Posts Tagged ‘Kate Briggs’

Fitzcarraldo publisher Jacques Testard: “He is the best thing that has happened to the anglophone literary world in years.”

Thursday, May 31st, 2018


Translator Jennifer Croft, author Olga Tokarczuk, publisher Jacques Testard at the Man Book International Prize.

A few days ago, we discussed a remarkable man, Jacques Testard, founding publisher of Fitzcarraldo Editions. The tony new house published this year’s winner of the Man Booker International Prize, Olga Tokarczuk‘s FlightsI quoted friend and editor extraordinaire Daniel Medin of the American University of Paris, who was in London for last week’s ceremony:

Author and translator at signing

But in the applause for the author (and in this case translator, too), many forget the role of the publisher. Not Daniel, who also had praise for Fitzcarraldo Editions and its founding publisher Jacques Testard, with whom he has worked closely at The White Review for many years. “He is the best thing that has happened to the anglophone literary world in years. Firstly, for co-founding The White Review, which helped launch the careers of so many compelling English-language writers in the UK and in translation. Then, for Fitzcarraldo, which has brought the work of intrepid writers like John Keene, Kate Briggs and Claire-Louise Bennett to a larger audience. These are the first three that came to mind but his list is strong across the board, and includes of course many works in translation.

“It’s extraordinary that his books have won the Nobel and Man Booker International within a few years of launching. The best part’s that this is only the beginning. Jacques is playing the long game: his first translated title was by Mathias Enard, a finalist last year who will be eligible with his forthcoming novel, Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants.

“Fitzcarraldo should be competitive next year with Esther Kinsky‘s remarkable novel, River. (Incidentally, Kinsky translated Flights into German and won a major prize for her rendering of Tokarczuk’s House of Day, House of Night.)”

I did a little digging, and found this: “Interview with a Gate-Keeper: Jacques Testard,” a Q&A from 2017 with Kerri Arsenault over at LitHub. How did the house get its name? I wondered, and apparently so did Arsenault. The answer: “The name of the press, which comes from the Werner Herzog film about the man who wants to build an opera house in the jungle, is a not very subtle metaphor on the stupidity of setting up a publishing house—it’s like dragging a 320-ton steamboat over a muddy hill in the Amazon jungle.” From the interview:

Publishing today…

JT: I suppose my original interest in editorial work specifically came from a misguided notion of the glamour involved in the job, the mythology around great publishers of yesteryear, and the intellectual nature of the job. I wouldn’t say I had an easy time becoming an editor—in the early days I never managed to get the jobs I was applying for and so I ended up doing it in this long, unusual and convoluted way, working my way in from the margins by starting up my own project with a friend in order to eventually get to do it for a living.

KA: You mean editing isn’t glamorous?

JT: Publishing is a fairly low-adrenaline job, particularly when you work for a small independent press. I spend a lot of time on my own, editing, but also doing everything else you need to do to keep a small press ticking. I’ve had a few glamorous moments—the pinnacle was the Nobel Prize dinner for Svetlana Alexievich in Stockholm—but I spend a lot more time carrying big bags of books to the post office than drinking martinis with famous authors. In fact, carrying books around is quite a big part of the job.

The publishing house got an early boost when it published little-known Svetlana Alexievich’s Second-hand Time, “which we managed to pick up before she won the Nobel Prize, thus rendering any future prize successes utterly meaningless by comparison.” It was nominated nonetheless:

KA: I see Second-hand Time was longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize, the UK’s most prestigious award for nonfiction. What has publishing Alexievich meant for Fitzcarraldo?

The Nobel helped.

JT: A lot. It gave the company financial stability in our second year of operations—thanks to the rights sales we were able to slowly grow the company, going up initially to eight books a year, and now ten. It also gave Fitzcarraldo Editions a platform, a visibility which it might have taken a bit more time to achieve—that book was reviewed absolutely everywhere and critics and literary editors pay attention to what we publish as a result. It also gave us our first significant publishing success, from having to manage successive reprints to making contingency plans in the event of a prize-win, to organizing a ten-day tour for a Nobel Prize laureate. In that respect it’s given me the opportunity to learn more about my job as a publisher.

So is publishing still a madman’s dream?  “Kind of. I guess the suggestion is that publishing is so difficult and financially precarious that to set out to publish the kinds of books that we do is akin to dragging a 320-tonne steamboat up a hill. It’s possible, but it’s going to be extremely difficult.”

It’s looking better with last week’s Man Booker International Prize. Can’t wait to read Flights. Read the interview here.