In recent months Ferrante Fever has been catching. If you haven’t already heard of the anonymous Italian female author who’s achieved international acclaim, the entire finished series of her famed Neapolitan novels awaits you: go, read and remain awed. With the release of the final installment just days ago, the success of the Italian series has sparked a renewed interest in how and why translations come to the English market when they do. Why did it take so long for Ferrante to reach us? How was it that no one had translated her earlier? Are there other Ferrantes out there just waiting to be transformed for consumption abroad?
Fiction in translation has been on the rise for a while now, with an exciting new era of internationally sensitive publishers creating new connections around the world. Readers have never had so much choice when it comes to what to read. Among the small presses forging the way for a brighter future for translation is newcomer Calisi Press, a publishing house that specializes not only in Italian fiction but by fiction written by women, moving to combat both the neglect of women writers and writers in translation simultaneously. They’re a press that promise to provide an inevitable follow up for those who’ve finished Ferrante and have found themselves still unsated.
We sat down with the founder of Calisi Press, Franca Simpson, to talk about work, women and contemporary translation.
What inspired you to start Calisi Press?
I had been a commercial translator for several years when I decided to try and realise my long-held ambition to be a literary translator before it was too late. Becoming a publisher was not part of the plan, it sort of happened along the way, when I found My Mother is a River (by Dontella Di Pietrantonio originally published in Italian as Mia Madre e un Fume) and was unable to get it published.
What is your opinion of the current market for translations in the UK?
There are just not enough books in translation in English-speaking markets, only a small percentage (3-5%, depending on your source). Ignoring good books from other countries and other cultures is like seeing the world in black and white rather than the glorious colours that it is.
So why should people read the books Calisi produce as opposed to another larger publisher?
Calisi is very small but what it lacks in size I make up for in enthusiasm and passion. Most of all, I select stories that really speak to me, directly, viscerally even. I believe they are stories worth telling.
What, in your opinion, is the value of translation?
I grew up reading fables and stories from all over the world, in a country where books in translation are simply called “books” – I don’t know the exact percentage but I would say that perhaps 30% or possibly even more of books in Italy are translations. It opens up your eyes to the rest of the world, and it makes you aware that, no matter how different we might be on the outside, we all share fundamental, human values.
When founding the press why did you decide to focus only on female writers?
It was a coincidence in part. There was a session at the International Translation Day at the British Library last year on (lack of) women in translation which I found eye-opening. The book I was interested in translating had been written by a woman, it made sense to take that direction.
What do you think about the recent popularity of the works of Elena Ferrante in the UK?
I am not surprised. She is a brilliant writer and taps on themes that are, again, universal. The Neapolitan background might add some local flavor but it is the story that involves and captures you, not the setting.
In the wake of the Neapolitan Novels do you think there’s now a high demand for Italian fiction, perhaps specifically by women?
I think there is always demand for good books. Besides, we are becoming aware that we need to hear more female voices in publishing. And Italy remains a country that holds enduring fascination for English-speaking people.
Are there any particular Italian female authors you feel have been neglected by translators?
There are so many excellent Italian female writers that nobody I know has ever heard of – I wouldn’t know where to begin!
My Mother is a River translated by Franca Simpson is available for pre-order now and will be released by Calisi Press on 4th November 2015.
Words by Thea Hawlin