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12 December 2023

Towards Frankfurt 2024
Interview with Ludwig Paulmichl, Director of Folio Verlag

Maddalena Fingerle

Ludwig Paulmichl (1960) studied philosophy and theatre history in Vienna and Rome. In his early years, he worked as an editor for the publishing house Europa Verlag in Vienna and Zurich. He translated Andrea Zanzotto (with Donatella Capaldi and Peter Waterhouse) and Dario Fo from Italian. In 1994 he founded the publishing house Folio Verlag with offices in Vienna and Bolzano, which has published Italian authors such as Vincenzo Consolo, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Andrea Zanzotto, Gianrico Carofiglio, Dacia Maraini Chiara Gamberale and Valeria Parrella in German translation.


When was the Folio publishing house founded and why?


Folio Internationales Buchbüro was founded in 1992; it is an organisation that offers services in the publishing sector. We have produced catalogues for contemporary art museums in Vienna, Bolzano, Innsbruck, books for the South Tyrolean school superintendency, for agricultural consortia or so-called ‘Dorfbücher’, i.e. books for anniversaries of South Tyrolean municipalities.

Folio, on the other hand, as a publishing house proper, was born with the publication of the first catalogue in the spring of 1994, with Reise mit Wittgenstein in den Norden by David Hume Pinsent, Wittgenstein’s travelling companion, with Die unsichtbare Grenze by Eric Wolf and John Cole, an anthropological-cultural essay on the differences between two communities in the Val di Non that are geographically close but historically oriented towards different political systems, one (Tret) towards Italy, the other (St. Felix) towards Austria, or Peter Waterhouse’s beautiful book of poems entitled Blumen (later published in Italy by Donzelli).

My partner Hermann Gummerer and I both come from the cultural sphere. Gummerer ran the ‘Bücherwürmer Lana’ club, which organised the cultural days in Lana (Kulturtage Lana), the first literature festival in South Tyrol of international standing, of which the N. C. Kaser prize, in honour of one of South Tyrol’s most interesting contemporary poets, was also a part. Finally, Gummerer collaborated with the magazine Der Prokurist, which accompanied and expanded these initiatives.

I also wrote for various German-language literary magazines, such as Föhn, Sturzflüge, manuskripte, Wespennest, Verwenduung and Der Prokurist. Together with Donatella Capaldi and Peter Waterhouse, I translated several books of poetry by Andrea Zanzotto and theatre pieces by Dario Fo. I also worked as an editor for the publishing house Europa Verlag, with offices in Vienna and Zurich.

What prompted us to found the publishing house was, on the one hand, a strong desire to de-provincialise South Tyrolean culture through books with a European scope and, on the other hand, thanks to the Vienna office, the desire to participate in a contemporary cultural discourse, both with fiction and art catalogues.

Our dream was the – somewhat megalomaniac – dream of participating in the cultural life of the entire German-speaking area, but with a strong emphasis on relations with all areas of Europe.


Has your outlook on literature changed today compared to those years? If so, in what way?


From our beginnings to today, the book market has changed completely. Programmes, as far as literature is concerned, have to be divided into many more categories and ‘target groups’, both in order to convince the representatives of the large chain stores and according to the language levels of the various reader groups.

It was a different matter in the 1990s when everything seemed to be a work of ‘perfectibilité’ in the Rousseauian sense. It was thought, through literature, to raise the level of readers’ awareness and thus to be able to build a better world.

If in the 1990s, early 2000s we published titles by Pier Paolo Pasolini or Vincenzo Consolo together with Giancarlo De Cataldo‘s noirs, today for us the market is fragmented: on the one hand commitment, on the other hand entertainment, committed entertainment and mass-market entertainment.


Do you also read for pleasure or only for work?


I would like to read a lot more for personal pleasure, to delve into the classics of political philosophy or historiography, for example, rereading the Jusnaturalists or the historians of the Annales. Lately, however, I am very busy with work for the publishing house and the whole burden of administration.


What is your typical day like (if any)?


I get up around 6, 6.30, after breakfast, around 7.30, I answer emails and try to organise the day’s work. Around 9 am I go to the office (in Bolzano or Vienna) and stay there until 4.30 or 5 pm. Then in the evening, usually after 20/20.30, I read manuscripts or edit texts. Until 10/22.30 p.m. On the weekends, however, I try to do sport, in winter I go skiing, since I come from Stelvio, a mountain village, in summer I do a bit of mountaineering, and in the evenings I try to read things that are not work-related.


So you can also read for pleasure!

What are the aspects you take into consideration when you decide to buy the translation rights of an Italian novel? What does a book or an author have to have to attract you?


Difficult to answer, it depends on the genre of the book, whether it is a novel, a detective story or something else. In detective stories, I prefer stories with a realistic-political background, which are now becoming rarer, to the advantage of serial detective stories.

Since I come from a very politicised generation, I like the ‘committed’ story, on the other hand, however, I also come from the Austrian tradition, steeped in linguistic experimentation and playfulness, characteristics that I find increasingly difficult to find in Italy. In Austria we were educated on the books of the so-called ‘Wiener Gruppe’, a group of very different authors, including Ernst Jandl and Gerhard Rühm. Something similar in Italy could be the Group 63, but in all Italian poets of the 20th century there is profound linguistic research, I am thinking of Andrea Zanzotto, of course, but also Pasolini or Fortini.


Have you ever bought the translation rights of a book that did not win you over but that you considered sellable?

Of course, but I’m not mentioning any names ☺


Of course, of course!

Is there any theme that works in the German-speaking world but not in the Italian-speaking one and vice versa?


I think so: each national market has its own themes that can hardly be transferred to other realities and have the same impact. Lately I see, for example, that non-fiction on lgbtq+ topics is much more present in Germany than in Italy. Also, all the literature on the environment, nature, climate change has arrived in Italy – speaking in numbers of publications – much later than in the Nordic countries. Then a lot also depends on the strength of the individual publisher, their ability to successfully propose certain topics.


Is there a book that you would have liked to have published but was published by another publisher?


Yes, there are many books that escape me, other publishing houses also have good editors. Just a few months ago I would have liked to buy the translation rights to a beautiful and important book by Igiaba Scego: Cassandra a Mogadiscio, but it will be published by S. Fischer. I hope it will be a great success in German!

© Frieder Blickle-Folio