Greetings and a lovely Friday to our lovely readers! Today we have the founder of The Emma Press, Emma Wright herself, sharing her thoughts on our questions for publishers!
Firstly, what circumstances led to the creation of your company? Some publishing companies start out as passion projects—was this the case for yours? Tell us about yourself!
It was a combination of passion and practicality, really – having got stuck in a rut at my ebook production job at a big publishing house, I wanted to do something that was creative and challenging, and that would allow me to be independent and earn a living. I’d always liked sewing and making things, so my first idea was to start a business making fabric accessories. One of my other ideas was to illustrate books, as I’ve always enjoyed engaging with and responding creatively to text, so I collaborated with a friend on illustrating her poems and producing a pamphlet, which ended up being the first Emma Press publication, The Flower and the Plough by Rachel Piercey. Working on that gave me the publishing bug, and I had some ideas for themed poetry anthologies, so my plans changed from the fabric gifts business to a publishing house with a gifty aesthetic.
Many publishing houses operate based on a set of core concepts or values that they would like to see propagate throughout the world—or at least the areas the publishers can reach! What would you say are the values that you search for when considering whether to publish a work?
My core belief has always been that books can make people happy, and happy people tend to have more capacity to be generous and empathetic towards others. So I try to publish books that might make people happy, whether that’s because of pure entertainment, or because the writing makes them feel seen, or because they enjoy experiencing a different worldview. Underlying all this is my feeling that publishing has a way to go towards being truly inclusive and representative of society, and what I can do to change this is to trust in my feelings of what I want to see, as an individual but also as a young British-Asian woman.
It personally makes me happy to see writers really pushing the boundaries of language, having fun and exploiting its possibilities, so I’m looking for that too. I think poetry is a great way of efficiently experiencing someone else’s worldview, as are short stories, so it makes sense to specialise in those. I also love children’s books and want to be involved in shaping what is available for young people to read, so that is another growing part of the Emma Press list.
So obviously we are a blog about translation, and as such are very interested about your thoughts regarding it! Do you gravitate towards specific languages or genres? Linking back to the previous question, what about the languages or genres draws your attention?
I’ll explain this in a convoluted way: I publish a really wide range of writing styles, especially in poetry, so I would say that aspects of The Emma Press are quite avant-garde and sit alongside more traditional forms. But all the books are presented in a mainstream way, with very appealing, accessible designs. So the way that translations fit into this is that I’m just trying to find writing that I identify as being compatible with Emma Press principles, and sometimes this is written in a language that isn’t English. And then I want to present the translations in a mainstream “so it’s a translation, no big deal” manner in the same way I’m presenting poetry as “so it’s poetry, it’s fine, it’s nice, no need to panic” way.
I think translation in the UK can often seen as a serious, chin-stroking genre in its own right, whereas in other countries translations are just a matter of course – some books just happen to be written in different languages. I’m trying to channel that, while at the same time being excited about the art of translation, because of course it is a very special thing when books cross languages.
When you work with translators and authors in other languages, how do you go about contacting them? Do they find you? Do you have in house translators that you prefer to use? What’s the thought process behind the decision, whether it is artistic or pragmatic?
I was motivated to start publishing translations because I wanted the Emma Press children’s poetry list to be as broad as possible. I felt that poetry for children in the UK could be a bit samey and phoned-in, and I wanted to see (and then show people) how poets in other countries were writing for children. There’s a lovely translator, Lawrence Schimel, who had been urging me to start doing translations for years, so as soon as I cracked he sent me a whole bunch of suggestions of international children’s poetry collections. One of them, translated from Spanish by Lawrence, is coming out next month: Poems the wind blew in, by Karmelo C. Iribarren. Another of them, which came out this summer, was Super Guppy by Edward van de Vendel, translated from Dutch by someone Lawrence recommended, David Colmer.
I’ve published other translations where the translator approached me with something they thought I might like – that’s how it happened with The Secret Box, a short story collection by Daina Tabūna, translated from Latvian by Jayde Will. And then with others I’ve found the books myself, at bookfairs and in rights catalogues, and I’ve matched them with translators. That’s what happened with The Adventures of Na Willa, by Reda Gaudiamo, which was translated from Indonesian by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul and Kate Wakeling, both of whom I’ve published poetry books by.
Because I’m trying to publish translations in a mainstream way, and most of them are for children, I’m looking for translators or translator-editor teams who can create genuinely fun, lively translations that stand up as good poems or stories. So I’d say my approach is pragmatically artistic!
What are the upcoming titles in your catalog that you are most excited about? What book in your catalog would you recommend for a lazy beach goer stretched out on a beach chair? What about for a precocious child reading under the covers of a bed? For a weekend pop into the library?
I’m excited by Poems the wind blew in, which I mention above, coming out next month, as I think people are going to love the little snatches of whimsical thoughts and I’m looking forward to getting the reactions. I’m also excited to publish the first translation in our flagship series, The Emma Press Poetry Pamphlets, in November: Vivarium, by Maarja Pärtna, translated from Estonian by Jayde Will. And then next year there will be the second batch of six Bicki-Books, a wonderful series of postcard-sized Latvian picture books originally published by Liels un mazs, as well as the sequel to The Adventures of Na Willa by Reda Gaudiamo: Na Willa and the House in the Alley.
For a lazy beach reader, I’d recommend The Adventures of Na Willa by Reda Gaudiamo, actually. We’ve pitched it as a children’s book, but the stories were originally written for adults, sharing the author’s memories of her childhood in Surabaya, Indonesia, in the 1960s. It’s very digestible and full of wisdom and insights into tolerance and compassion, as well as lots of fascinating details.
For a precocious child, I’d recommend Everyone’s the Smartest by Contra, translated from Estonian by Charlotte Geater, Kätlin Kaldmaa and Richard O’Brien. It’s a rattlingly fun collection of poems about mischief and pure imagination, and I think it would inspire anyone to write some poems themselves.
And if you’re popping to the library, it has to be The Dog Who Found Sorrow by Rūta Briede, illustrated and translated from Latvian by the multi-talented Elīna Brasliņa. Again, this is technically a children’s picture book, but it’s more text-heavy than most UK picture books and it has the potential to really speak to adults. It’s about a dog who wakes up one day to find his town full of heavy black smoke, so he goes to try and find the source of this darkness.
Thank you so much for spending your time with us today, Emma! We’re looking forward to diving into all of these lovely works you’ve recommended! For our readers, if you’d like to take a closer look at the translations Emma’s publishing house offers, click the link below! If there’s a title she mentioned that speaks to in the main text of the article, give it a click—the names are all hyperlinks for your convenience!