It’s the final day of University Press Week 2015! All week long university presses have been participating in the UP Week Blog Tour. As always, we are thrilled to participate, and excited about our take on today’s blog post theme. Rather than interviewing an author about a book, we are interviewing Christine Dunbar about an exciting new venture for Columbia University Press: the Russian Library. While you may have read about the Russian Library in articles in the New York Times and elsewhere, we are happy for a chance to explain a bit more about what the project means for Columbia UP.
Make sure you check out the other presses posting today: Temple University Press, University of Virginia Press, Beacon Press, University of Illinois Press, Southern Illinois University Press, Oregon State University Press, Liverpool University Press, University of Toronto Press Journals, and Manchester University Press!
The Russian Library Series
An Interview with Christine Dunbar
What is the Russian Library?
Christine Dunbar: The Russian Library is a new series at Columbia University Press, which will publish ten books of Russian literature a year in English translation. While a few will be republications of excellent translations that have sadly gone out of print, most will be new translations—either of works that have never been translated or works that need updated translations. Publishing ten books a year allows the series to highlight the scope of Russian literature, both in terms of genre and time period. My academic background is in the study of Russian poetry, so I am particularly excited about the prospect of publishing poetry translations, but we are also looking at drama, short stories, novels, and the creative, literary non-fiction that Russians do so well. The bulk of the translations will be of 20th works, which are currently underrepresented in translation, with some slots reserved for books from the 19th century and earlier and some for contemporary literature. The series will not replicate existing excellent translations: publishing another Anna Karenina when in 2014 Yale University Press published Marion Schwartz’s translation and Oxford University Press published Rosamund Bartlett’s (both of which are superb) would be just plain silly. But there are some classics that deserve updates, and there are many, many books that Anglophone audiences don’t know at all. One of the particularly fun things about the selection process has been finding some treasures that are not well-known in Russia either. This is often the case with émigré literature, which may have been published in France or Germany or the States but never made it back to the land of the mother tongue.
How are the books being chosen?
CD: It’s a process, as you can imagine. The series has an advisory board of eminent scholars from the US, Great Britain, and Russia. Picking the first books is a particular challenge, because you want to be able to signal all of the things the series will be able to do. There’s a temptation to make a game out of it. If you have one little known modernist adventure story, do you have to balance it out with a 19th century serious novel? But the biggest problem, of course, is that when you are planning a publishing program, ten seems like a huge number of books. And when you are choosing titles from the vast expanse of the Russian literary past and present, it seems—and rightly so—like a minuscule speck. So, we have lists. I keep a spreadsheet, shared with the board members, of all of the authors and titles that are under consideration. Not surprisingly, some of the most exciting ideas have come from translators.
Speaking of translators, won’t this be expensive?
CD:Yes! The series receives funding from the Institute of Literary Translation in Moscow, and CUP will work closely with Read Russia to promote the books. New York City readers should be on the lookout for Read Russia events during Russian Literature Week; I’m definitely looking forward to Eugene Vodolazkin’s visit.