When was the last time you read a work of international fiction? Chances are, not likely, given that only three percent of books published in the United States are translated books. If that seems low, it is, especially compared to countries like Germany and Italy, where the percentage hovers between 15 and 20 percent. A new fund, called Bookselling Without Borders, aims to create an annual scholarship that will send dozens of American booksellers to three major international book fairs: the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, the Turin Book Fair in Italy, and the Guadalajara Book Fair in Mexico.
Founded and partially funded by five independent presses — Graywolf, Europa Editions, New Press, Other Press and Catapult — the scholarship addresses the lack of non-English speaking authors published in the United States.
"It represents a growing cultural insularity that should alarm all of us as global citizens and global readers," wrote the Bookselling Without Borders organizers on their Kickstarter page. "We want to help American booksellers be better advocates for international writing, and to help them enrich their communities of readers with a diverse array of voices from beyond our borders."
Their solution? Send delegations of American booksellers to the source of global literary innovation: international book fairs, where publishers, editors, authors, booksellers, literary agents and bibliophiles gather to talk all things books. With author talks and signings, publisher booths and loads of free, advanced copy titles, book fairs are a literary dream.
Michael Reynolds, the editor-in-chief of Europa Editions, a New York-city based independent publisher, had been attending the Frankfurt Book Fair for years when he had what he calls "a lightbulb moment."
"The experience in Frankfurt, personally, has always been about soaking up the air and atmosphere of international publishing and seeing the maturity of the book markets now from other countries," Reynolds tells Bustle. "It shapes the way that I think about submissions and the way we do business."
Cultural agencies, like the Book Office of the French Cultural Services and Australia's Visiting International Publishers Program, have historically organized trips for editors, in order to introduce them to local book markets around the world. But drawing on his own transformative book fair experiences, Reynolds wondered why other members of the publishing world - translators, agents, reviewers and booksellers - weren't included.
"It can't be just about editors anymore," he says.
The idea for the scholarship arose in 2016, when Ariana Paliobagis, a bookseller and owner of The Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Montana accompanied a team from Europa Editions to the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Europa, perhaps most notably known in the United States for publishing Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Series, has worked closely with booksellers for years.
"They're an increasingly important part of the ecosystem," says Reynolds. "They're on the front lines of discovery."
Paliobagis spoke on panels, met with international publishers and authors, and made connections with her bookselling peers from across the pond. The next year, Europa teamed up with Other Press to send a handful of booksellers to the Turin Book Fair in Italy. They received 90 applications for three positions.
Given the current political climate, Reynolds and his peers from Other Press, New Press, Catapult and Graywolf felt a systematic change in the way Americans consume international fiction needed to happen - quickly.
And thus, Bookselling Without Borders was born. Interested? Of course you are. You can contribute to the fund, which will help cover the cost of the trip for booksellers, through the Bookselling Without Borders Kickstarter. Intrepid bookseller? Start thinking about the importance of international fiction and keep your eyes peeled for next year's application.