On Publishing Angélica Gorodischer

Mon 7 Feb 2022 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , , , , | Posted by: Gavin

Angélica GorodischerOn Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022 I was incredibly sorry to read in an email from Amalia Gladhart, who translated Trafalgar for us as well as Jaguars’ Tomb for Vanderbilt UP, that Argentinean author Angélica Gorodischer had died at her home in Rosario at the age of 93. Here’s a link to the obituary Amalia sent.

We published the first three of Angélica’s books to be translated into English: Kalpa Imperial (translated by Ursula K. Le Guin) in 2003, followed by Trafalgar (translated by Amalia Gladhart) in 2013, and Prodigies (translated by Sue Burke) in 2015.

Publishing Angélica’s books — and meeting her when she came up to the WisCon conference in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2003 — have been one of the highlights of our work here at the press. Kelly and I publishing Angélica’s books in our third season put Small Beer onto a different plane and meant that we could from our early years use Kalpa Imperial to show that we had very broad horizons in our sights. Angélica was exceedingly generous to share her books with us and we very appreciative. The story of how we came to publish the books, while not as interesting as any of Angélica’s own wide ranging stories, shows a little of how publishing works, with a drop of luck, much hard work and juggling, and a little of being in the right place at the right time.

In 1998 Kelly read and admired a section of Kalpa Imperial, The End of a Dynasty, or The Natural History of Ferrets, in the anthology Starlight 2, edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, which had been translated by Ursula K. Le Guin. This was not the first translation of Angélica’s work into English. According to this useful site, Alberto Manguel translated “Man’s Dwelling Place” for his anthology Other Fires: Short Fiction by Latin American Women (Three Rivers, 1985); four of her stories were translated (by Monica Bruno, Mary G. Berg, and two by Lorraine Elena Roses) for the 1991 White Pine Press anthology, Secret Weavers, edited by Marjorie Agosin; and Diana L. Vélez translated “Camera Obscura” for Latin American Literary Review, 19 (37).

At some point after reading Starlight 2, Kelly wondered if Ursula had translated more of Angélica’s work. We had met Ursula once or twice at WisCon, an annual feminist science-fiction convention in Madison, Wisconsin, which we all loved and so we sent her a letter. I am still amazed at the response.

At this point, the two of us had published four books through Small Beer: in 2001, Kelly’s first collection, Stranger Things Happen and Ray Vukcevich’s collection Meet Me in the Moon Room, and in 2002, two books by Carol Emshwiller, a novel, The Mount, and a collection, Report to the Men’s Club. While talking to Carol we found out that Ursula was a big fan of Carol’s books and asked Ursula if she would blurb one of Carol’s books — Ursula said she could not . . . because she admired Carol (here’s her review of Ledoyt) so much that she had just asked Carol to blurb one of her books. So when we wrote, rather out of the blue, asking about Kalpa Imperial we had at least corresponded a little and at some point I’d been brave enough to buy her a bourbon in Madison. (Ursula and Angélica were both smart, no nonsense, and more than a little bit terrifying.)

Ursula’s agent at the time was the late Linn Prentis of the Virginia Kidd Agency — who was a mixed blessing. She was willing to work with our tiny press but between her office having work done on it and not everyone being on the same computer system it took three months for the manuscript to be sent to us and the final deal — our first translation contracts — wasn’t concluded until January 2003. Here’s the Publishers Lunch announcement:

Angélica Gorodischer’s KALPA IMPERIAL, a history of an empire that never was, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin, to Gavin Grant at Small Beer Press, in a nice deal, by Linn Prentiss at the Virginia Kidd Agency (NA).

Kalpa Imperial coverWe were planning on publishing in August of that year — as we’d done for our first two seasons — but then an unmissable opportunity came up: the possibility that Angélica could attend WisCon on the Memorial Day weekend in May 2003. Suddenly everything was moving very fast. Fortunately for my monolingual self, Angélica’s English was strong: “I can make myself understood and I can understand your Scotch English. Je parle Français aussi.” (I read in the one of the obituaries that her 1988 Fulbright Scholarship allowed her to participate in the University of Iowa International Writing Program and she also taught at the University of Northern Colorado.)

She could do more than make herself understood. She was sharp and funny and sometimes returned emailed after trips to Ecuador or Bolivia (“where I thought I was going to die: 4,500m above sea level!”) and I learned that she too loved Carol’s books — I had mailed her our first four books and we were both delighted they arrived. The mail to Argentina then seemed to be about as reliable as the present day USPS.

And then the US started another war and we were all thrown for a loop (again).

On Mar 20, 2003, at 8:04 AM, Angelica Gorodischer wrote: Dear Gavin: I was pepared to write you a letter about Kelly Link's book. But I am so scared, horrified; so angry and annoyed by this war, that all I can say is that I love it! God help us, if He is up there looking down at this madness. Love Angelica

However she was worried at the speed we were working.

She was right.

Our proofreader turned in a workmanlike job and after all the changes had been entered I sent the book to the printer. There’s nothing quite like having an internationally acclaimed award-winning author fly in from Argentina and when you meet for the first time she sits you down in an empty ballroom to show you the typos in her first book translated into English that you have just published.

Our printer also shifted the ship date at the last minute without telling us and we almost didn’t get books to the convention. For some reason they also individually shrink wrapped every copy. Ugh. It was both a fantastic and miserably stressful weekend and I learned that all that “extra time” in publishing schedules is very necessary.

By a happy coincidence in 2003 another of Angélica’s short stories, “The Violet Embryos” translated by Sara Irausquin, was published in the anthology Cosmos Latinos: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain (Wesleyan UP).

In the run up to the actual publication date of Kalpa Imperial, a bilingual friend of ours from the KGB Bar Fantastic Fiction reading series, Gabriel Mesa, offered to interview Angélica for the website Fantastic Metropolis. You can read the interview here which captures some of Angélica’s vivacity.

The book found many friends at independent bookshops and a few months later it was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. It was easy to be enthusiastic about, as I loved it so much.

Angélica GorodischerBeing a very small press, I struggled with how we could afford more translations of Angélica’s work. I knew I wanted to read them but I didn’t know enough about the industry to even know where to begin. So I put a tiny line on our website saying that we were always looking for more translations of Angélica’s work. A couple of people contacted us over the years, usually grad students, to see if we had any funding or if they could work with us. My (ongoing) problem was that I have to read the full book before I can tell if I’m going to publish it so I could not read just a chapter or two. Early as 2003, two books were especially recommended to me: a short story collection, Trafalgar, and a novel, Prodigies. Both of them were said to be very different from Kalpa Imperial which only deepened my interest.

In 2011 I discovered something which made it much less likely that we would be able to publish another of Angélica’s books. All the checks we had sent to her agent from 2004 – 2011 had been cashed but none of the money had been sent on. I was truly horrified — I can still hardly believe it. I can see how easily it happened — many international editions don’t earn out their advances and I trusted the agent, of course, so I never checked with Angélica to see if she was receiving the money.

When I found out from the agent by email she replied saying how expensive it was (as it still is) to send money to Argentina, but that was no excuse. Despite my pushing, nothing happened until the agent retired and someone else took over that we were able to make any headway. I had given up on the agent by then and the Argentinean government had made it easier to send money into the country so I was able to send everything owed to Angélica. At some later time, the agency paid the press back for the unsent royalties — minus their percentage. Anyway, she was a good agent for a lot of people for many years and had done good work for Angélica at first.

Then, as I was trying to get information from the agent about the unpaid royalties, came the news that Angélica was going to be awarded a Life Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Awards at their November 2011 convention — a lovely prize for a writer who had dipped in and out of many genres and who received many awards: here are a few from her extended bio:

1964 “Vea & Lea” award, III contest of detective stories
1965 “Club del Orden” award
1984 “Más Allá” award; “Poblet” award, “Premoi Konex”
1984-85 Emecé award
1985 “Sigfried Radaelli Club de los Trece”
1986 Gilgamesh (Spain)
1991 Gilgamesh (Spain)
1994 “Platinum Konex”
1996 “Dignity” award granted by the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights for works and activity in women’s rights
1998 Silvina Bullrich award, granted by the Argentina Writers’ Society to the best novel written by a woman during the three precedent years
2000: “Esteban Echeverría”
2007: Premio ILCH, California
2014: Konex Career Award
2017: Honorary Doctorate, National University of Cuyo
2018: Prix Imaginales for Kalpa Imperial
2018: Grand Prize for Artistic Career from the National Fund for the Arts for her contribution to Argentine culture.

At first it seemed the organization was going to bring Angélica in to receive the award in person but it did not work out. Another translator, Edward Gauvin, who had translated French author Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud’s stories in a collection, A Life on Paper, was good enough to collect the award in her place. This is the speech Angélica sent:

As you may see, I am not here, but just now, at this exact moment I am in Rosario, very far away from here but thinking of you all, and I wonder: what are they thinking now? Are they happy to be here? Yes. I know you are, and then, of course, I am happy too. And I feel immensely grateful. This Award is very important to me. It comes to my hands at the right moment. At eighty-three years old, I can count so many blessings: my husband, my sons, my daughter, my grandsons and my granddaughter, and my accomplices: the words I put in my thirty books of narrative. As Jorge Luis Borges said once I am condemned to the Spanish words. And I am trying to say in my poor English that I feel happy and joyful and that I send you my love and my gratitude. Thank you.

And here is Gauvin’s speech on accepting the award:

Any committee (or convention) that gives a prize like this to a person like this needs no reminder of the kind I’m about to give, so let me position this as preaching to the choir rather as a pat on its back, or a collective prayer. Angélica Gorodischer has been given a tremendous honor but one that I hope will serve to take her a step further down the trail first blazed eight years ago by the publication of Ursula K. Le Guin’s translation of Kalpa Imperial by Small Beer Press, Angélica’s publisher and mine.

Giving her this award is a little like hanging a medal round the tip of the iceberg whose other nine-tenths I hope one see the light of English day. By a curious metonymy of publishing economies, single books sometimes stand in for entire bodies of work. In the worst cases, single authors are allowed to stand in for entire countries or languages, as if the attention span of English-speaking readers were not enough to hold more than one complicated, funny-sounding name in its mind at a time. Or, as if with such an award, we Anglophones deigned to notice the rest of a world with a nod and now owed no more. We in this room know better.

Let fantasy, which draws already from so many folkloric world traditions, truly become world fantasy. Thank you.

Trafalgar coverAt yet the same time, I received an email from a writer and translator, Amalia Gladhart, an Associate Professor of Spanish Department of Romance Languages. Amalia had translated two books by Ecuadorian writer Alicia Yánez Cossío (The Potbellied Virgin, UT Press, 2006, and Beyond the Islands, UNO Press, 2011) and after reading Kalpa Imperial and finding the note on our website, she contacted us about translating Trafalgar. She had been in touch with Angélica, had begun translating Trafalgar, and was heading to Rosario to teach so would be able to go over her translation directly. I was delighted and when she sent me the translation I was enamored of the strangeness of the book in which an intergalactic salesman tells stories of his travels to his friends back in a coffeeshop in Rosario.

We placed some of the stories in magazines (The Sense of the Circle [interview],  The Best Day of the Year, Trafalgar and Josefina) and published the book in 2013. The colors in the cover came out muddier than the sharp piece of art we had selected. Our then printer didn’t agree with us and would not reprint so we did not work with them again. Despite the muddy cover, much to my relief, Angélica was very pleased and Amalia translated her letter on receipt of the books:

Dear Gavin: I received the copies of Trafalgar, just marvelous. The first thing I did was to caress them, because they are so beautiful that they call to the hand and the eye. What a fine object, so attractive, so precious. Afterwards, of course, with great feeling I began to turn the pages and, as always, I was stunned by Amalia’s expert translation. Well, everything is perfect, and I am very happy, very moved, and Amalia and I are planning public presentations and dialogues in bookstores, the College of Translators, etc., here in Rosario, to make the book known. Many thanks for everything and let’s keep in touch as in the past.
With warm greetings,

TrafalgarIn 2020 Trafalgar was reprinted in the UK as part of a new Penguin Classics line and I very much like the presentation and the quotes they’ve used:

“A novel that is unlike anything I’ve ever read, one part pulp adventure to one part realistic depiction of the affluent, nearly-idle bourgeoisie, but always leaning more towards the former in its inventiveness and pure sense of fun.” — Los Angeles Review of Books

In an email in 2004, Ursula had said she was reading Prodigies and found it “fascinating and extremely difficult.” In his 2003 interview, Gabriel Mesa had asked Angélica:

Q. If after KALPA you had to choose another of your novels to be translated into English, which would it be?

A: PRODIGIOS, always PRODIGIOS which I believe is the best thing I have ever written in my life. Of course no one would read it because it is a difficult text.

A few months after Trafalgar came out we were approached by another writer translator, Sue Burke, to see if we were still interested in a translation of that very novel, Prodigies. An American, she was then living in Madrid and her most recent translation was Terra Nova: An Anthology of Contemporary Science Fiction (Sportula, 2013). Given that Angélica thought it was the best thing she had written, how could I resist? I may have ignored the last line in her answer above.

Prodigies cover - click to view full sizeProdigies is as promised, a slim, fabulous, somewhat difficult novel. We placed excerpts in the journals Eleven Eleven and Spolia Magazine. Reading it is like diving into a dream, with sentences and paragraphs that leave no room for coming up for air so the reader has to go with it or drown.

Angélica wrote around thirty books and so far Prodigies is the last translation of her work we’ve published — but never say never. Amalia Gladhart translated the dark, recursive, and fascinatingly structured Jaguars’ Tomb for Vanderbilt UP and Angélica’s name is now well enough known in the Anglophone world that I expect there will be more translations, perhaps published by us, perhaps elsewhere. Having more than one publisher means there is more than one team of publicists and editors talking up the books and there is more chance the books will find readers.

We were incredibly fortunate to work with Angélica — and her three translators — on these three books. I send my sympathies and condolences to Angélica’s family and those who knew and loved her and I am grateful that we have her books.



El Pais obituary

Locus obituary

Sofia Samatar on Kalpa Imperial