Publisher Spotlight: Ugly Duckling Presse

Three Percent announced the shortlists for 2018’s Best Translated Book Awards this week, officially revealing all finalists in poetry and fiction categories. Since its inception in 2008, the BTBA has aimed to showcase “a blend of contemporary writers and modern classics, of writers from cultures around the world”, and this year is no exception. The 2018 shortlists include a spectrum of global titles produced by independent, academic, and commercial publishers. Today’s “Publisher Spotlight” will zero in on the only press to appear on the 2018 BTBA poetry shortlist twice: Ugly Duckling Presse.

Ugly Duckling Presse (or UDP) is a small, prolific nonprofit publisher that sprang from a ’90s zine in Brooklyn, New York. Given their origins, it’s little wonder that the team at Ugly Duckling Presse explicitly states their commitment to handmade books in their mission statement:

UDP favors emerging, international, and “forgotten” writers, and its books, chapbooks, artist’s books, broadsides, and periodicals often contain handmade elements, calling attention to the labor and history of bookmaking. UDP is committed to keeping its publications in circulation with our online archive of out-of-print chapbooks and our digital proofs program. In all of its activities, UDP endeavors to create an experience of art free of expectation, coercion, and utility.

Ugly Duckling Presse’s love of bookmaking takes many forms: from chapbooks to broadsides, this independent publisher produces attentively made, often hand-detailed pieces. This dedication stretches beyond the physical object itself to the realm of digital representation. Just click on the Archives section of the UDP website, which houses the press’ podcast, Digital Proofs Program, and (my favorite) Online Chapbook Archive.

Though originally known for their English-language poetry and literature, Ugly Duckling Presse’s growing In Translation list also garners recognition from readers, reviewers, and award panelists. The two titles that caught the attention of the BTBA poetry selectors were the following:

Before Lyricism, written by Greek poet, art historian, and art critic Eleni Vakalo and translated by Karen Emmerich

Spiral Staircase: Collected Poems, written by Japanese poet and performance artist Hirato Renkichi and translated by Sho Sugita


These collections are as dynamic as they are different: Vakalo’s work contains six book-length poems whose creation spans the latter half of the twentieth century, whereas Renkichi’s pre-war, avant-garde poetry plays with structure and space. Yet both books found a home with Ugly Duckling Presse, and were each successfully introduced to English-language readers. This goes to show that UDP’s unique literary perspectives, books-as-art values, and DIY influences have made the press a tastemaker in translation.

Learn more about each collection, author, and translator by clicking on the highlighted titles above. Click here for a complete list of the BTBA finalists.

A comprehensive chronological history of Ugly Duckling Presse can be found here. Check out the latest news from UDP by joining the mailing list.

By Chelsey Slattum

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