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13 February 2024

Italian publishers abroad
L’orma in Paris
Interview with Lorenzo Flabbi

Paolo Grossi

Lorenzo Flabbi is a literary critic and the founder, together with Marco Federici Solari, of the publishing house L’orma. He has taught comparative literatures at the universities of Paris III and Limoges, devoting himself in particular to the theoretical aspects of translation. He has translated, among others, Apollinaire, Rushdie, Valéry, Rimbaud, Stendhal and Gracq. Flabbi has received prestigious awards for his translations of Annie Ernaux, including the Stendhal Prize and the La Lettura – Corriere della Sera prize for the best translation of the year 2018.


  1. In 2020, the publishing house L’orma opened its own office in Paris and started publishing French-language titles. Why this initiative and with what objectives?


Since its foundation in 2012, L’orma editore was born under the sign of a strong European vocation. The idea of a publishing house that would bring the most interesting and crucial voices of French- and German-language literature to Italy came to us while we were living in Berlin in the early 2010s. At the time, surrounded by endemic cosmopolitanism, so to speak, we immediately thought of a multinational reality, knowing that the first step had to be a cultural laboratory working with the instrument of our mother tongue, Italian. Once the collective experience of L’orma editore was more than solidly established, it was therefore natural to take that venture beyond the Alps. We decided to enter the French publishing market by exporting and translating one of our most iconic and successful Italian series. It’s called I Pacchetti, small-format volumes that can be sent by post thanks to an envelope-closing dust jacket. The series hosts selections from the epistolary works of great cultural figures, classics to be rediscovered through their private writings. When this idea exceeded 100,000 copies sold in Italy, we realised that the time was ripe for the French adventure. The Plis – the French name of the series – has recently been followed by Plurabelle, a tribute to that “plurality of beauty” that vibrates across the blurred and porous borders of our continent. Here we publish European literature without fences of language or nationality.

The main aim is to continue to contribute to the secular republic of letters that is the reasoned and democratic government of the lives, minds and bodies under which we love to live.


  1. What first, provisional, assessment can you make, some three years after the creation of the Paris office?


The first assessment is certainly very positive, despite the fact that the launch of the French publishing house took place under the worst possible conditions. Indeed, the release of the first six titles, scheduled well in advance for 19 March 2020, coincided with the start of the lockdown in France. In the newly closed bookshops, our Plis waited in vain for homebound readers. But after just a couple of months, a robust institutional campaign to support booksellers led to record sales from which our books also benefited. In three years, we published 37 epistolary books with such a response that we soon reached and surpassed the Italian results. As I said, a few months ago we also started to publish European fiction, but the timing of this new initiative is still too short to have a perspective.


  1. What space is dedicated in the catalogue of Éditions L’orma in Paris to titles by Italian authors?


With the Plis we are offering new or previously unpublished translations of the correspondence of great Italian authors and thinkers such as Leopardi, Montessori, Gramsci and others; but it is in the new Plurabelle that we intend to propose ourselves as mediators of new or misunderstood voices in Italian literature. It is no coincidence that we inaugurated the series with the translation of the novel Notturno di Gibilterra, by Gennaro Serio, winner of the 2019 Calvino Prize. True to the idea of creating networks and connections between European intellectuals, we accompanied the French edition with an afterword by the great Spanish writer Enrique Vila-Matas, who is also one of the main characters in Serio’s book. The latest release is instead a repêchage, Il cappello del prete by Emilio De Marchi, the first detective novel in Italian literature, defined by Giovanni Raboni as “a noir à la Simenon, written six years before Simenon was born”, a book that no one in France had yet heard of.


  1. What projects do you envisage, in the short or long term, to consolidate this projection towards the international?


In the near future, we would like to make the path of the French publishing house as similar as possible to that of its Italian big sister. While continuing to focus on I Plis as a bridgehead in the bookshops of France, we plan to expand the offer of Plurabelle with authors from different backgrounds – perhaps even a few Italian stars -, without excluding the possibility of also publishing works by French writers who entrust us with their view of the world and in particular of Europe.