It's a big world after all

Barbara Ras, director of Trinity University Press, pauses in her office to discuss the press' ambitious new series, "The Writers World," a collection of anthologies from around the world featuring accomplished writers on the vocation of writing. The first volumes will be available in approximately two years. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
It's a big world after all

By Susan Pagani

Trinity University Press puts a globe full of writers on the page

Barbara Ras, director of Trinity University Press, laughs as she describes the inspiration for an ambitious new series, "The Writer's World," a collection of essays on the literary enterprise by writers from different parts of the world. The works will be bound in anthologies grouped by country, language, and geographical region.

"It came to me when I was reading Chekov, his short stories, and his theories on writing. I thought, I wish there was a volume that had all of the great Russian writers' thoughts on writing compiled in one place; and then I thought, I wish there was a volume of all the great French writers' thoughts on writing compiled in one place; and then I thought: Wait! I'm a publisher, I should do this!"

'The Writer's World'

A collection of anthologies by Trinity University Press

Proposed volumes signed to date include:

French Writers on Writing.
Editors: Richard Howard and Edward Hirsch
Proposed writers: Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, St.-John Perse, Marguerite Yourcenar, Nathalie Sarrault, Simone de Beauvoir

Polish Writers on Writing.
Editors: Adam Zagajewski and Edward Hirsch
Proposed writers: Czeslaw Milosz, Wislawa Szymborska, Witold Gombrowicz, Bruno Schulz, Zbigniew Herbert

Irish Writers on Writing.
Editor: Eavan Boland
Proposed writers: William Butler Yeats, William Trevor, Edna O'Brien, Mary Lavin, Kate O'Brien, Seamus Heaney

Spanish Writers on Writing.
Editor: Christopher Maurer
Proposed writers: Miguel de Unamuno, Federico García Lorca, Jaime Gil de Biedma, Carmen Martín Gaite, Camilo José Cela, Juan Ramón Jiménez

Hebrew Writers on Writing.
Editor: Peter Cole
Proposed writers: Haim Nahman Bialik, S.Y. Agnon, Avot Yeshurun, Yehuda Amichai, Amos Oz, Aharon Shabtai

Mexican Writers on Writing.
Editor: Margaret Sayers Peden
Proposed writers: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, José Emilio Pacheco, Carlos Fuentes, Margo Glantz, Octavio Paz, Elena Poniatowska, Ignacio Padilla, Angeles Mastretta

Romanian Writers on Writing.
Editor: Norman Manea
Proposed writers: Eugen Ionesco, Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran, and Paul Celan

Italian Writers on Writing.
Editor: Jay Parini
Proposed writers: Alberto Moravia, Italo Calvino, Natalia Ginsburg, Oriana Fallaci

18th and 19th Century American Writers on Writing.
Editor: Brenda Wineapple
Proposed writers: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edith Wharton

The series will be edited by Edward Hirsch, renowned poet, essayist, and John Simon Guggenheim Foundation President. Ras invited him to join the project based on his reputation as a voracious reader and a champion of international literature. "His book, How to Read a Poem, is so vast in its appreciation of poetic traditions that go well beyond the United States, into all ethnic groups, all time periods, all nationalities," says Ras. "He just has a breadth that's astonishing - so to be working with him is really a dream come true."

From the beginning, Hirsch and Ras planned to produce as many volumes as they could conceive. So far, they have signed nine and are in the process of negotiating more. As a whole, the books will provide a rare comparative look at the way writers from different countries think about literature, and how national circumstance and literary traditions change the creative process. "In one way, to be an Italian writer is similar to being an American writer, and in another it seems to be a radically different thing - you write out of a literary tradition that is much older and has a different way of engaging literary problems," explains Hirsch.

The individual volume editors are experts in the given language and literature and, in many cases, well-known writers in their own right. They have their work cut out for them. Some of the essays will be commissioned, but many, some by deceased writers, will be culled from existing sources around the world: magazines, letters, diaries, interviews, et cetera. And most will have to be translated into English. With relatively little control in the way of guidelines or restrictions on their composition, the books promise to be as idiosyncratic as they are authentic.

"That's the creative idea," says Hirsch. "Some editors will go as far back in their literary tradition as they can, some will begin in the 19th century, and some will want primarily contemporary writing." Editors will have to choose the writers, balancing historical scope with international and more local reputations.

Acclaimed poet and essayist Edward Hirsch is collaborating with Trinity University Press on "The Writer's World" anthologies. (courtesy photo)
This is one of the most exciting aspects of the project for Ras: the opportunity to introduce writers - or even the unknown writings of well-known writers - that have never been published in English. You may know Wislawa Szymborska's poetry, but have you read her prose? Readers won't necessarily need to be familiar with the Polish poet to appreciate that the she has something interesting to say about the creative endeavor. On the other hand, the more readers know about any of the writers, the more fine-tuned their appreciation will be for the gradations between the various volumes.

"Romanian Writers will be a discovery for almost everyone. But the thing about that tradition that I think is so striking is that even if people know something about those writers, they may not think about them in the Romanian context," Hirsch says. "Paul Celan wrote in German but was born in Bukovina, Romania. People think of him in a German writing tradition, but this book will make clear that he also belongs in an Eastern European context."

Ras and Hirsch talk about the deeper importance of the project. It's not just about literature; it's also about the growing insularity of Americans, and the value of introducing outside voices. "I'm hoping that these books will be introductions to the deeply humane values of other cultures, to remind people that we live in an international world," says Hirsch.

Edward Hirsch

7:30pm Friday, April 2

UTSA 1604 Campus
Business Building Room 2.06.04

"It's important literarily, politically, and spiritually. I think it enhances our sense of who we are, it enlarges our world, and in the end serves to bring us together. In these troubled times, I don't think we can be too open," Ras adds.

Because of the workload involved, it will be a couple of years before the first volumes are available. All potential academic and inspirational purposes aside, the list of potential writers promises something to look forward to for purely aesthetic reasons: some truly beautiful writing. "It is an enormous thrill and an honor for a press that has yet to publish its first list to be able to work with writers of this caliber. It's both humbling and exhilarating," says Ras. •

` By Susan Pagani `

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