Since its inception, Comma Press has aimed to put short stories at the heart of narrative culture. We specialise in the form for a multitude of reasons, but to mention just a few, publishing short stories is an attempt to democratise literature, to call for pluralism, and to identify cutting-edge and often marginalised voices from across the globe.
An anthology of short stories has certain advantages over a novel: it is better equipped, for example, to give readers access and insights into new cultures, because it is able to embrace difference and diversity within any one culture: an anthology of short stories can accommodate a series of discrete, contradictory truths, rather than promote one single, cumulative, ‘Truth’. The short story is also, we believe, the most ‘smuggle-able’ of literary forms, and the perfect form to cross borders. Short stories are also predisposed for translation and transplantation: a short story gathers up it references, its back-stories and its contexts, and travels light – meaning it can be transplanted into new cultures, new languages, or new audience groups.
The Reading the City Series celebrates the best translated short stories from around the world. Since 2006, Comma have sourced a selection of ten authors from specific cities to collate ten short stories that depict the social, historical or political essence of their contemporary city. Each story is translated (for the first time) into English and published, so that each anthology is a ‘city in short fiction’.
Thus far in 2020 we have taken readers to two very different cities. We have published The Book of Shanghai, and The Book of Newcastle, taking ten short stories from the Far East for the former to be translated into English, and ten short stories from the North East of England for the latter to showcase the city as a centre for arts and literature and home to many great writers.
Our next ‘stop’ as it were in 2020 will be Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. The Book of Jakarta will chart the social, economic and cultural development of the city, as well as contemplate its uncertain future. Jakarta is sinking faster than any other city on the planet. Whilst development of the city continues at a rapid pace, the government has announced that it will be moving its capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan, nearly 800 miles away. A historic mix of cultures – Javanese, Malay, Chinese, Arab, Indian and European – which is reflected in the architecture, language, cuisine and much more, what is next for the largest city in Indonesia? Our ten selected authors will offer a rare insight, as Indonesian literature in translation is such a rare treat in the English language market.
We look forward in 2021 to publishing a number of new city anthologies, including our second Palestinian city anthology, The Book of Ramallah (winner of an English PEN Translates Award), as well as anthologies from three humungous hubs for world tourism: The Book of Venice, The Book of Reykjavik and The Book of Barcelona.
(Becca Parkinson joined Comma Press as a Marketing & Production Assistant straight from finishing her undergraduate degree at Lancaster University. Whilst at university she was the Editor of both Cake Magazine and Flash Journal. She is the current Sales & Production Manager, and oversees events. She is also the co-editor of the translated collection, The Book of Tbilisi.)