Riky Stock speaks to us about promoting German-language literature from NYC.
What is your background and what job do you do now?
I grew up in Northern Germany and studied in Passau, Bavaria. The minute I received my MA in Cultural Studies I moved to NYC to work for a literary scout. Eighteen months later, I jumped at the chance to join the foreign rights department at HarperCollins. In September 2002 I started at what was then the German Book Office New York – we went on to become the Frankfurt Book Fair New York in 2017. I am in charge of our cultural projects and also manage the Literary Agents & Scouts Centre.
What does the FBFNY do?
We represent the Frankfurter Buchmesse in New York. About half of my work is devoted to the Literary Agents & Scouts Center and other Frankfurter Buchmesse activities. The remaining half is spent on cultural projects; organising and co-hosting events for editors and translators; workshops and awards, discussions and conferences. We run highly successful Editors’ Trips, which bring US publishers over to Germany. A big highlight is the Festival Neue Literatur.
We are the US partner of New Books in German. Our involvement began a month or so after I started here. In 2011, we established the US jury of New Books in German – some of our first members are still active today – and we came up with the idea of the US Jury Pick. About half of my work is devoted to the Literary Agents & Scouts Center and other Frankfurter Buchmesse activities. The remaining half is spent on cultural projects; organising and co-hosting events for editors and translators; workshops and awards, discussions and conferences.
Tell us more about the NY jury meetings:
We meet twice a year, around the same time as the British jury, to consider the books submitted to NBG. We only choose fiction titles by German authors as our cultural projects are co-funded by the German government. Meetings are lively: we are a great mix of editors, foreign rights directors, scouts, agents, translators, publishers, and occasionally a bookseller as well as a representative of the Goethe-Institut New York. At every meeting, we agree on three US Jury Picks, titles that we feel will really resonate with US audiences and that we want to draw special attention to. You can check out our US Jury Picks here.
Which one of the most recent NY Jury Picks stands out for you?
The powerful and timely novel 1000 Serpentinen Angst by Olivia Wenzel which has recently been acquired by Catapult Books. I am also thrilled that Die Hochhausspringerin by Julia von Lucadou found a US publisher thanks to the enthusiasm of one of our jury members.
What are your favourite German-language books that have appeared in English?
I witnessed Judith Hermann’s Summerhouse, Later get published in 2001 when I was at HarperCollins. It was an eye-opening experience; it was one of my favourite books at that time and I was disappointed to learn how few copies it sold. Ever since, I have been rooting for every book that finds its way into the US market even though it usually doesn’t find the audience it deserves.
I am thrilled to hear of any book that gets translated into English and some of my favourite authors that are available in English are Jakob Arjouni, Alina Bronsky, Sasa Stanisic, Daniel Kehlmann, Benedict Wells, Juli Zeh, and Esther Kinsky, just to name a few. I am excited that Marianna Salzmann whose book Ausser Sich is outstanding and was recently published here by Other Press, agreed to participate at our 2020 Festival Neue Literatur which we’ve had to postpone due to the pandemic.
And what about the ones that got away?
Happily, there aren’t that many. Sometimes it takes a long time but thanks to dedicated publishers in the US, UK, Canada, NZ, Australia, and India – most of them small publishers – numerous German-language authors are now available in English. Unfortunately, many times a second or third book by that same author won’t be published if the sales numbers of the previous title are not what publishers feel they might be.
One book that got away, for instance, is Ellbogen by Fatma Aydemir as well as one that I read a long time ago, Karl-Heinz Ott: Die Stille. Also, some of the most recent US Jury Picks such as Winterbienen by Norbert Scheuer are still up for grabs.
How has the FBFNY reacted to the challenges of coronavirus?
After having such an exciting programme planned, we had to cancel the Festival Neue Literatur at a few weeks’ notice. Happily, we have managed to rearrange it to November 2021. Going all digital during the lockdown provided new opportunities. It gave me a fun project to do – since we couldn’t show the Children’s Books on Tour collection in person this year, we asked twenty-one bilingual children from German schools in New York to present books from Children’s Books on Tour in short videos. I think the kids did an amazing job.
Besides the digital Frankfurt Book Fair and Festival Neue Literatur, what are your other plans for the future?
We are trying to seize and make the most of the new possibilities that have opened up in this virtual world. For instance, we are planning on hosting a virtual translation workshop in collaboration with Geisteswissenschaften International which will be run by the renowned translator Shelley Frisch. In the past we could only invite local translators, now we are thrilled to be able to offer this great workshop to German to English translators regardless of where in the world they are based.
What are your hopes for German language literature in the future?
I am hoping that German literature will continue to dazzle and amaze English-language readers.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’d like to thank everyone who is promoting German literature, starting with the foreign rights managers at the German publishing houses, agents, editors, institutions, and, of course the translators.
Photo image © Riky Stock