5 mins with...Samantha Schnee

The London Book Fair, 22 Jul 2015 10:00

5 minutes with...

  • Samantha Schnee

    Our 5 minute interview this week is with Samantha Schnee. Samantha is the Founding Editor of Words Without Borders, dedicated to publishing the world's best literature translated into English. Her most recent translation from Spanish, of Mexican author Carmen Boullosa's TEXAS: THE GREAT THEFT (Deep Vellum, 2014), was shortlisted for the PEN America Translation Prize and won the Typographical Era Translation Award.


    We pitched the following questions to Samantha...

    What was the last book you read?

    THE TRUCE: The Diary of Martin Santome by Mario Benedetti.

    How did you buy it?

    It’s being published by Penguin Classics in August and I was send an uncorrected proof to do a review.

    And what did you read it on?

    A4 paper—so easy on the eyes!

    What’s next on your reading list?

    Elif Shafak’s HONOUR, which was a World Book Night selection this past year.

    Which writer would you have loved to have met – and why?

    I would have loved to meet Mario Benedetti. He was the first translator of Kafka in Uruguay and became part of the generation of 1945 there. Unfortunately he had to leave the country in 1973 when a military dictatorship came to power and he spent the next decade in exile, living in all sorts of places, including Palma in Mallorca. Mallorca has been home to many writers over the years, including George Sand (who lived there with Frederic Chopin), and Robert Graves (whose children still live there).

    Tell us what you/your company does in 20 words or fewer?

    Words without Borders publishes the best contemporary literature from around the world, translated into English. The website is a treasure trove of writing from over 100 languages.

    Tell us the 1 thing about your company/business that we need to know…

    In the past ten years we’ve published over 2,000 stories, excerpts from novels, and poems from more than 120 countries.

    What do you like about your job?

    Editing WWB is like being an armchair traveller.

    Which imprints do you most admire – and why?

    There are a number of excellent independent outfits popping up over the past five years. And Other Stories, Comma Press, Deep Vellum (based in the US), HispaBooks (based in Spain) and Tilted Axis all do an excellent job of championing literature in translation from other languages. Harvill Secker, Portobello, and some of the larger, more established imprints do a great job, too.

    Which is your favourite bookshop or ebookstore – and why?

    I adore the Daunt Booksellers on Marylebone High Street. With its goregeous Victorian skylight and its carefully curated selection it’s like a temple to books.

    Which great novel have you tried to read – but failed?

    Alfred Doblin’s BERLIN ALEXANDRPLATZ. But I kept it, and will try again one day.

    What was your first job?

    I worked for an American investment bank as a financial analyst. I became really good at spreadsheets.

    And your first in the book industry?

    I worked for Andrew Wylie as his assistant for a year.

    What is the silliest thing you have on your desk?

    Perhaps not silly, but odd: it’s a miniature golden typewriter on a chain that is the Typographical Translation Award. I won it last year for my translation of Carmen Boullosa’s TEXAS: THE GREAT THEFT.

    When was your first London Book Fair (LBF)?

    It was the Ash Cloud book fair back in 2010. I had just moved to London and was a bit overwhelmed, so for me the “ghost town” atmosphere of that fair (relative to a normal fair) made it quite nice. It was actually easy to meet with agents in the IRC because they had so many cancelled appointments. And it was amazing to hear people’s stories about how they had gotten there, really intrepid and determined people who had come by bus, by ferry, and even one agent who had rented a camper van!

    What do you love about LBF?

    I love the Literary Translators’ Centre because it provides an opportunity for translators from dozens of different languages to gather and share they joys and challenges of the profession, which is quite a solitary one, much like a writer’s.

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