This is the forty-second in Entropy’s small press interview series, where we ask editors about their origins, their mission, and what it’s like to run a press. Find the other interviews from this series in our Small Press Database here and under the Resources tab at the top of the page.
Interview with Scott Esposito, Marketing and Web Manager
How did Two Lines Press start?
Before Two Lines was a press it was a journal: Two Lines, which was founded by Olivia Sears in 1994. That journal has now been going strong for over 20 years: it appeared annually from 1994 up until last year, when we decided to make it biannual. Not it appears every spring and fall. The journal has published some amazing writers and translators, among them: Natasha Wimmer, Edith Grossman, Margaret Jull Costa, César Aira, Roberto Bolaño, Lydia Davis, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Daniel Hahn, Quim Monzó, Yuri Herrera, and Bae Suah.
The Press was born in 2013, when myself, CJ Evans, Olivia, and the rest of the team at our parent-organization, The Center for the Art of Translation, decided to start issuing books in addition to the journal. We had built up an amazing list of contacts from our work with the journal, and we were well-known within the translation community, so it was a very logical next step.
Our first book appeared in Spring 2013.
Tell us a bit about Two Lines. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
I’d say that for most of us our aesthetics and influences primarily come out of modernism. You can see that very well in an author like Marie NDiaye, whom we all love and whom we’ve published two books by. She has a love of writing intricate, complex sentences; she plays a lot with information and point of view in her writing; her work has a very existential world view that feels very well-considered and truthful. Whenever I read her it always feels like her primary subject is the human mind, even as she fills her books with very life-or-death situations and utterly fascinating people. Much praise is due to Jordan Stump, who has done absolutely amazing work translating All My Friends and Self-Portrait in Green into English for us.
The mission is simple: to publish the best translations possible, honor the work of the translator, and get more and more people in love with world literature.
Can you give us a preview of what’s current and/or forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what you’re hoping to publish in the future?
Our newest book (which publishes May 2015) is The Game for Real by Richard Weiner, a discovery that we’re quite proud of. The Game for Real will be his first book ever translated into English, and it has been a while in coming. He’s a very fascinating figure. He’s often compared to Robert Walser and Kafka, he lived in Paris in the ’20s, he wrote with the Surrealists, he was among the first to read and appreciate Proust’s genius, and he was the first Eastern European writer ever to discuss World War I in a novel (whose front lines, by the way, he fled from with a nervous breakdown). Karel Čapek called him “The Man of Pain.”
The book is kind of this absurdist farce in two parts: in the first part an unnamed hero discovers his double. He thinks: if I’ve got a double, then that double must have a double, too, and so on. Pretty soon he’s on this ridiculous spree through Paris where things get really out of hand. Then part two reverses things: instead of things open up and up, we have a quest that collapses inward. The protagonist here is named “Shame”; he gets slapped, launches a doomed crusade to return the insult, and things kinda get out of hand.
Ben Paloff has done an amazing job translating this book. PEN gave him a grant to do it, and they called it “the crowning achievement of Richard Weiner’s career and one of the most powerful works of Czech Modernist literature.” They also called Ben’s translation “masterful.”
In October we’re going to do an amazing book called The Sleep of the Righteous by an East German author, Wolfgang Hilbig. Laszlo Krasnahorkai is a fan of his and wrote an intro to the book for us. His sentences are just beautiful (thank you Isabel Fargo Cole for an amazing translation!) and they have this very intense, cumulative energy that relies a lot on repetition and cadence, in a way reminiscent of Krasnahorkai and Thomas Bernhard.
The form of The Sleep of the Righteous is a little like My Documents by Alejandro Zambra or Hypothermia by Álvaro Enrigue or even Calvino’s Cosmicomics, where you could either see it as a collection of stories with the same narrative mind or pieces of a fragmentary, postmodern novel. It’s all about this figure’s transition from Germany’s East to West throughout the period of the 1960s to 1990s. He’s growing up at the same time he’s moving westward, and he takes us from this gritty, provincial postwar youth to this escape to the West. It’s very moody and impressionistic and just a tiny bit allegorical; I keep comparing it to Tarkovsky’s Stalker.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
Well of course first of all the books are amazing. I’m going to name drop a ton right here, so apologies in advance to the amazing people I’m inadvertently leaving out: you’ve got places like Archipelago, which discovered one of the biggest things going right now, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and who also do amazing writers like Antonio Tabucchi, Josep Pla, Bohumil Hrabal. Burning Deck just published a crazy Oulipo book called Minute-Operas by Frédéric Forte. Les Figues does incredible things like Guantanamo by Frank Smith. I love what comes out of Wave Books (Mary Ruefle!), Ugly Ducking (Alejandra Pizarnik!), Graywolf (Maggie Nelson!), Open Letter (Juan Jose Saer!), Deep Vellum (Sergio Pitol!), New Directions (César Aira!), NYRB Classics (Silvina Ocampo!). I’m also highly intrigued by Entropy’s own CCM imprint (which I haven’t read anything from yet but am dying to) and so many more that I’m going to leave off for lack of space.
But aside from the vibrancy of the books, I think what’s really got me going is how there seems to be this critical mass forming in the community, where everyone is getting to know everyone and things are coalescing. I’ve been going to the big annual conferences for a few years now, and it seems like there’s more collaboration, more of people finding ways to work together to do great things and to get really good work out there, be it through events like the Twin Cities Book Festival or Litquake or Brooklyn Book Festival, periodicals like Music & Literature or BOMB, Rain Taxi, etc., etc., reading series like The Bridge and Quiet Lightning, podcasts, websites, and so on and so forth. I see so much good energy on social media these days. It’s all hugely encouraging.
And of course a big part of this community are the handsellers at amazing bookstores: right in my back yard we have people like Brad Johnson at Diesel in Oakland, Stephen Sparks at Green Apple, and Peter Maravellis (who programs amazing events for City Lights), plus the people at Booksmith; there’s Jeremy Garber at Powell’s; there’s Mark Haber at Brazos in Houston; Rick Simonson at Elliott Bay; Hal Hlavinka at Community Bookstore; Tom Roberge at Albertine; and just so many other amazing bookstores out there—McNally Jackson, Skylight Books, Island Books, The Wild Detectives, Tattered Cover, etc., etc. I’m leaving off a lot of names, but I definitely see everyone who supports the press in our sales reports and on the Web, and I try to give thanks all of you!
Seeing all of these people working together and getting people really, really excited to read the amazing books that are getting published these days is just great to watch and be a part of.
How do you cope? There’s been a lot of conversation lately about charging reading fees, printing costs, rising book costs, who should pay for what, etc. Do you have any opinions on this, and would you be willing to share any insights about the numbers at Two Lines Press?
We’re a nonprofit, so grant money helps a ton. Foreign governments are very often willing to back various expenses, and they help enable us to do projects that we love. The NEA has been very good to us lately, too. We have a pretty stellar development team, which gives us publishing people space to keep our eyes focused on the books, and we have amazing donors that have been with us for a long time and have made so much important work possible.
Every person who purchases a Two Lines Press subscription is a godsend. They’re our core, and they’re just so so important. It’s money in the bank, and it’s people who are giving us a huge vote of confidence by saying they trust whatever we’re going to put out there. We like to thank them whenever we can—for 2014 we printed up special, signed chapbooks from Naja Marie Aidt’s Baboon, and this year we collaborated with the translator Jan Steyn to produce a really cool, hand-pressed erasure/translation/mutation broadside. There were definitely some eyes popping from sockets when those things arrived in the mail!
And of course there are the indie bookstores, people who make room for Two Lines Press books, take the time to get to know them, and are so good at pushing them onto readers. That’s where we sell the majority of our copies, and we owe so much to the people who make that happen.
That, in a nutshell, is how we keep things going. I feel like this question is probably a very idiosyncratic thing for any press out there, based a lot on the press’s unique history, the individual skills that the people involved bring to a team, and their own beliefs about where they want to draw the lines. We definitely don’t want to price our books too high, since one of our missions is to get these books into readers’ hands, and I do think our subscription offers are pretty damn affordable. As to reading fees, this isn’t a thing we’ve given serious thought to; it’s not really on our radar, although I can see making an argument for them if they’re fairly minor. As to printing, we’re pretty careful in the numbers we print, so we keep costs pretty manageable.