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Have you had moments where you’re sent something and you start reading it and the hairs on the back of your neck begin to rise … Then there was the strange Hungarian writer Gyula Krúdy. I had never heard anything remotely like him, mythic like Bruno Schulz, funny like P. Wodehouse, and weirdly sexy with Gypsy violins playing in the background.I’m afraid I’m temperamentally too much of a skeptic, perhaps, but there are moments. And I opened it thinking, A novella about a man who’s a dikemaster in northern Germany—nobody’s going to want to read that! You never know if others are going to share your enthusiasm, but happily they sometimes do.
He was both a total professional and an unrepentant amateur. It’s a book about growing rice but it’s also a spiritual autobiography of the author, Masanoba Fukuoka, who was a renegade Japanese agronomist.And I was always sure that I wanted to have nothing to do with the academic study of literature.Then again, poetry did in some sense lead me to publishing—a kind of gateway drug—since in the nineties my friend Andy Mc Cord and I started a small press, Alef Books, in which we published Joseph Lease, Ilya Kutik, Melissa Monroe, Michael Ruby. In fact I came to editing very late, in my midthirties, which is unusual in publishing, a business people mostly go into right after college. I needed a job and I thought that having put out a handful of books of poems would make me of interest to publishers, which of course was dead wrong. That same year I discovered Dostoevsky I discovered “Prufrock” and I thought Eliot was utterly electrifying.Most of them were in print, but not Hughes, and our getting it was a coup. There are existing voices—writers we have a commitment to, like Andrey Platonov or Vasily Grossman—you build on those. We started with Moravia and went on to add a number of Italian writers. There’s an Italian strand and a Russian strand and an American strand, and so on.And then there are new voices, new kinds of writing, you introduce. We started as a reprint series but one of the first “new” books we did was Cesar Pavese’s , which is a great book.
We met in his apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn to discuss his process: how he finds the books he publishes and what provokes his interest.