Open Letter Books
Interview No. 58
There’s a certain ease to everything. It’s affordable, and a good place to raise a family. You really don’t feel like you’re lacking for anything.
Where are you originally from? Why'd you move to Rochester?
Most recently, I was living in Normal, Illinois, before that, Durham, NC, but I was born in the tiny town of Essexville, Michigan. Open Letter Books brought me to Rochester eight years ago.
What is your favorite part of living in Rochester?
There’s a certain ease to everything. It’s affordable, and a good place to raise a family. You really don’t feel like you’re lacking for anything. The city has a lot of potential, and you see that in all the new businesses that are started here by young entrepreneurs. Plus, you get a nice balance between city and nature here.
Do you have any favorite Rochester spots?
Do you have a favorite charity/nonprofit that you like to support?
I have to say Open Letter! It’s difficult to make a large profit publishing works of international literature, so we have to rely a lot on fundraising. It may not seem as immediately sexy as a social nonprofit, but the arts play an important role in society at large, from the advancement of ideas to increasing everyone’s general enjoyment.
What’s the most interesting or unique event you’ve been to in Rochester?
The most exciting event I’ve ever attended in Rochester has to be the 2011 Women’s Professional Championship game. The Western New York Flash had both Alex Morgan and Marta on their squad at this time and won the right to host the championship game. This was one of the first soccer games my kids every attended, and it was absolutely crazy. First, a squirrel invaded the pitch and delayed the game for almost 10 minutes as it scampered away from groundskeepers trying to catch it with a cardboard box. Then, the game went to overtime, and after 120 minutes of soccer, the WNY Flash equalized on an amazing last second goal. They ended up winning 5-4 on penalty kicks, and Chloë, Aidan, and I immediately went nuts in the stands. The WNY Flash are one of the most successful and remarkable sports teams in the area, and deserve so much more attention.
Describe your dream Rochester day.
I’d go to Starry Nites for coffee first thing in the morning. Spend most of the day biking around Rochester—up to Durand Eastman Park, across to Charlotte, then back down to the Erie. After all that exercise, the best way to end the day would be with some wings and beers...
It’s made space for new, creative businesses to come forth and thrive.
Do you have a favorite neighborhood?
NOTA or downtown.
Favorite coffee shop?
Favorite hungover eating spot?
Well, aside from the other restaurants I’ve mentioned, I should really give a shout out to Victoire. Such a cool space—especially if you can sit outside. Also, I love the moules and frites. And the Belgian beer. Especially the Belgian beer.
What is your personal coping mechanism for cold/gray weather?
I usually just stay inside, curl up with my cat, and read. Although when it’s snowy but calm, I like going for long winter walks. Winter can be so pretty here...It’s easy to forget that when it’s negative 20 degrees, but there is a real charm to the way the snow makes everything seem so peaceful. And with everyone hunkered down inside, it can seem like you’re the only person left in all of Rochester.
What is your favorite Rochester memory?
Back in 2008, just as we were getting ready to publish our first book that fall as Open Letter Books, we hosted Umberto Eco and Salman Rushdie on campus. It’s wild to look back on this now. That was our very first event, and by far the most popular to date. We ended up selling out of tickets, and to live stream the talk for a second audience. Rochester is such a great place for art and literature.
What makes Rochester unique?
Its potential. It’s easy to become cynical with the fall of Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch & Lomb, but now more things can pop up to fill the void, especially given the low cost of things here. It’s made space for new, creative businesses to come forth and thrive.
What do you think could be improved?
- A full-service bookstore (not a chain), selling new books, not just used books, with a well-cultivated selection.
- More of an indie music scene, with more people working to bring good indie bands to town. We used to have a pretty solid community doing that, and a lot of those people have left Rochester now.
What’s the story behind Open Letter? How long has it been around?
The University wanted to give students a chance to connect with literature from around the world rather than being cut off from the world. Open Letter was also meant to give students practical experience with marketing, publishing, and editing. It’s been around for eight years now; our first book was published in 2008.
What are the advantages of having a publishing house like Open Letter in a city like Rochester as opposed to a larger city?
The main thing with presses of our size is that books don’t make much money, so you need a low overhead, as it will help provide financial security. Rochester is an affordable city to run a publishing house in since costs are low. Additionally, staying outside of the publishing scene in New York City allows us to avoid the rigmarole of trying to compete in that market. We’re not going for the new authors in New York, we’re going after authors from Austria, Korea, France, and more.
What are some of the challenges you face?
Attention. It’s tough. The D&C reviews books on a monthly basis now, I think, City Newspaper doesn’t have a book column, and we don’t get too much from WXXI, either. If we host an event in Rochester, we might have four people show up, but when we host the occasional event in New York City, 100 people will be there.
What makes Open Letter unique?
We’re one of the only presses doing only literature in translation. We are also more active in cultivating an audience than most other presses. We’re on the cutting edge of getting information out. We’ve also become the go-to source for major publications seeking quotes and information about international literature!
Chad Post is the founder and publisher of Open Letter Books, a small press dedicated to publishing literature in translation at the University of Rochester. He also runs the Three Percent website, which is home to the Translation Database, the Three Percent Podcast, and the Best Translated Book Awards. Check out more of Chad's perspective on our Instagram.