Shanghai 99 Readers: Building International Ties
The more the Chinese government talks about the internationalization of Chinese literature and publishing, the less seems to actually get done. A summit here, a forum there… meanwhile, private companies and individuals are moving ahead on their own.
Shanghai 99 Readers Culture Co, Ltd, has been at the forefront of the private publishing movement since it was officially recognized by the Chinese government in April of 2009 (see a two-part profile of 99 Readers' CEO Huang Yuhai here. Founded in 2004, 99 Readers published translated foreign fiction from the beginning, and made that its focus starting in 2006. This year, however, it is deepening its ties with international literature in ways that go beyond mere translation.
The most interesting new project may be a Chinese edition of the well-respected UK literary magazine Granta. Granta has long had editions in countries around the world, their contents drawn partially from the UK flagship magazine, partly from local writes. Granta editor John Freeman began considering a Chinese edition of the magazine several years ago, and in November of 2011 visited Shanghai and met with 99 Readers.
"It's going to be a lot of work," says 99 Readers' Deputy Editor Peng Lun, who will be in charge of the project, "so we're starting small and seeing our readers' reaction." The first issue will be published in September or October, with the same "Britian" theme as the most recently Granta, though the Chinese edition will not be restricted to content from its parent magazine. "We'll go back through the archives and find pieces we think are suited to our readers," noted Peng Lun.
99 Readers is starting cautiously, publishing twice a year, with print runs of 8,000, and pricing the magazine in the 30-40 RMB range. They haven't yet finalized their choice of state-owned publishing partner, though Peng Lun notes that People's Literature Publishing House and Shanghai Arts and Literature Publishing House have both expressed interest. Peng Lun says the Chinese Granta will be marketed to younger, literate readers, those who are already conversant with UK writing, likely the same demographic that has made Chutpah magazine a success.
99 Readers' close engagement with Granta magazine editors and writers is emblematic of its changing approach to international literature. Where many Chinese publishers simply purchase foreign copyrights with little or no interaction with publishers or authors abroad, 99 Readers is being more proactive. Since Colm Tóibín visited China in 2009 for the Chinese edition of The Master and again in 2011 for Brooklyn, 99 Readers has worked closely with foreign authors to promote their books in China. Two of the authors in the first Chinese Granta, David Mitchell and Jo Dawson, were chosen because they'll be attending the Shanghai Literary Festival this August.
Beyond their own published authors, the company is working to increase China's general level of contact with international literature. When the Shanghai Book Fair (largely a market for books, not copyright) decided last year that they wanted to add a literary festival component to their event, 99 Readers undertook to organize the Shanghai International Literary Week around the Fair. Peng Lun invited foreign authors who were published by other Shanghai publishing houses: 13 foreign writers attended, including Tóibín, Jean Marie Gustave Le Clézio and Jeanette Winterson. They expect similar numbers this year, including David Mitchell and Australia's Peter Carey – invitations have also gone out to Don Delillo and Per Pettersen.
"We're fostering a new generation of readers of foreign literature," says Peng Lun, when asked why his company was going to all this trouble.
On the theory that a rising literary tide will lift all boats, 99 Readers has also begun publishing selections from The Paris Review's reknowned series of author interviews. The first volume of 15 interviews, including Chinese favorites such as Hemingway, Carver, Garcia Marquez and Kundera, was published in February, and its 10,000 print run has already sold out. Volume two is just out, three is on the way, and four has been confirmed.
"It's also very useful for new Chinese writers," Peng Lun says of the series. "Any new writer loves to read these interviews. It's also a good way of gettign in touch with good foreign publishing houses. It's mostly about building bridges."