Theodora speaks to The Publishing Profile about managing a not-for-profit press and changing the representation of global literature in the publishing industry
Hi! I’m Theodora and I manage Tilted Axis Press. We’re a small not-for-profit press with a focus on literature by Asian writers in English translation. I run operations and provide the administrative & organisational infrastructure to keep the press running.
How did you get into publishing?
Sort of by accident. After I moved to the UK I worked as a project manager for six years, first at a cultural institute and then at the literature and freedom of expression charity English PEN. At PEN I managed the translation programme and worked with a lot of publishers, authors and translators. I was planning to leave the UK because of Brexit, and Tilted Axis asked if I wanted to join on a part-time, freelance basis from Vienna to essentially project manage the press. That’s how I ended up in publishing.
What does a typical day in your current role look like?
I usually start my day by going through the enquiries inbox, spend an hour or so responding to customers and other contacts, and check stock and sales. Then I log into the team slack, which is the beating heart of TAP. We’re a small team who are all part-time, and though most of us are based in the UK, we’re currently in four different time zones, so slack is really essential. That and my regular work inbox determine what I do for the rest of the day – it really depends on where we are in the year, or in a project, but it’s usually a mix of admin and classic project management stuff involving contracts, metadata, publishing timelines, plus lots of emails and posting nonsense on slack etc.
Has your attitude to reading changed since working in the publishing industry? How has it changed your reading taste or the genre of books you usually read?
Well, my reading taste changed quite significantly after I moved to the UK and started thinking more deeply about the Anglo-American cultural hegemony. Working at PEN and now at Tilted Axis made me more aware of the selection processes that determine what is published, reviewed, and featured in book shops, and how little it represents global literature – or just the world that we live in. Nowadays the literary fiction that I seek out is by writers from outside Western Europe and the US. Ultimately I want my reading to reflect my politics, but both are a constant work in process.
Is there a book that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that?
Sergius Seeks Bacchus by Norman Erikson Pasaribu, translated from Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao. It was the first book I worked on and one whose publication I had been looking forward to for, oh, more than two years. Norman’s speculative poetry (and fiction) of queer Christian liberation is very special to me.
Where do you buy or access your books?
These days, mostly in local indie bookshops – they can always order books in. I also order from publishers directly when it’s feasible. Vienna has a great public libraries system that I love, and I also have access to the university library here for when I feel a craving for academic history. And I read a lot of pdfs on my e-reader for work.
What’s the best book you’ve received as a gift?
That’s a tie between Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi (translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman) and The Measure of All Things by Ken Alder, both given to me by my partner. One is a beautiful polyvocal novel about four teenagers grappling with their identities in an impoverished part of Mauritius’ Port Louis; the other a history of the origins of the metric system, a deeply researched empirical soap opera that follows two scientists who measured France during the French Revolution.
What surprises you about your bookshelves? Is there a book that you own that you were surprised to love as much as you did?
A book I didn’t expect to love was Åsne Seierstad’s En Av Oss: En fortelling om Norge. It’s often billed as a book about “the massacre of Utøya”, but the Norwegian subtitle, “a story about Norway”, is better. I would call it a collective biography of contemporary Norway, explored through the individual biographies of Anders Behring Breivik and Bano Rashid, Simon Sæbø, and Viljar Hanssen – three of the young people Breivik shot during his terrorist attack on Utøya. I expected this to be good, but I found it completely astonishing, a real master class in investigating how societies that like to see themselves as peaceful foster people like Breivik and his neo-Nazi extremism. I’m always interested in writers who deconstruct and question a country’s self-image, and Seierstad’s writing is really masterful. It was published in an English translation by Sarah Death as One of Us.
Which authors or genres do you look forward to reading more of in the future?
More non-fiction! Especially various theories and histories. And more YA because I really enjoy discussing it with my teen brother.
What are the best books you've read in 2020 so far?
These days I rarely read books when they’ve just been published. Jorge Consiglio’s Fate (translated by Carolina Orloff & Fionn Petch) was an exception because I read it for our book club. It turned out to be my favourite novel I consumed during the (blessedly short and effective) Austrian lockdown. What it does with time felt really fitting for those weeks. It made a nice pairing with Yoko Tawada’s Time Differences (translated by Jeffrey Angles), which has a similarly interesting narrative structure.
Of the non-fiction I’ve read so far, two books on the ongoing legacy of colonialism and racism have stood out: Rhodes Must Fall: The Struggle to Decolonise the Racist Heart of Empire, a collection of essays by participants and associates of Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, and Sven Lindqvist’s Exterminate All The Brutes (translated by Joan Tate), a long essay on the European project of colonial extermination.
What are your most anticipated reads for the rest of the year?
So many! Several authors I love have new novels out: Tsitsi Dangaremba’s This Mournable Body, which I was very excited to find in a local bookshop a couple of weeks ago, Ananda Devi’s The Living Days (tr. Jeffrey Zuckerman), Margarita Garcia Robayo’s Holiday Hearts (translated by Charlotte Coombe), Tiffany Tsao’s The Majesties and Scholastique Mukasonga’s Igifu (translated by Jordan Stump). A copy of To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe (edited by Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande) is making its way to me right now, and I’m trying to get my hands on That We May Live, a collection of Chinese speculative fiction by authors including Dorothy Tse and Yan Ge. And I’m also really looking forward to reading proofs of Tilted Axis’ autumn novels, Women Dreaming by Salma (translated by Meena Kandasamy) about the interior world of women in a Muslim village in Tamil Nadu, and Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge (translated by Jeremy Tiang), a novel told in the form of a bestiary about a cryptozoologist. I feel lucky I get to read our books early!
Which books should everybody read?
To be honest, few books have had a greater impact on me than Imagining the Balkans by Maria Todorova. It explores how the Balkans were built up as a negative, othered stereotype in the European imagination from the 18th century onwards, similar to Edward Said’s Orientalism. Just as with Orientalism, these images still have such a stronghold on the “Western” imagination.
I think everybody should read more history, but if you’re not a fan of historical discourse analysis (shocking!), Abandon by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay (translated from Bangla by Arunava Sinha) was one of the first Tilted Axis books I read and it blew my mind. And if you read German, 1000 Serpentinen Angst by Olivia Wenzel is a completely brilliant novel on anxiety, race and family, largely told in the form of a Q&A.