New Directions was one of the first publishing houses I actually noticed as a teenager, because of an early obsession with the work of Raymond Queneau. New Directions published six of his books, all in spectacular translations by Barbara Wright. I was able to confirm that she really did translate all six of them because these books are still on my shelf almost three decades later; even more remarkably, four of the six are still in print. That’s what makes this publishing house so extraordinary. When the editorial team of New Directions finds authors they believe in, they continue to publish their books and keep them in print far longer than is usual in the industry. I can’t imagine that Raymond Queneau’s novels ever sold in particularly large quantities, though John Updike reviewed The Flight of Icarus, We Always Treat Women Too Well, The Sunday of Life and The Bark Tree (my personal favorite) in various issues of The New Yorker during the 70s and early 80s. I’ve seen something similar happen with Jenny Erpenbeck, a German author of exceptional literary quality whom I translate. The first two books of hers New Directions published got good reviews but languished commercially, but because of the conviction that her work was worthy of publication and attention, New Directions persisted in supporting her, and now her third book Visitation has done dramatically better than the other two, selling 2800 copies in the U.S. and 3500 in England in its first six months alone and ending up on some best-of-the-year lists and as a finalist for several awards.
To celebrate its 75th anniversary, New Directions commissioned a new colophon by designer Felix Sockwell (old and new versions above); you can read about its genesis here.
The celebration continues next week with a festive reading and party at Poet’s House featuring some of New Directions’s star poets and translators: Forrest Gander, Susan Howe, Nathaniel Mackey, Richard Sieburth, Mónica de la Torre and Eliot Weinberger. Also me. I’m so thrilled they invited me to read as well. It should be a very special evening, so if you’re around in the New York area, please put it on your calendar. Poet’s House is located just south of Chambers Street overlooking the Hudson River. Thursday, July 21, 7:00 – 10:00 p.m.