By Millie Kiel and Caitlin Morgan
It’s not often that a publisher’s personality springs off a webpage and into your heart – a personality that is loud, unapologetic and completely innovative. It’s also not often that a publisher is described as both “inspired” and “KILLING IT!” However, that is the case with the fantastically quirky And Other Stories, a Sheffield-based independent publisher who has been changing the publishing scene in their own way since their inception as a not-for-profit press in 2009.
With the aim of “push[ing] people’s reading limits” and showcasing the potential of publishing to thrive outside of London, And Other Stories focuses mainly on publishing contemporary writing – that is, writing that has been published within the last 40 years – and shines a particularly bright light on translation and translated literature, with their first full-time employee being a translator herself. This shows the importance that is placed on international literature at And Other Stories and highlights the exciting "sales boom" that literature in translation has been experiencing over the past few years – a peak in interest due, no doubt, to certain geopolitical decisions made in the UK and abroad in recent years.
Not only are And Other Stories making great strides in championing translation and translated literature in the UK, bringing new voices to readers, but they are also making a global impact. This small press definitely knows how to pack a punch!
Published in January this year, Phenotypes by Paulo Scott (trans. by Daniel Hahn) has been shortlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize. Described as “a smart and stylish account of the bigotry lurking in hearts and institutions alike,” Phenotypes follows brothers Federico and Lourenço in Brazil. Their father is a black forensic pathologist in the police force, their mother is white. While they’re brothers, Federico and Lourenço are different on sight: Federico’s light skin has enabled him to avoid the worst of the racism encountered by his brother.
Coming up to Federico’s fiftieth birthday, he joins a government committee overseeing the design of a computer programme for new affirmative-action quotas for university admissions. But then he is called home: his niece has been arrested at a protest for carrying a gun. A gun which he and Lourenço had hidden decades earlier for a friend. A gun which had been used in a murder.
This book epitomises everything that And Other Stories stands for. It tells a story of international scope and topics that are as domestic as they are international, thereby underlining how truly connected we all are. Lucy Popescu said in The Observer that Phenotypes is “an artfully plotted tale about race, privilege and guilt … careful reading proves richly rewarding.” The New York Times Book Review meanwhile stated: “Phenotypes underscores how difficult antiracist projects can be at any scale … Scott’s characters quickly abandon the possibility of a comprehensive solution in favor of stopgap measures that may or may not work. Such are the inadequacies, the novel asserts, of treating entrenched and systemic issues as if they are only skin-deep.”
Innovation, as mentioned earlier, clearly rests right at the core of And Other Stories, and one of their most interesting ideas currently in action are the language-based ‘reading groups’. At a glance, reading groups aren’t exactly the most novel idea. However, the interesting part is how they’re split up into different language groups – for instance, there was the ‘Winter 2021 Scandinavian Reading Group’ or ‘Winter 2021 Spanish Language Reading Group’. These reading groups enable readers, who simply have to register their interest, to decide which books And Other Stories should publish (of course, with the final decision resting on the editorial team).
Readers being truly at the heart of the press – with actions, not just words – is part of what makes And Other Stories really quite special. There exists an engagement with readers, a direct dialogue about their tastes and their wants that is hard to see elsewhere. Their focus on literature in translation means they are at the helm of (what hopes to be) a new trend in international literature in the anglophone sphere – we are so excited to see them flourish and introduce us all to new and amazing literature from all over the world.
Eminent writer (and firm favourite of some of the Indie Presses team) Max Porter has said of And Other Stories that they are the “publisher of the month, of the year, of the decade!” Here at The Publishing Post we struggle to fault that claim – except of course to say, we can’t wait to see what the century brings. More books, more prizes, and other stories of course!