers through a combination of a signature look and sound.

Open Letter Books is supported by the University of Rochester, and their Literary Translation Studies program, which is currently offered to undergraduates and will soon be available for master studies, and as Rohter sees it, LTS is "an additional element of Open Letter’s branding effort," as well as an opportunity for students hungry to break into the fields of publishing and translation. 

The recent Words Without Borders anthology, The Wall in My Head, is published by Open Letter Books.

Published Dec 30, 2009   Copyright 2009 David Varno

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