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Triangular Talks: An Interview with Jorghi Poll (Vienna)

By Rebecca Dewald

This interview followed Jorghi’s participation in our ‘Triangular Talks’ event. Read our article about that day here.

Jorghi, thank you very much again for your participation in Triangular Talks. Could you say a few words about your own biography and Edition Atelier’s development?

Edition Atelier was founded in 1985. From 2002 to 2011, the publishing house was part of the Wiener Zeitung and had a mixed list. I had founded a playwrights’ agency in Vienna in 2009 and took over Edition Atelier in 2012. Since 2013, I co-manage the independent publishing house together with Sarah Legler. Our programme focus and passion have always been and still are contemporary literature and 20th century Austrian literature.

What do you look for in a manuscript for Edition Atelier?

Literary quality is the most important aspect. Second to that is the social relevance of a text. What’s also significant for us is an engagement with the present and its presentation through literature. And that’s what we want to represent as publishers. We want to publish books that enrich people’s lives.

The ‘Triangular Talks’ panel discussions explored publishing trends in three languages. Which trends in the publishing scene interest you in particular?

I think that since the financial crisis of 2008 and the resulting global upheavals in society, politics and the media, there is an increased need for literature that reflects these developments. Respectable news outlets have realised that the prevalence of ‘fake news’ necessitates more thorough checks of sources (as well as a rigorous analysis of their motivations), and also for these checks to be made public. Recently we came to realise that the problem is not digital formats, but rather their content and communication methods.

On the one hand, there is more critical reflection on information; on the other hand, the daily input has become too much for many people who consequently withdraw from an engagement with social and political developments.

I am certain the publishing industry will reflect this. There will be more critical literature, though (unfortunately) less so than literary escapism, which keeps growing. You can see that already in the trend towards dystopian novels: Young authors write graphic, apocalyptic literature that increasingly runs the risk of becoming kitsch. These books are more like reflections of our current state and proof of the middle class‘s loss of its former position within society. They show that general welfare has declined since the financial crisis. Many texts are melancholic and aesthetically pleasing, but lack self-reflection and are too emotional. But there are also dystopias that engage with more pressing issues, such as the role of the individual within society, altruism, resistance to racism etc. The poles are far apart. But you often don’t know which pole it is going to be before you start reading the book.

Politics and political books were among the obvious trends mentioned in all the Triangular Talks panels. Do you think this is a recent trend, since 2016?

Of course, Brexit was THE catalyst in Britain to question one’s maybe all-too-comfortable privilege. The conclusion is – yet again in history – that every generation has to fight for its belief in freedom, democracy and human rights. And the reasons for Brexit and Trump’s election arose well before the actual elections. For years, the rhetoric used by right-wing populism and its distribution through the media had not been taken seriously, let alone combatted. Of course, these things are always easy to attest with the benefit of hindsight, especially because civil society still hasn’t found the right weapon to beat the right-wing rhetoric. In any case, there is almost no exception to the credo: reading helps!

In the Crossover Panel, Bill Swainson summarised half-seriously: ’35- to 55-year olds read about 2–3 books a year; 55- to 75-year olds now also read on e-readers; younger readers prefer short-forms (about 300 words).’ He then called for new forms in publishing, in order to engage readers. What do you think about that?

I asked Bill Swainson after the panel, to what extent he thinks digital reading practices have replaced printed books. He said in some cases it was already a 50/50 ratio (eBook/print). In contrast, for the last two years our ratio has been constant: 2–8% eBooks, depending on the text. In some cases, eBook sales are even in decline while hardcopies have increased in sales. Though not that long ago, I wouldn’t have predicted that development. We are not exposed to the same kind of urgency, or economic pressure, but we recognize the related social and political considerations. Everything that reaches people – young and old – and makes them read can only, at least partially, be a good thing. At the same time, from a publisher’s point of view, I think endeavours such as self-publishing are very problematic. That’s not because they make publishing more democratic, as some wrongly assume, but because these books flood an already saturated market with texts of which at least 90% are irrelevant. This makes the reader’s task to make a sensible selection even more difficult. But nevertheless, we have to engage with it and further stress the features which separate us from self-publishing.

Which titles and topics would you recommend this autumn?

I’m really looking forward to Manja Präkel’s debut novel Als ich mit Hitler Schnapskirschen aß (‘When I ate brandied cherries with Hitler’), published by Verbrecher Verlag.

What does the future hold for Edition Atelier?

Hopefully an equally fervent and constantly growing readership as in the past few years. That’s what motivates us.