Overall, the single most important lesson I took away from this internship is the importance of giving credit to different perspectives–be it as an editor or reader.
With regard to editing, I learned that there is no one “correct” way to edit a piece of writing; grammar and language are flexible, and can be used differently to portray an author’s meaning, style, and tone. Especially when it comes to translated texts, the same sentence can be written (and rewritten in translation) many different ways. Therefore, listening to other people’s perspectives is essential to capturing the closest meaning to the author’s original intended meaning. I like to think of translation and editing like an asymptote: if you listen and pay attention to what others are thinking and saying, the final piece of writing (that is, after it has gone through writing, rewriting, translating, editing, and proofreading) can get infinitely close to what the author’s true intention was, but absolute perfection is not possible because there are a variety of options and decisions that can all “correctly” portray an idea in writing. For this reason, cooperation and working together with one’s colleagues (in my case, my fellow interns and supervisors who all had unique input due to their own unique ways of interpreting texts, such as due to their cultural background) is something I intend to incorporate into my outlook on life and my future career. As a communication and English major who has worked as a tutor for Japanese international students at SUNY Geneseo, I have similarly learned that improving one’s intercultural communication skills can positively benefit everyone by broadening their sense of interpersonal understanding and cultural perspective.
With regard to reading, the same concepts apply. Society benefits when people listen and try to understand each other, no matter their ethnic or cultural background. By listening to other perspectives, people can be opened up to new ways of thinking and approaching problems that they themselves may not have thought of on their own. There is strength in numbers, and there is also strength in diversity. This is why increasing access to foreign literature is so vital in the first place; it opens people’s eyes to what is happening outside of their own small corner of the world, and introduces them to new ways of thinking and interpreting circumstances.
Over the course of my internship, I have been spending a great deal of time at the University of Rochester. First and foremost, the university is doing well to address issues of social justice by having established Open Letter Books as a nonprofit institution. Launching this publishing press not only helped local students gain experience in careers involving publishing, editing, and marketing, but also helped underrepresented nationalities and cultures gain voices in a commercialized industry that otherwise does not allow non-English authors a fair chance to publish their works.
The University of Rochester also has a comparatively diverse student body. One of my fellow intern friends that I have been working with is from Korea. She has mentioned how she likes Open Letter Books because some of the literature represents her often overlooked culture. I am glad to have met the people I work with, as they have in turn shared new perspectives, knowledge, and experiences with me from their different cultures.
I think the University of Rochester, like many institutions, could more effectively address issues of social justice by reallocating their funding to support such sub-institutions as Open Letter Books. While obviously not an easy task, I have noticed that college funding in general often seems to get distributed unevenly to different departments. One of the interns I work with mentioned she has worked for a college radio station in the past, and by the end of the year they have more funding than they know what to do with, so they buy new microphones when the existing ones don’t necessarily need to be replaced. We both agreed that that is wasteful, and that funding could be better distributed to help out other departments, including Open Letter Books, which could use more office space and storage supplies to house their growing number of published books.
Open Letter Books is a non-profit organization that is funded through the University of Rochester. The University of Rochester launched this publishing press specifically as a way to tackle the “three percent” statistic: that only three percent of literature available in the United States is writing that has been translated from another language. This statistic highlights a social injustice in mainstream literature and the commercialized publishing industry.
By getting its funding through an academic university, this takes the pressure off Open Letter Books in terms of financial profits, and allows them to focus on publishing, translating, marketing, and promoting literature from underrepresented voices and cultures across the world. Open Letter Books does a good job at building awareness for these works through their promotion efforts. For example, my supervisors release a podcast every week highlighting a new translated book each time. They also travel both within and outside of the United States very frequently to meet with other publishers at conferences and spread the word about Open Letter’s mission.
As for areas of potential improvement, I have observed that Open Letter Books currently only publishes fiction. However, while I have been interning, other publishing presses often send us nonfiction books (books that have similarly been translated into English from many different languages) in order for us to review them. I am tasked with reading some of these books and writing book reviews for them, and I have noticed that many of these nonfiction books (more so than the fiction books I read) deal with such serious contemporary struggles as war, terrorism, politics, discrimination, sexual violence, and the impact of the Holocaust. I think that Open Letter Books could delve even deeper into combating social injustice if they expanded to include nonfiction works, as doing so would open more people’s eyes to the real challenges facing the developing world through first-hand accounts of these places and cultures.
So far as of June 13, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with several people over the course of my internship, all of whom have made an impact by making me think about what a career in publishing and literary translation truly means.
First off, I work with two other interns that are currently undergraduate college students at the University of Rochester. One of them is interested in pursuing a career in social work and community engagement, though she is also interested in creative writing and publishing. As someone who is currently deciding whether to pursue a career in editing/publishing or higher education administration myself, I have been able to relate to her own career experiences and aspirations. I have quickly befriended both of my fellow interns, and we are currently working together to write press release letters for books which will soon be published. Working with them has made me realize the importance of the social environment in which you work, as working with people who are enthusiastic and committed to what they do is much more enjoyable than working with people who work merely for the sake of a job or profit. In fact, I would go as far as to say that one’s work environment plays a large role in individual efficiency, productiveness, and success at one’s job. I am lucky to be interning at this nonprofit organization with people who are genuinely passionate about their job and the arts/humanities in general.
Secondly, on the same note, I also work with the Open Letter Books professional staff, which is made up of publisher Chad Post, editor Kaija Straumanis, and marketing director Anthony Blake. From them, I have learned the difference between editing and proofreading (editing is more language and tone based, whereas proofing deals with grammatical errors). I am also learning how to construct professional book reviews, press release letters, and book jacket overviews. I look forward to learning more about publishing, editing, and marketing from them as I continue my internship and as more literary manuscripts come in for us to edit, translate, publish, and market.
As of today (Tuesday June 6, 2019), I have interned for a total of 20 hours with Open Letter Books, which is a publishing press located on the University of Rochester campus. I first found out about this organization through an English class I took with Professor Rachel Hall, who directs the SUNY-wide Gandy Dancer literary magazine for which I served as a nonfiction reader/editor. For the class, I was assigned to research a topic on literature and write a blog post about it. During my research, I stumbled upon Open Letter Books at the University of Rochester and their mission to promote translated books. I decided this organization and its cause would be a good fit for my internship, as I am an English and Communication double major that has always been interested in learning how the editing and publishing fields work behind the scenes. I have since learned that Professor Lytton Smith of SUNY Geneseo has translated novels from Icelandic for the Open Letter press.
Even in my first week here, I have learned a lot about Open Letter’s mission as a literary translation press. Dubbed the “three percent mission,” Open Letter Books was established to combat the statistic that only three percent of literature available in the United States is literature that has been translated into English and was originally written in another language. This social justice issue is important to me because I find it alarming that the United States (and other nations with English as their dominant language) can exist in a bubble, isolated from the voices of other cultures as well as the social justice related issues that plague developing nations. Though I have only been with Open Letter for a week, it has already become evident that a lot of translated literature deals with very serious themes. The first manuscript I read is for a soon-to-be published novel about a Holocaust survivor, which has been translated from Hebrew. Many other translated books I have encountered so far deal with the Holocaust, war, women’s issues, and equality. These are all issues that know no borders, and therefore it is important that literature knows no borders either, and that translated books get more exposure.