Literary Expansion: Gowanus-Based Archipelago Books Travels the World for Titles

The staff of Archipelago Books and, at right, founder Jill Schoolman. Photo by Susan De Vries

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When Jill Schoolman founded Gowanus-based Archipelago Books in 2003, she wanted to broaden the literary landscape in the United States. “There was a massive gap in literature that was being read in the United States at the time,” said Emma Raddatz, Editorial and Development Associate at Archipelago. “There was this statistic floating around that said only 3 percent of literature that’s published is translated, international fiction.” Clearly, things needed to change.

Since that moment, Archipelago has published more than 150 titles, a mix of classic and contemporary work from a wide-ranging series of authors, including books translated from over 35 languages, including Bengali, Afrikaans, Kurdish, Tamil, Arabic, and many others. “We’re always looking for books with something original and urgent to say, and [whose authors] clearly care about language and are doing inventive things with language,” Raddatz said. Each project takes somewhere between one to three years from acquisition to publication, with most of that time spent on the intricate care of translation.

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Photo by Susan De Vries

Recently, Archipelago has expanded into children’s literature under the banner of Elsewhere Editions, which brings the same mission to translated books for a younger audience. “We want books that take children seriously and ask difficult questions, that aren’t too didactic and leave questions open for young readers,” Raddatz said. Recent and upcoming titles include books translated from Norwegian, Estonian, Finnish, French and Chinese.

And they achieve all of this with a small, devoted staff of five full-time employees. “You can see the entire lifecycle of a book,” Raddatz said about the benefits of the process. Everybody, including the many translators they work with around the world, is part of all conversations regarding bringing a book to an audience. “It’s shocking what a tiny team of really dedicated people can do.”

Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Brownstoner magazine. It was completed before the pandemic.

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