October 15, 2008
Found in translation…
by Dennis Johnson
“At a time when publishers are fixated on writers who can sell 500,000 copies or more,” Drenka Willen “publishes books in translation, where a title that sells 10,000 copies is a home run.” However, as Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg observes in a Wall Street Journal profile, her list of authors is as impressive as anyone’s, as it includes four Nobel prizewinners: José Saramago, Gunter Grass, Octavio Paz and Wislawa Szymborska . She also defies another trend: “Although foreign media conglomerates own much of the U.S. book publishing industry, the number of literary books translated into English remains tiny.” Her ability to succeed despite the trends and the odds, says Trachtenberg, makes her “one of this country’s most valued cultural gatekeepers.”
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.