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University of Iowa News Release

Dec. 12, 2005

UI Professor Opens Small Press To Publish Literature In Translation

Already home to one of the oldest academic translation programs in the country as well as the International Writing Program, Iowa City now boasts a small press dedicated to the publication of English translations of international literature. Autumn Hill Books, the brainchild of University of Iowa professor Russell Valentino, was founded in 2004 and published its first book this fall.

Valentino, associate professor of Russian and of cinema and comparative literature in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and an Obermann Center Fellow, has completed a number of translation projects throughout his career, but was always disturbed at how few international works are made available to English-language readers.

"In other countries, particularly in Europe, bookstores are more than half-stocked with works in translation," Valentino said. "Here in the United States, studies have shown that only about three percent of all published books are translated works. It's frustrating to have so little available."

Published translations are largely limited to classic works, leaving little to no outlet for modern writers, Valentino said. This dearth is partially explained by the commercial pressures in the publishing industry, he said. Books are often marketed using author image, and if the author is an unknown figure who does not speak English, such a marketing scheme is not viable.

However, Valentino believes there is demand and need for translation of contemporary literature and said there's no better place to try than Iowa City and the University of Iowa.

"We're in a unique position here with our M.F.A. in translation, one of the select literary translation programs in the country, and with the IWP bringing in more than 30 writers a year who are producing new work and in some cases working with our translators immediately," he said.

In fact, the first book published by Autumn Hill, "A Castle in Romagna," is a translation completed by Tomislav Kuzmanovic, a student in the UI M.F.A. program in translation. The original work, "Dvorac u Romagni," was awarded the Croatian prize for best first novel in 2000. The book, in Kuzmanovic's translation, has been nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize for 2006.

Valentino said Autumn Hill uses a number of criteria to select works for publication. Among them are awards and critical or commercial success for the original work, how well known the author is in his or her home country and the quality of the writing.

He emphasized that he does not intend to use the press to publish his own translations, although this is a part of his academic work. He used a fall semester fellowship at the UI Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, with an external grant from the Howard Foundation, to complete a translation of a book of lyric essays by Predrag Matvejevic about the city of Venice, which he expects to place with another publisher. Autumn Hill's second title, due for release in Spring 2006, is Alyson Waters's translation of a book by Vassilis Alexakis entitled "Foreign Words."

Valentino said he has already established relationships with foreign publishers as well as cultural ministries in a number of countries, which often subsidize the translation of works by native authors. Autumn Hill's first two titles have received support from the Croatian Ministry of Culture, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Greece.

Beyond simply bringing great modern literature to English-speaking readers, Valentino said his press will have benefits for UI students as well. Internships will be available for hands-on experience in publishing, and he will be able to offer more concrete professional advice to UI translation students, based on the real-world experience of running a small press.

"We're in a position to revolutionize the field by training students who know about good writing on one hand and the business side of translation on the other," he said.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011,; Program: Russell Valentino, 319-353-2193,