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13 September 2023

Interview with Eugenia Dubini, founder of the NN publishing house

Laura Pugno

This new instalment in the newitalianbooks series of interviews with publishing managers, editors and publishers of Italian publishing houses continues with Eugenia Dubini, founder and publisher of NN, who answers the question: “How would you NN’s Italian fiction to readers abroad? What are its characteristics and strengths? Which bets, literary and otherwise, have worked best in foreign countries and in your opinion, why?”


Eugenia Dubini:

NN is the publishing house I founded in 2015, so it is a rather young reality in the Italian publishing scene. A reality that, among other things, has had the immense fortune and merit of arriving on the scene with an author, Kent Haruf, who has conquered the hearts of Italian readers, arriving, with Le nostre anime la notte (Our Souls by Night), at the top of the charts. This rather exceptional event, however, wrote part of our history as a publishing house in the eyes of the public: for the first few years, readers thought of us as publishers of Kent Haruf, and thus of American fiction. And although in the beginning we gave a certain priority to Anglophone writings, in our project we always imagined an omnivorous, curious reader, open to changing genre and geography.
NN, nescio nomen, name unknown, was the wording on identity cards when the father did not recognise the name of his son or daughter. Sons of NN, therefore, also meant a narrative search for identity in a society without fathers, in the contemporary, in the struggle to inhabit traditional roles, in the search for one’s place in the world. We did not structure the catalogue by collections, but referred back to series and seasons, with a red thread linking the books connected to the subject of the investigation, to the underlying question, thus the search for identity in different areas.
And in this production, which has remained at 20 titles a year, the gaze has always been open to Italian writers: among the latest proposals are Anna Siccardi with La parola magica, Michele Vaccari with Urla sempre primavera, Sara Gamberini with Infinito Moonlit, who was nominated for the Strega Prize by Chiara Gamberale; Gianmarco Perale with his second novel, Amico mio, which was brought to us by Walter Siti. And soon to be published, Damiano Scaramella and Daniele Pasquini.
At the same time, the first year, we have launched projects for closed collections, based on shared inspiration between the publisher and the author. The first was ViceVersa, about Vices and Virtues in the contemporary world, and then CroceVia, about words from the Christian tradition that have changed meaning over time. These series include, for example, Panorama by Tommaso Pincio (Sinbad Prize 2015) and Di ferro e d’acciaio by Laura Pariani (Mondello Prize 2018), and finally Maestro Utrecht by Davide Longo, which we will repropose in our 2023 season at the end of the year.
It was only in 2018 that we turned our attention to Italian debuts. We felt it was essential to give them space in the catalogue, and the series was called Gli Innocenti, a counterpoint to Cannibali of some time ago. In our research, we sought out and gave priority to honest, frank, direct, pop, contaminated voices, both in the telling of places and in language, a language capable of taking risks, of accepting a bet. In the series, Roberto Camurri (Procida Prize 2018, Pop Prize 2018), Alessio Forgione (Berto Prize 2018, Intersezioni Prize and candidate in the dozen of the Strega Prize 2019), and then authors such as Andrea Donaera, Pier Lorenzo Pisano (Calvino Prize 2022 Selection), Claudia Bruno, to name a few, have come
out. Alessio Parmigiani, who comes from the Holden school, and Rosanna Turone, who was introduced to us by Paolo Nori, will also be joining us in the beginners’ collection.
Finally, from 2021 we have a new collection entirely for women. It is called le Fuggitive and the shocking pink books in our catalogue, which have given us a new wave of positioning and enthusiasm from our readers: a younger audience, which relies on the seriality of the proposal, and is interested in gender identity issues. The collection brings together female authors who tell stories of identity, where the protagonists do not fit into traditional models of the feminine, nor into the more contemporary ones of feminism and post-feminism. Finding one’s own voice, following one’s own desire, even going against models and paradigms, this is the subject of the series, which opened with Megan Nolan, Atti di sottomissione (Acts of Submission). In the spirit of juxtaposing stories of women from different countries, we have published here Olga Campofreda‘s novel, Ragazze perbene, submitted this year for the Strega Prize by Gaia Manzini. Olga is currently on a tour in Italy with over fifty dates, and it is wonderful to attend these presentations, precisely because of the richness of the exchange with the audience.
After this overview – which also aims to describe NN as a project publisher, which today seeks its own way in the proposal and communication to the reader, for us fundamental – I turn to the international aspect, that we take care of using the expertise of the Malatesta agency, managing our authors abroad.
Our editorial choices are marked by research, including formal research, both linguistic and in content, without ever the reading experience, its accessibility, as a beacon of selection in the magnum of proposals. The Italy exists, it is an integral part of the history and the very language of the novels we publish, but we never propose postcard Italy – the stereotype – but a country told as a mirror of the social and cultural changes that are taking place before our eyes, and of the effects on people’s lives. A view that, I would like to emphasise, is imprinted n the very language with which it is told.
The reception abroad of our debut authors has been extremely , as was the case with Roberto Camurri (Holland, Spain and Germany) and Alessio Forgione (France, Russia, Greece). These texts have conquered foreign editors; others, however, have made their way more slowly, only in one territory, as happened to Andrea Donaera in France.
As a publisher, I know that this often depends on many circumstances that not only with the success of the book in Italy, but also with waves of interest, fashions that change quickly, as was the case after the enormous success of Elena Ferrante and the Italy she narrates.
But the reception of NN books abroad often comes ex post; and when it does it is a souce of great satisfaction, because it seems to me a further confirmation of the path taken from the beginning: that is, to propose a book, an author, that has touched a raw nerve, that has posed a question that is in some way universal, as I believe literature should always do.