Interview with Laurence Bourgeon, editor at French publishing house Cambourakis (Paris)
What are the most important Italian titles published by Cambourakis in the various sectors (fiction, children’s books, comic books)?
Cambourakis is a generalist publisher, publishing literature, books for young children and teenagers, comic books and works in the human and social sciences in the “Sorcières” collection. In each of these sectors we publish titles translated from various languages. As regards comic books, Zerocalcare is the most important Italian author in our catalogue. His Kobane Calling, translated by Brune Seban, was very successful in 2016. Having now sold more than 45,000 copies, it is the best-selling work in our comics catalogue. We have published five more of his works since then (Dimentica il mio nome, Dodici, Macerie prime, La profezia dell’armadillo and Un polpo alla gola), all of which have been well received by readers and booksellers alike, so much so that Zerocalcare always makes himself available when his books are being published in France. He speaks French fluently as his mother is French, so whenever he appears, it’s always a bit of an event.
One name that stands out in our children’s catalogue is the author and illustrator Felicita Sala. Felicita, who writes in English having lived in Australia for quite a long time, works on children’s books all over the world. Among other things, we have published Pablo Neruda’s Ode to the Onion, which she illustrated, and Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles, which tells the story of the first woman to run the Natural History Museum in London. But Felicita is also the author of two books created especially for Cambourakis that have been particularly successful. Au 10, rue des jardins presents recipes from all over the world that are easy for children to make while telling the story of a building inhabited by cosmopolitan tenants. Un an à Fleurville is another book of recipes for not just children, which focuses on the seasonal nature of fruit and vegetables, offering useful advice on how to grow them in both the town and countryside.
As regards literature, we try to ensure that the Cambourakis catalogue contains works by new contemporary authors, while, at the same time, rediscovering books published years ago in France that can no longer be found in bookshops. The bestsellers in our catalogue of Italian literature are mainly pocket editions, republishing since 2018, in particular, several books by Grazia Deledda, such as Il paese del vento, Cenere, L’edera, Elias Portolu and La madre, as well as one work, in 2020, that had never been published before in France: Cosima. Another author who was well received by readers when we republished her works in paperback is Maria Messina. La casa nel vicolo was a great success in bookshops and was followed by the republishing of Severa, while, in March 2022, we will be publishing for the first time in French Un fiore che non fiorì, also translated by Marguerite Pozzoli.
As far as contemporary literature is concerned, Andrea Donaera’s debut novel, Io sono la bestia (translated by Lise Caillat), published in 2020, has been very popular in France. Indeed, it had to be republished several times before a paperback edition was published. Readers appreciated, above all, his powerful language and his ability to put us inside the heads of his characters, members of the Puglia Mafia or people in various ways linked to them. Someone else whose books have been extremely successful is Barbara Balzerani, whose books, Compagna luna (translated by Monique Baccelli) and Lascia che il mare entri (translated by Laura Brignon), focus on topics and aspects of Italian contemporary history and politics.
Could you tell us something about your publishing programmes regarding Italian works and the criteria you use to select these works.
As I already mentioned, Cambourakis’s catalogue of literary works is based on two main ideas: the publishing of new contemporary writers unheard of in France and the reprinting of classics or contemporary classics published in France years ago by other publishers that are no longer available, but which we believe deserve to be rediscovered. Over the years, we have republished works by Beppe Fenoglio, Grazia Deledda, Maria Messina, Gesualdo Bufalino, Carlo Cassola and Pina Rota Fo in our paperback collection. And our catalogue of contemporary Italian literature has also grown over the last few years, with the inclusion of works by Barbara Balzerani, Elisa Ruotolo and Andrea Donaera.
Our programme of publications for 2022 clearly reveals our publishing policy and reflects our desire to not only offer literary works of high quality, but also to follow what happens to the authors whose works we publish. In March, we are planning to publish in our paperback collection a book by one of Italy’s first female journalists, Matilde Serao. The book, Il ventre di Napoli, is a social and political portrait of her city and its publication is part of our policy of rediscovering authors who have to some extent been forgotten. Two more examples are Grazia Deledda and Maria Messina, whose previously unpublished work in French, Un fiore che non fiorì, will be available in March. In April, we will also be republishing a paperback edition of Beppe Fenoglio’s Un Fenoglio alla prima guerra Mondiale, having already republished his works La malora and Primavera di bellezza. And, in August, we are particularly happy to be publishing Nathalie Bauer’s translation into French of Quel luogo a me proibito, a beautiful novel by Elisa Ruotolo, whose collection of short stories, Ho rubato la pioggia, we published back in 2018.
As for comic books and children’s books, we are oriented towards projects that stand out in terms of the originality of their narratives and their visual freshness. And, as in the case of literature and the human and social sciences, we are curious to know about the fate and works of female figures. In this field, Marie Curie, written and drawn by Alice Milani, and Violeta, corazon maldito, a story about the life of the Chilean singer Violeta Parra by Virginia Tonfoni and Alessio Spataro, are particularly representative of our approach.
Italy will be guest of honour at the Paris Book Fair in 2023. Have you already thought about any special initiatives regarding to this event?
We are very happy that Italy will be guest of honour at the Paris Book Fair in 2023 and we very much hope to take part in this event. We are planning to publish another work by Andrea Donaera, Lei che non tocca mai terra, during that period, while our next book by Zerocalcare is scheduled to be published a couple of months before the event. We believe that both these authors should be invited to the Paris Book Fair so they can be discovered by an even larger audience.
When publishing books by Italian authors, have you ever asked any of the Italian Cultural Institutes in France (Paris, Strasbourg, Lyon or Marseille) to organise presentations?
Visits by our Italian authors to France have been fairly limited in number (especially during the last two years as a result of the pandemic) and we have never approached the Italian Cultural Institutes, but it is something that we have been considering for some time now and will look into it. We intend to enlist their help for the next Italian books we publish. We know how important this network is and it is a bit of a waste not to take advantage of this collaboration!