100 Dallas Creatives: No 66 Intrepid Publisher Will Evans
Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Know an artistic mind who deserves a little bit of blog love? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the whos and whys.
The hyper-connected world we live in makes art and music from the far reaches of the globe easily accessible to everyone, but "for some reason, literature is the only art form that is constantly being made to defend the right to be disseminated and experienced outside of its original culture," observes Will Evans. And he aims to do something about that.
Of course there is a barrier to entry that doesn't exist in visual art or music - and that's language. Evans, who recently launched a small publishing house in Dallas he's calling Deep Vellum Publishing, is about to start doing his part to cross that barrier. This year Deep Vellum, which is functioning as a non-profit, will publish five original works in translation and he's already turning heads in the international publishing world.
We pride ourselves in Dallas on our burgeoning arts scene but as Evans sees it, we're missing a crucial segment of the art world by turning our back on the literary scene. So if you ask him well, why Dallas? There's your answer. The organizations and resources exist, the Writer's Garret and Wordspace, for example, we're just failing to capitalize and discuss what's already happening in our community.
"There's no reason not to have more of the type of local literary community that people could identify similarly to Minneapolis--a very similar city (far from the coasts, tons of big business) that is internationally recognized for its dynamic arts scene, including a huge literary arts community," says Evans of Dallas.
We couldn't agree more and while Evans is dreaming really big, he's already influencing the conversation. And he hasn't even published his first book.
Tell us a little about you. Have reading and writing always been a part of your life?
Absolutely. I've had a book in my hands as long as I can remember. And ever since I accidentally read a Russian book for a book report in 9th grade I've been hooked on all things Russian. Then I started scouring used bookstores for spines with foreign names on them and ended up with a huge assortment of old paperbacks written by all sorts of international authors published by the titans of international publishing: New Directions, FSG, Northwestern, Knopf . . . I don't write as much as I'd like these days, but I'm trying to get back into translating Russian literature, which is what inspired me to start Deep Vellum in the first place, and something I consider creative writing as well.
Tell me about Deep Vellum Publishing. What is it?
Deep Vellum Publishing is a nonprofit publishing house I started in summer 2013 after moving to Dallas that specializes in contemporary literature in translation. To be a nonprofit publishing house means I operate under a mission as an arts and education organization trying to address what is known as the "three percent problem."
The anecdote goes that less than 3% of everything published in English every year is translated; but when it comes to original translations of literature (i.e. not re-translations of Tolstoy or Proust), it's like 0.1% of everything, a couple hundred books a year or so, which is INSANELY low compared to other developed countries in the world).
And the mission is...
Deep Vellum's mission is threefold: to publish great works of international literature in original translations that may never otherwise be published in English; to foster the art and craft of translation, both to get people to realize translation is an act of creative writing and that translation is a marketable business skill that can serve infinite useful purposes in one's life; and then to work tirelessly to build an ever more vibrant literary community in Dallas (and Fort Worth, and North Texas, and Texas, and the US, and the world), connecting organizations that otherwise operate alone, putting on tons of literary events, attracting the world's greatest authors and translators to our fair city, hopefully convincing more literary organizations to move here or startup here, and to get the leaders of the arts (and the donors, and the foundations, and the Office of Cultural Affairs, etc.) to start thinking of literature as the vital missing piece in our region's arts community.
What was the original inspiration for Deep Vellum and why are you setting up shop in Dallas? We're not exactly a publishing mecca.
I set up Deep Vellum in Dallas precisely because we're not a publishing mecca, though we I honestly believe we could become one. In graduate school I got inspired to start my own publishing house, and when my wife got a job in Dallas I was like, "Could I do this in Dallas?!" And in the research I did, the answer made itself very clear to me: Dallas would be a phenomenal place to start Deep Vellum. There are innumerable amazing literary and arts resources that already exist here, and so I set up Deep Vellum here to try to capitalize on what we already have going on, but at the same time working tirelessly to build an even better city that has a more well-rounded literary and arts community.
Why do you think it's important for these books to be translated into English?
Because they're great books. We're lucky to live in the world's dominant culture at the current moment, with English as the world's lingua franca, but as a culture, we risk stagnation if we do not constantly refresh our outlook with new and original perspectives from outside of our own experience. We watch the news to understand what's happening in the world; we read translated literature to understand how the world thinks. Cultures communicate with each other through literature. Culture, and literature as extension of that, is not a unilateral process--it is not just English books being translated into German and French and all the languages of the world. And it should not just be German classics being translated into English. If we ever want to see how the world thinks, feels, experiences the human condition, we need to actually read the world as it is being communicated through literature, art, music.
What do you think the impact of having a publishing house producing works in translation in Dallas will be? Whether on the city and citizens themselves, or on outsider's perceptions of the city.
Already, before I publish the first Deep Vellum book (coming in October), it's a big deal to do what I do in Dallas. People locally call me crazy. People abroad call me brave. I don't feel crazy or brave, just adventurous. But already the response to being a publisher in Dallas has been tremendous, so many people write to me with words of encouragement from across the globe, they're all enraptured with the idea that someone in Texas is publishing the world's best books now (though they mostly envision Dallas to be like Fort Worth was in the 1850s, with cattle drives and cowboy hats and vast expanses of prairie, both literal and figurative).
How is Deep Vellum working with the local community? What are some plans (or at least hopes) for the future in that regard?
There are some really awesome literary nonprofits here, like The Writer's Garret, who serve as Deep Vellum's fiscal sponsor right now (which means I operate under their 501c3), and who do phenomenal writing workshops and creative writing programs in schools. And WordSpace, who host great readings and book discussions all over town with tons of awesome authors, with whom I hope to bring authors and translators to town to discuss their work. And The Wild Detectives, the necessary glue to make it all possible--if those wonderful Spaniards hadn't opened their bookstore in Bishop Arts, there would have been nowhere in town for Deep Vellum titles to be sold, or an amazing place to host author and translator readings.
Independent bookstores are a necessary component to healthy literary communities, and I am so excited to have them in town, and not just to host events for my authors and sell Deep Vellum books, but as a place where I can go and look at new books published by indie publishers, drink great coffee, listen to some great tunes, and meet new friends, get inspired to do more great things.
And in terms of other organizations, I hope to get translation events going at creative writing groups, and to find ways to partner with other awesome local publishers like Carve Magazine and Imipolex Press to get creative, and hopefully a little weird. There's also BenBella Books here, who are more commercial than Deep Vellum, but who are nonetheless a renowned publishing house based in our backyard--and I'd love to find a way to work together with them on some programs. And of course I'd love to partner with Half Price Books, to find ways to sell Deep Vellum titles in their stores, and to host events in their spaces, because they are the centerpiece of our book culture at this time.
I would like to see Deep Vellum take translation into afterschool programs and refugee and immigrant community centers to teach that translation is an invaluable tool to learn how to live and thrive across cultures, providing a means to creatively express oneself in different languages, and also providing an invaluable business skill that will serve one well for anything that may come their way in life.
What do you think of the literary community in Dallas? Do we have one? And whether we do or do not, what can we do better?
The literary community here is small, everybody knows everybody, but it's really cool, and really refreshing. We have super creative people here who write, publish, make books, and, most importantly, read. And it seems like this community is growing, more readers and writers are getting connected and more things are going on and it feels like the start of something really special. What we need more of would be literary events everywhere in the city, more readings and writing workshops in coffeeshops and art spaces, more authors coming to town, more collaboration with our friends across the Metroplex, more bookstores on a big or small scale, more thinking about who is publishing what you read (look who's publishing the book you're reading, consider independent publishers and more translated literature, that's where the truly unique literature is being published). Just more of everything, that's the secret, and expanding the circle ever outward to include more faces at those readings, more communities, more voices. But really, the literary community here is awesome!
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