About writing, and about Nuri Mass

Don’t Kill it – it’s me!  is the title of a novel by Nuri Mass. Her introduction to the book says “it’s a funny thing about writing… It’s the most intimate experience in the world. You find yourself putting things down on paper, in black and white, that you wouldn’t dream of telling your closest friends”.

I think what Nuri is saying is, don’t kill our creative spirit, we all need it.

Nuri Mass was in her mid-seventies when she died in Sydney in 1993, she was a writer of fiction for adults and children, and studies of Australian flora. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts with first class honours and later, a Master of Arts, both from the University of Sydney, and was awarded the University Medal in 1942. Nuri also trained and practised as a chiropractor and worked as an editor and typesetter at publishing houses. She married Sydney Bertram Horwitz in 1947 and they had two children. On her husband’s death she took over the family photo-engraving business.

Illustrations for her botanical books and children’s books were done by Nuri, by her mother Celeste Mass and her daughter Tess Horwitz. A book about China was beautifully illustrated by Tess when she was just 13!

I first heard about Nuri Mass from the artist and feminist Suzanne Bellamy, who was writing about Virginia Woolf and discovered Nuri’s MA thesis on Woolf from 1943. Suzanne was introducing a speaker at one of Braidwood’s Two Fires Festivals, and the speaker, Eilean Haley, was to talk about fairies. Suzanne told us that Nuri made botanical illustrations of Australian flora and produced books like Flowers of the Australian Alps.

But Nuri didn’t just give descriptions of physical flowers in her books for children, she talked about a magic world too, about the flowers’ fairy spirits. By giving voice to the flowers, she made clear to child readers that flowers too have life (don’t kill it!).

She wrote a lovely children’s book, The Little Grammar People, about English grammar, and brings that subject very much alive in a magical world of characters like Miss Noun, Madame Adjective, Baby Conjunction, who all explain their purpose in language to two visiting children. 

In Many Paths – One Heaven with drawings by Celeste and Nuri Mass, Nuri provides a summary about people’s main religions in a simple comprehensive way, and I was struck by her definition of what makes human beings different from other living creatures: it’s our ability to marvel. (Whether this is right or not, I couldn’t say…)

Her book Australian Wildflower Fairies lists the following credits: botanical illustrations by Nuri Mass, fairy illustrations by Celeste Mass. There is a fabulous photo of Nuri with her mother Celeste in the Nuri Mass photograph collection, 1922-1986 of the National Library. They are striding out together and you can see they are two women with plenty to do.

For all Celeste’s capacity in the material world so evident in the photo, it must have been Celeste who told Nuri about fairies. You can also see a photo of the child Nuri as an elegant Fairy Queen on the NLA site. Perhaps Nuri wondered whether the fairies and elves of the land of eucalypts were similar to those of the lands of her English mother and Spanish father, or whether they were different? She must have met Old Man Banksia!

I am impressed by Nuri’s life and literary output, and her family’s achievements. I would never have heard of her but for Suzanne Bellamy and Eilean Haley. I can’t help thinking: we live, we create, we die. Few of us will leave dozens of publications and boxes of our photos and correspondence (thanks, NSW State Library and NLA!) to soften the long forgetting.

And of course, in most cases, what we write is dated, we are children of our times and think within the ideologies surrounding us. In a re-edition of one of Nuri’s books, Magic Australia, her children Tess and Chris Horwitz say that Nuri’s thinking about the environment changed. Where once she thought it was a good idea “to tap nature’s bounty to enable progress”, she was later a passionate campaigner for reducing human intervention in nature and for protecting the wisdom of natural cycles.

I’ll leave the last words of this blog to Nuri. They’re from the fly leaf at the back of Don’t Kill It – It’s Me!

“Then suddenly, after you’ve written the last words, you come-to with a sense of shock … “Wait! What have I done? I wouldn’t tell my closest friends, yet I’d make a sacrificial offering of it to a whole world of strangers who might, for all I know, tear it to pieces no matter how earnestly I beseech them, Don’t kill it, it’s me!

“Another interesting thing about such writing is that when you go into retreat for it you don’t go alone. You take the world in with you. The world you sometimes love and sometimes deplore, but in any case, the only one you’ve got …  and this can be a pretty frightening thing.

“Yet in the end, it’s just because you’re frightened that you find the courage to go ahead and make your sacrificial offering, repeating the plea, while you make it, Don’t kill it – it’s me! Only now, you’re saying it not for one solitary person, but for the whole planet Earth.”



Our next book is a family chronicle wrapped up in history: the Russian revolution and civil war, two world wars and multiple migrations. The story spans three continents and more than a hundred years, covering events that confronted three generations of the author’s family.

Nathalie Apouchtine is a print and broadcast journalist and historian. She worked as a news reporter, sub-editor and producer in radio and television for the Canadian and Australian Broadcasting Corporations and Australia’s SBS. Later Nathalie turned to history, focussing on media and immigration in the twentieth century. Her research culminated in a PhD and provided the foundation for No Way Back. Nathalie was born a refugee in France and now lives in Australia.

The book brings to life fascinating and critical events of the twentieth century. It is based on personal memories, diaries, letters, interviews, photographs and an extensive archive of official documents.

Just to read the “shortened” bibliography of the book shows a little of Nathalie’s thorough historical research, and gives a glimpse of the fascinating world of Russian émigrés. That world was with me the other day when I visited the Kandinsky exhibition at Sydney’s NSW Art Gallery, which was excellently if briefly documented, enough to give an idea of the disruption of world history on one personal artistic life. Wassily Kandinsky lived most of his life outside his native Russia, but was there during the First World War and the early years of Sovietism. Later he too lived in France, like many members of the Apouchtine family.


a lyrebird messenger

Riverton Press will publish a book next year by Italian author Vittoria Pasquini, a text that has been translated into English by Gino Moliterni. We have discussed the merits and demerits of bilingual publications as we prepare The Legend of Busby.

A friend and colleague of Vittoria has translated the children’s book Leonard the Lyrebird, written by Jodie McLeod and illustrated by Eloise Short, and a bilingual edition exists of Leonard, l’ucello lira. The translator, Mirella Alessio, told me I could contact that author – she lives in the Blue Mountains.

Riverton Press was there recently wandering the paths near the Three Sisters and saw a sculpture of a lyrebird perched on a railing. Not 20 metres distant was a real lyrebird sitting on the same railing watching the morning and cleaning her feathers. Then she changed her balance, spread the wings of her magnificent tail and took off.

This reminded me of the book and I decided to find Leonard the Lyrebird. I went to the bookshop near the food co-op in Katoomba and asked man behind counter, who immediately took me to Leonard and her companion Lilah the Lyrebird. He didn’t know about the Italian version. Suddenly a voice from man behind door, the one I hadn’t seen. He knows Jodie, he’ll text her. And he did, right then and there. The other man took my phone number and would be in touch. I resisted buying any book as I had a bush walk ahead.

I was sitting on a wooden bench in wonder at the flowering wild waratahs at Govetts Leap and checked my phone, there was a message, not from the bookshop, but from the author herself. She gave me her address and said she’d be going out but would leave Leonard on the verandah and I could leave money under mat.

The waratahs had pleased and amazed me, this message only compounded my joy, restoring a little of my damaged faith in human kindness and trust.

The one person I know in Katoomba gave me a lift to Jodie’s place in another act of generosity. Next morning, at a different bookshop (sorry, LITTLE LOST BOOKSHOP, but we were in another town!), this driver purchased three books, the lyrebirds Leonard and Lilah, and the one I’d resisted the day before, the latest from Jodie McLeod and Eloise Short, The Black Cockatoo With One Feather Blue. I bought this last one too, for Eileen.

One thing more: on my second early morning walk around Echo Point I saw the lyrebird again. I remembered my father‘s simple response when I made a comment one day about a willy wagtail flitting from tree to fence. He lives here, he said.

And now, back to the original question, bilingual books, do they work? They certainly do for students of language and of translation, and is wonderful in the case of Leonard, l’ucello lira with its rich onomatopoeic vocabulary, as the book has a QR code link to the audio version in Italian.

Pix from around Govetts Leap and Echo Point. As you can see, the lyrebird is not balanced on a railing! This sculpture is closer to Blackheath.


trying to understand Mexico

We relaunched our books in Newtown last week with Penny O’Donnell as launcher-in-chief, Ruth Adler, co-editor of the Journeys anthology, as the one who remembered to give thanks to all those who helped make Journeys happen, and Jacqueline as MC.

Jeanie Lewis told us about her friend Hector Caicedo, co-star of her contribution to Journeys, and sang us a Woody Guthrie song: the Deportees. Jenny Pollak also told us the back story of her poetry in the book and read some of her magnificent work.

Penny made the point that, for the Australian women who contributed to Journeys, living in Mexico made our lives bigger, and that’s true, Mexico amplified our experience and our understanding. That latter, the understanding, may have come after months or years of not understanding how Mexico works, but the opportunity for that search was invaluable. I am reminded of Mariko, my Japanese neighbour for a time in Tepoztlán, Morelos, who used to say: “It’s not a matter of trying to understand Mexico, you just have to get it.”

Penny quoted Nelson Mandela – There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

She acknowledged Journeys co-editor Jenny Cooper, still in Mexico, for her work establishing the Mexico National University’s gender and economics program, under the motto: Por una economía feminista que apuesta por la sostenibilidad de la vida – For a feminist economy that is committed to the sustainability of life.

Can I read another poem, asks Jenny Pollak, is there enough time? We poets have so few opportunities to speak…

I was MC, I had no idea if the clock gave us more or less time, but all the audience knew that yes, we had time for Jenny’s next poem, the one she’d written that morning.

It turned out we didn’t have much time and Lily of the bookshop sold some books and said we had to leave. That was a pity because the room was full of people who knew each other from different parts of our lives, which made for a great atmosphere. I was the last to leave, except for Lily of Better Read than Dead, who was left alone with the books, the wine glasses, the accounts, closing the shop. King street on Friday night was buzzing, the busiest place I’ve been since I walked the streets of Madrid the year before Covid.

Thanks to Elspeth and Conrad for taking the photos. Thanks to Ruth and the bookshop for helping organise the event, to our speakers Ruth, Penny, Jenny and Jeanie, to Raewyn Connell and Manon Saur, who contributed to the Journeys anthology and were there that night. Thanks to all the contributors who gave us their insights into their time in Mexico, and to you, our readers!


See you on the last Friday of August 2023!

Riverton Press will be celebrating a re-launch night on Friday 25 August at the Better Read Than Dead bookshop in King Street, Newtown, Sydney.

Dr. Penny O’Donnell, senior lecturer in international media and journalism at Sydney University, will launch the travel anthology Journeys, Australian Women in Mexico and the poetry book, sprinting on quicksand.

Penny will be accompanied by Journeys contributors, singer Jeanie Lewis and poet Jenny Pollak, along with editors and contributors Ruth Adler and Jacqueline Buswell.

Jacqueline’s second book of poetry, sprinting on quicksand, was launched beautifully by Eileen Haley during the Covid lockdowns to a restricted public, yet deserves a chance before a bigger audience. The book Journeys, on the other hand, has been launched in Mexico, Canberra, Melbourne and on zoom, though never in Sydney, hometown of several of its contributors.

Penny O’Donnell, winner of the Anne Dunn Scholar Award in 2020, taught radio journalism in Nicaragua and completed her MA in Communications at the University Iberoamericana in Mexico City. While she was present during the early planning stages of Journeys, her contribution to a Riverton Press anthology is still in the making. That’s because she’s very busy teaching Media and Communications at Sydney University.

Journeys, Australian Women in Mexico is a collection of prose, poetry and correspondence by 13 Australians about their days or years in Mexico. Their stories range from the early 1970s to the present day. Contributors include academics and poets, a diplomat, a singer, a model, and women who went to Mexico to accompany or meet a partner. One set up a business, another established a children’s refuge and surfing project in the southern state of Chiapas.

Other contributors to the volume will also be present, although our third editor, Jenny Cooper, has lived in Mexico since the late 1960s. And yes, we edited the book thanks to modern communications possibilities!

sprinting on quicksand is Jacqueline Buswell’s second volume of poetry. Her themes include biography, social commentary, a Japanese travelogue and reflections on art.

Jacqueline is a poet with a strong Irish background, a nomadic mind and sharp eyes and ears. This collection is written in a wide range of tones and forms, offered to the reader in precise language and dynamic cinematic narratives. A very sincere desire for a world of love and justice runs through her poems.

As we’ll be meeting in Newtown, the graphics today are from Sydney’s inner west.

We hope you can join us at the Better Read Than Dead bookshop, 265 King St Newtown, NSW, on Friday 25 August 2023 at 6.30 pm.


news from Lyn McGettigan

I was a bit productive during the lockdown time and started writing my father’s book. Jack Bewes had written a memoir “Lucky to Be Here” about his experiences as a bomb aimer on Lancasters in WW2. I was lucky enough to have his combat and personal diaries as well as training diaries, newspaper clippings, letters between airmen and social letters.

With such a treasure trove of primary material I set about writing the memoir. My aim was to show war from a personal perspective, definitely not a textbook version. I wanted to show the black humour, the mateship, the acceptance of a life that you were only sure you had today. The reality of being in a cold metal plane for eight hours as you flew to a target that consciously or sub-consciously you knew you may not come home from. It might be your letter sitting on your bunk that would be posted to your family, the last missive they would receive from you.

I am writing to invite you to the launch of this book.

Date: Tuesday 9 May, 2023

Where: The Rag and Famish Hotel, 199 Miller St, North Sydney

Time: 6pm – 8pm.

What to expect:  WW2. A drink. Fish and chips. Vera Lynn. Benny Goodman.

The Lyn and Jan show (Lyn with writer, singer, actor Jan Cornall) as we recount some of the hilarious stories from these young men – their humour that saw them through. The book, LUCKY TO BE HERE.

I know we will have as much fun as we had at the launch of Behind the Bar Room Door.



where nothing was before

I try to talk mainly about words and books when I write for Riverton Press, so this comes with a warning: today I’m going to talk about weaving. Soon enough I’ll be telling more about Lyn McGettigan’s new book Lucky to be Here, now in the design process, and about Vittoria Pasquini’s upcoming work, The Legend of Busby, now perfecting its text and translation.

It’s not a deviation from theme to talk about weaving: text and textile, line and word count, line and stitch count, not to mention yarn and yarning. It’s the same vocabulary so there must be some connection. In one, structures are made of warp and weft, in the other, they’re based on verb and noun.

Just as we might tell you, we’ve published a book, today the news is, I’ve made a basket. When I began, I had in mind a basket big enough to serve as a fruit bowl, say three or four mangoes.

I attended a series of workshops at the Museum of Sydney’s Weaving Room. Indigenous women came from various parts of New South Wales, exhibited their work and taught and talked with anyone who came through the doors. I began in December when Kodie Mason from La Perouse gave me a small circle of woven bone-coloured raffia and a yellow plastic needle. This was a “starter” and you proceed, basically, with blanket stitch. I sat at the table with other learners, we swapped stories as we worked, or worked companionably in silence. Sometimes groups sat around the two circles on the floor, their central point being a mountain of coloured raffia.

Visitors included schoolchildren and their parents, tourists from abroad, Sydney locals. Probably the most enthusiastic learners were the museum staff, who started weaving during their turns in that Museum space, then saw no reason to stop. Their managers have no problem with that, and now you might be greeted at the entrance by staff with a weaving project in hand.

My basket began with Kodie and Tarli Mason, two sisters from La Perouse, on 23 December. On 9 January I retuned with my friend Eilean, and Tarni Eastwood from Darug country showed me how to join new raffia to the growing basket. Eilean worked with raffia and made a bracelet, then chose some paper raffia to start making a circle. She worked quietly, waiting, she said, for the meditative state.

The following Monday I returned and met the Gomeroi women from the Yinarr Maramali cultural hub at Tamworth. This collective has made a magnificent large turtle that hangs on the Weaving Room wall: many small woven pieces of various patterns were cleverly joined together. I loved these women and their laughter but that day I had a struggle with raffia as a material. This is not my medium, I thought, and the more I thought that, the more the raffia tied itself in knots.

On 23 January Tegan Murdock of the Barkindji and Yorta Yorta peoples showed me how to move from the flat floor of my basket to start building its walls, this was an exciting moment for a novice weaver. I told Tegan she has a special place in my heart for that bit of teaching. Now I became more enthusiastic and did more weaving during the week, building up the walls so the basket would be ready for (what I thought would be) my last workshop. I needed to learn how to finish off the work.

The wonderful women from Bundjalung country were at the Museum on 6 February and Kylie Caldwell helped me complete the basket. It turned out to be a flimsy lightweight affair, but it’s a basket, and I made it! Then I tried my hand at the lomandra grass that had been dried then dampened again and lay in strips on the table in a wet towel. Auntie Margo Torrens and Kylie helped me create a small piece much the same size as others on the table, these were going to form part of an installation to be assembled the next day.

So I went back on the morrow to see that. It was the last day of the workshop season. As in all yarning circles, things don’t happen in an instant, one waits. I sat at the table talking with the weavers and had a look at the Visitor’s Book. I hadn’t planned to do any weaving but when I closed the book, I saw my hands were holding some raffia threads. I swear I didn’t pick them up! Well, I thought, I’ll have a go at starting a new piece, I saw how Margo did it yesterday. Soon I showed the teachers my progress and Kylie taught me how to make a stronger basket. Which is now in stages of becoming, and I have made my peace with raffia.

The phrase, where nothing was before, from I poem I used to know, floated into my mind as I thought about creating books, baskets, works of art, and it seemed appropriate to describe the results of creative process. Then I remembered more words and found the full poem. The poet wasn’t talking about making, but about first contact between cultures.

It’s a sonnet by JC Squire, on the first sighting of foreign ships on waters (where nothing was before) from a shore where there was an Indian, who had known no change. The poem is about that moment just before first contact between an indigenous community and sailing ships from Europe: the man on the beach sees for the first time, Columbus’s doom-burdened caravels.

The Museum of Sydney is all about that first contact in Sydney Cove. You hear voices as you pass a set of high standing timber on your right as you enter the museum. These speak to me of ancient culture, ancient forest, and remind me of that beautiful installation of didgeridoos at the National Gallery in Canberra. The Museum is built over and around the remains of Governor Phillip’s Government House, and exhibits reflect stories from both cultures in the early years of the English invasion.

small beginnings
fruit bowl
the weaving room

Journeys in Melbourne

The Melbourne book launch of Journeys and Operation Pedro Pan was all it might have been, with many encounters of friends and colleagues who hadn’t seen each other in ages, and many interesting things to learn about stories told in the books. Real life stories, I’m talking about. The staff of Readings bookshop in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn were wonderfully welcoming, as were the good people of Melbourne who helped me find my way there on public transport. (I prefer to ask for personal directions, so much more fun than using the phone.)

Ralph Newmark of the Department of Spanish & Latin American Studies at the University of Melbourne was our amiable MC, and editors Ruth Adler and Jenny Cooper spoke about compiling and editing Journeys, Australian Women in Mexico. It was great to see them, especially Jenny who had come all the way from Mexico. It was Jenny who co-ordinated the Journeys publication process with the Australian Embassy in Mexico City and our designer and printer there. The Embassy financed the design and printing costs, and then we were able to donate our profits from that print run to Mission Mexico, an Australian charity operating in Chiapas.

The Embassy staff who worked with us in 2020-21 were Bernard Unkles, then Deputy Head of Mission and Lorena Zapliain, who was Public Diplomacy Officer. Well, what a surprise it was to see Lorena at the launch. She is now studying in Melbourne, and guess what, she came to the book launch with Bernard’s parents!

I was pleased to meet one of Journeys contributors, Heidi Zogbaum, and speak with her about the subject of her studies in Mexico, the author Bruno Traven. I had read and enjoyed Traven’s books and I was able to tell Heidi how surprised I was to discover her negative opinion of the author. She was happy to tell me why she’d formed her opinions about the subject of her thesis.

Manon Saur, another excellent contributor to the book and creator of the image on Journeys cover, was unable to attend the launch, but her work looked fantastic on display in the crowded bookstore. It’s very colourful and suggestive of Mexico, and sits so well on the cover designed by Ricardo Gallardo of Mutare in Mexico City.

It was lovely to meet Deborah Schnookal, author of the book about a stolen generation of Cubans – children taken from Cuba to the United States in 1960-61 “to escape communism” – and to hear some details about Operation Pedro Pan. Around 14,000 children and adolescents were airlifted to the US under this scheme, purportedly to get an education, and many were never able to return. Shnookal also spoke of the literacy programme established by the Revolution, when some 100,000 youths went to rural areas in Cuba to teach reading and writing skills.

This literacy programme was echoed by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and in other parts of the globe, including Australia, where even today Cubans are teaching literacy skills in remote parts of our country. I have met one of these teachers, and I can assure you that adapting to life in Bourke or Brewarrina, New South Wales, is no easy task for anyone from Havana.

Operation Pedro Pan and the Exodus of Cuba’s Children by Deborah Schnookal was published by University of Florida Press, 2020.

In 1989 Deborah Schnookal, together with David Deutschmann, established Ocean Press, a publishing company focussing on Latin American politics and culture. Their first big hit was The Motorcycle Diaries, the memoir of Che Guevara, later made into a successful movie starring Mexican actor Gael García Bernal.

Our amiable MC proved himself to be a conscientious fellow, and not only because he performed his duties well and observed agreed time constraints. I say this because Dr Ralph Newmark declined our invitation to join us for dinner as he had a busy 10-hour day ahead – he was to run the conference Food and Society: Latin America, Iberia and Australiaat the University of Melbourne. He was also to present his talk on Soundscapes of Sustenance: Music & Food in Latin America, a multimedia analysis of how music and songs about Latin American foods can both internally celebrate and externally denigrate Latin American society and culture. Dr Newmark has developed two methodologies, “Aural History” and “Tasting History”, to explore political, economic, social and cultural aspects of history.

Finally, thank you to the people who sent us photos of the event and whose work I post here without permission. Please let me know if you would like some acknowledgement. You can write to:


Three editors to meet again

Journeys, Australian Women in Mexico

Edited by Ruth Adler, Jacqueline Buswell and Jenny Cooper

Riverton Press, 2021

I think there was perhaps a glass of wine or two in our hands when our book Journeys was born – as one of those ideas that you might or might not do something about.

It was December 2017 when we sent out our first convocatoria, our call for writings about experiences of Australian women in Mexico. We started to write our own, and stories, poems and photos slowly began to make a book.

We formed an editorial team with members in Mexico, Canberra and Sydney. We produced an interesting and heart-felt book with contributions from very different people, who wrote about experiences in Mexico funny, sinister, exasperating, exotic, loving. We wrote about friends who had been with us in Mexico and have since died. We spent hours in online conversations discussing things large and small of an editorial process.

Even without Covid, it would have been an online process because of our geographical distance, but Covid gave us time and taught us patience. The idea we had in 2017 became a book in 2021 with contributions from 12 Australian women and one male to female transgender person.

The book was designed and printed in Mexico. Then began the logistics of launches, and Covid made things more complicated. Journeys, Australian Women in Mexico, has already had three launches – one online, directed by the Australian Embassy in Mexico City, one in a garden in Tepoztlan, Morelos, which morphed into a birthday party for editor Jenny Cooper, and one combined live-online launch in Canberra, organised by editor Ruth Adler with the Centre for Latin American Studies of the Australian National University (ANCLAS).

We are pleased to announce the fourth launch, to take place in Melbourne on 17 November 2022. The big thing for us is that all three editors plan to be there, live and in person, at Readings Bookshop, 701 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn. We haven’t been physically together since that day when we casually thought “it would be a good idea”.

This will be a double book launch, as Deborah Shnookal’s book Operation Pedro Pan and the Exodus of Cuba’s Children will be launched too. Deborah examines the airlift of 14,000 Cuban children to the United States in the early years of the Cuban Revolution.

Thursday 17 November 2022 at 6.00pm-7.30pm

Readings Bookshop, 701 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn, Victoria



This event will be held in conjunction with the conference Food and Society: Latin America, Iberia, and Australia, at the University of Melbourne on Friday 18 November, organised by the Department of Spanish & Latin American Studies at the University of Melbourne.
Enquiries: Dr Ralph Newmark –


Who was the translator, did you say?

Riverton Press plans to publish a translated book with the translator’s name on the front cover. It’s not new to have a translator’s name there, but it’s not common either. Probably most translators of books would say they should be recognised as creators of new versions of texts with their name in a prominent place. In this case, we met a translator who said he did not want his name on the book cover. So we’ve had to consider the question.

There are a couple of main arguments posed against putting the translator’s name on the front cover of a book, firstly, an imagined or real prejudice by the potential reader against “foreign” works: fear of the foreign will hurt sales. This argument is surprising today, we’re always being encouraged to enjoy our diverse multicultural societies, yet some publishers hide the foreign, assume we don’t like it, and “protect” us from it!!

Even literary translators such as David Hahn say that a jacket is there to sell a book, not to list credits. I think that’s a limited commercial view of the book cover, which should make a book aesthetically pleasing per se. This brings us to the second point, design. Graphic designers can argue that adding the name of a translator on a cover is a challenge. But they are often asked to accommodate words of praise by famous persons or other promotional material. The European Council of Literary Translators Associations (CEATL) believes that a book cover with the translator’s name on it does not have to be ugly, and has taken the trouble to make a collection of book covers from Europe to demonstrate that point. Sometimes these covers also mention the name of the source language, sometimes not. One cover even says “translated from the Spanish (Cuba) by…” 

Publishers who agree to put the translators’ names on the front cover believe that translators create new versions of an original text, they create work that is their own, and deserve due recognition. In the best of cases, in the world of books, that recognition is their name on the front cover. More commonly however, their name will be on the title page.

Translators aim to be invisible in the text, that is, they aim to make their language flow, to write like a native, I suppose we might say, even as they convey ideas and behaviours from other languages and societies. But that doesn’t mean translators should be invisible or hard to find in the presentation of their product.

Readers might WANT to know about the translation. Why not tell me straight away that this book by Jose Saramago has been translated by Margaret Jull Costa, that this book by WG Sebald has been translated by Michael Hulse or by Anthea Bell? That this book in Spanish has been translated from Basque or Catalan or Nahuatl?

In the case of our upcoming book, a translation from Italian to English, the author was always happy to share cover space with her translator, he was the one who didn’t want his name there. After some time, the author told me that the translator had reluctantly agreed to have his name on the jacket. At least I think that’s what he said, I’m told that he agreed with “malincuore”. This word sounds to me like he feels bad to the heart if his name is on the cover. Well, we don’t want that, so there’s a conflict for Riverton Press!

The Society of Authors (UK) believes translators’ names should appear on book jackets. They say:

Translators are the life-blood of both the literary world and the book trade which sustains it. They should be properly recognised, celebrated and rewarded for this. …. From now on we will be asking, in our contracts and communications, that our publishers ensure, whenever our work is translated, that the name of the translator appears on the front cover.

It’s fun to browse through the book covers collected by CEATL, you’ll find a link on this page:

I should add that David Hahn writes in the excellent online literary translation journal Asymptote.

The photo shows part of a door in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona.