A Conversation with Ethan Nosowsky of Graywolf Press

Ethan Nosowsky, Editorial Director at Graywolf Press, visited Korea in June for the Seoul International Book Fair. Though small in size, Graywolf is widely known for its list of award-winning writers and experimental yet trendsetting works. It is set to publish its first Korean book, The Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo, in 2017. Nosowsky shares his thoughts about Han’s book, about literature in translation, and about books that interest him.



LTI Korea: What brought you to Seoul?


Ethan Nosowsky: Graywolf is an enthusiastic publisher of translated literature, which occupies a significant portion of our list. And although we have published poetry by two Chinese authors, Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairy Tale is the first work of fiction we’ve published from Asia. This is a shortcoming of ours, and we hope to remedy it. After we acquired Ms. Han’s novel, LTI Korea offered Graywolf a generous translation and publication subsidy for The Impossible Fairy Tale and extended an invitation to me to visit publishers and writers in Seoul. I thought it would be ideal to visit during the Book Festival, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity.


LTI Korea: What made you decide to publish The Impossible Fairy Tale?


EN: Graywolf’s publisher, Fiona McCrae, first heard about the novel from Ms. Han’s agent, Kelly Falconer, at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India. As you might imagine, we have no editors on staff who read Korean, so when Kelly submitted a sample translation and a detailed synopsis, we commissioned two experts to report on the book for us. The reports were stellar and the sample translation was intriguing. The voice in the sample pages was extraordinary, and while the story was chilling and disturbing, we thought it was very powerful. I should say that we were initially a little concerned about the metafictional turn that the story takes in the second half. This has in some ways become a well-worn trope in Western literature, but we agreed that Ms. Han had done something very organic and original with it. In the end, we felt this debut novel presented us with an opportunity to collaborate with an author at the beginning of a promising career.


LTI Korea: Can you share your decision-making process of publishing a book?


EN: There are five editors at Graywolf, and when one of us finds a manuscript that he or she is interested in acquiring, we share it with the entire editorial team to solicit feedback and measure enthusiasm. This is a fairly informal process, and it doesn’t at all amount to the formal acquisitions meetings that are common at the bigger houses. We ask ourselves a series of questions: Is the book distinctive and singular? Do we have a vision for how we would approach the publication? Do we think we bring something to the table that another house couldn’t? And finally: Could we live without it? Our lists our very full, so we have been setting a higher and higher bar for our acquisitions. We’re a small company and we want to feel completely enthusiastic about a book when we decide to publish it.


LTI Korea: Do you think it is a good time for Korean literature to step into the US market?


EN: I don’t think there’s ever been a better ...