In celebration of Pride, June’s “Publisher Spotlight” will showcase publishers of LGBTQ+ literature in English-language translation. This week, we will delve into the history of Penguin imprint Pantheon, a publisher of original and translated fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and comics.
Many German-to-English translators may already know that Pantheon was built on literary translation. (It was news to me.) Founders Kurt and Helen Wolff brought their editing, translating, and publishing expertise from Germany to the United States in 1942, choosing to champion international authors by making their books available to English-readers in North America. The Wolff’s established early publishing connections with many soon-to-be-famous authors, including Franz Kafka and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, but it was Pantheon’s publication of the Russian classic Doctor Zhivago that pushed the press toward the top of the literary community. Though the couple have since passed, their memories are honored today in the form of the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize, an annual award given to an “outstanding literary translation from German into English published in the USA” by the Goethe-Institut.
Since its establishment, Pantheon has gone on to publish hundreds of beloved translations. Recently, the press expanded their genre lists to include LGBTQ+ titles, both original and translated. Two Patheon releases from 2017 caught my eye while searching for global LGBTQ+ translations. The first was the quirky Finnish novel, My Cat Yugoslavia, written by Pajtim Statovci and translated by David Hackston. The second was My Brother’s Husband, a sweet, yet heartrending manga created by Gengoroh Tagame and translated by Anne Ishii.
My Cat Yugoslavia and My Brother’s Husband each explore themes of family, homophobia, and self-acceptance, but through entirely different lenses: Statovci’s gay Muslim protagonist learns about love through his romantic relationship with a talking cat, while Tagame’s small cast of Japanese family members (plus one huge Canadian) slowly unravel the underlying homophobia that caused their estrangement. These books are as dissimilar as can be in style, setting, and voice, but they share two things: a need to overcome loneliness and find love—both with others and with oneself. They are thoughtfully-developed stories that I would recommend to anyone looking for a book that is all-nighter material.
I encourage you to explore “The Ultimate LGBT Pride Book List” for more queer titles by Penguin imprints, including Pantheon. Want more? Visit Pantheon’s website to see what’s next in their forthcoming titles.
By Chelsey Slattum