Yesterday the Seagull Books publisher Naveen Kishore was awarded the Goethe Medal in Weimar. The honour is bestowed on people outside of Germany who do very special things to promote German culture and international dialogue.
A group of us Seagull translators went along to the ceremony. I think most of us would have liked it better if there'd been fewer politicians quoting Goethe and more of the excellent music, but then came the proper speeches and they were delightful. Naveen was honoured alongside the Iranian translator Mahmoud Hosseini Zad and the Greek writer and translator Petros Markaris, both of whom made a very passionate and intelligent impression. Elisabeth Ruge held a Laudatio in praise of Naveen, comparing him to a bricoleur and eulogising the Seagull catalogues designed by Sunandini Banerjee – thus proving that she's the coolest dude in German publishing right now, as I have long suspected (especially since she announced she'll soon be leaving German publishing).
And then Naveen held his speech, which you can read in this pdf. It's delightful and you really should spend ten minutes of your life with it. He explains his approach to publishing (he's not the kind of man who'd call it a philosophy, I suspect): intuition, working hard, appreciating culture, doing things as they have to be done, subjectively. Publishing books not because they will make money (although they might, over time) but because someone out there will want to read them. The rest will fall into place.
There wasn't time and space yesterday to tell Naveen how much I – and I know my fellow Seagull translators feel similarly – appreciate what Naveen and everyone at Seagull do. They are a joy to work with, making us feel part of a family, welcoming us into their beautiful office and their wonderful catalogue. They hold our work up high, as high as they hold their authors. And their authors are some of the best there are. I mean more than just printing our names on their book covers, although that of course is second nature to them. I mean treating and editing us with respect, trusting our judgement and instincts, sharing our passions.
I first met Naveen and Sunandini at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2009. I knew they were doing some amazing German books and I told them how impressed I was and then asked rather shyly, "I suppose you don't need any more translators, do you?" Yes! they said, and they took my card and admired it and I later received an email asking me what I'd like to translate: "Send me your wish-list." That was the point at which I realised Naveen was a long way from a traditional publisher; at times I've called him an anti-publisher, analogue to the antichrist, the antihero, the antidote. I don't think he'd like to be a hero but I hope he'd like to be an antidote.
Since then I've translated seven books for Seagull, not all of which are yet available. Some of them we've chosen together; some I have suggested; in two cases I knew they'd acquired the rights and I asked if I could translate them. I was invited to India with two of my Seagull writers and looked after and cared for by the Seagull team. Today Naveen sent me the cover design for a very special book that I translated for them: Christa Wolf's last short story, "August". It's beautiful, as to be expected from Sunandini Banerjee, and will be available early next year. I never dreamed I would translate Christa Wolf, and it was a great pleasure and honour to do so. And as I'm so pleased and proud and happy, I shall break my no pictures rule and post it here, because that's what Naveen Kishore and Seagull have taught me: that breaking the rules is sometimes the best thing to do.
Thank you, Naveen.