Welcome, Jón Gnarr & Brooklyn Quarterly Manifesto


Photo Credit: Hörður Sveinsson

Photo Credit: Hörður Sveinsson

Deep Vellum will publish a trilogy of autobiographical novels by the Mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland: Jón Gnarr. “The World’s Coolest Mayor,” Jón is one of the most famous people in Iceland, he gained his fame as a singer in a punk band who went on to be a comedian and an actor, who in 2009 formed a joke political party, The Best Party, with some friends as a response to the international economic crisis that devastated Iceland’s economy, and they ended up winning most of their races (his campaign for the mayorship is captured in the 2010 documentary, Gnarr, which you can stream on Netflix!). His campaign was covered in the NY Times and the Guardian, among pretty much every other media outlet in the world too. Jón is an inspiration to me personally, and to millions of people around the world who have followed his election and vocal support for the freedom of speech and human rights around the world.

Check out some funny Buzzfeed-esque picture pieces about how awesome Jón is here and here.

Our friends at Melville House are publishing a nonfiction work by Jón in June, after his term as mayor is up, about running for and becoming mayor, entitled Gnarr: How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World:

“If there’s two things we like at Melville House, it’s comedy and political activism, and we’ve published a lot of each,” says Melville House co-publisher Valerie Merians. ”The American political scene is a pretty humorless place these days. We can learn a lot from Jón Gnarr.”

Keep an eye out for that, and get ready for Jón to invade America this summer and fall (including some time in Texas this fall!!!!!)!

The trilogy we are publishing, The Indian (2006), The Pirate (2009), and The Outlaw (to be published in Iceland in fall 2014) recount with humor and wit his childhood and adolescence as a child with learning disabilities who did time in a home for retarded children (he has severe dyslexia and ADHD), through the bullying he received as a teenager before discovering punk rock and starting to get in trouble. In Jón’s own words, the basic plot of each book:

The Indian is used here a lot in schools. As you know I was misdiagnosed with a mental retardation and grew up alone with old parents. They are both gone.
The Pirate is about early teens, punk, anarchism and such. The main core of the story is the bullying I was victim to.
The Outlaw is late teens. I was sent to a juvenile home in the remote West for two years. It is really brutal and lonely.
These are the types of books that will resonate with disaffected teenagers and parents of children with learning or behavioral issues as much as fans of capital-L Literature. It is an honor to be able to publish these works in English for the first time, and I can’t wait for you all to read them (hell, I can’t wait to read them!!).
Welcome to the Deep Vellum family, Jón, you’re going to fit in quite well around here.
ALSO, in the meantime, I’ve published a manifesto (of sorts!)! For the Brooklyn Quarterly! I get into why I started Deep Vellum. In case you’ve ever wondered why I’m crazy enough to start a publishing house and in Dallas, and why the hell I love translation so much and why it might matter, this is the piece to read. From now on, no more writing manifestos, from here on out I only trumpet the quality that is out there, the good stuff being published, calling attention to the awesome tangible real amazing things going on rather than the nonexistent lack. I’ve said my piece, now let’s get into it! Here’s the introduction!

A modest proposal: If translation is the act that allows dialogue to take place between individuals, then translated literature is the means by which entire cultures engage each other. I started Deep Vellum Publishing as an arts and education nonprofit organization with the mission to enhance the open exchange of ideas among cultures through translation, and to connect the world’s greatest un-translated literature with readers in original English translations. Not too radical, right?

But Deep Vellum was founded in Dallas, Texas, and Dallas has presented me with more challenges than I had anticipated. In Dallas, I fight a war on two fronts; every day, not only do I find myself defending translations (which I was expecting), but I also find myself defending the value of literature itself as a necessary ingredient in a city’s arts culture.

The attack is threefold. First comes the inevitable leading question, “Why should I read something that wasn’t written in English?” This query is itself a more insidious version of the second (and more common) refrain: “I don’t read translations.” But then I am still surprised by the third statement I often hear in Dallas. After asking how Deep Vellum is allowed to be an arts organization—a question that takes me aback—people utter a follow-up proclamation that actually left me speechless the first time I heard it: “Literature is not the arts.”

Why read anything not written in English? I don’t read translations. Literature is not the arts.

We, as a culture, have a problem with the way we value literature. This leads to a problem in how we value world literature, in how we value translation, in how we ignore translation’s invaluable contribution to our entire society.

This problem won’t solve itself, and it’s on each of us to do something about it. Here’s how.

You can read the manifesto in full here. Please read it, and please pass it along to anyone you know who might be interested in learning more about publishing. I want to throw open the doors to the publishing establishment and take over. Let’s do this!

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