21 oct. 2021Black Fountain Press: English voices from Luxembourg’s literary scene
With its diverse blend of poetry, prose and essays, Black Fountain Press has been showcasing what English literature from Luxembourg has to offer since its establishment in 2017. We sat down with publishing director Anne-Marie Reuter, herself an author and translator in addition to teaching English at the Lycée Robert-Schuman, to speak about why this small, dynamic publishing house was founded in the first place and what she thinks makes a good book.
A growing demand for English literature
It all began with a phone call, says Reuter; “One day Jeff Thill rang me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to start an English publishing house with him! And it just made absolute sense to me.” More and more, Luxembourgers were choosing to write in English rather than one of the national languages, Reuter continues, including her own students, who often were fluent by the time they started learning English at school: “There’s a real fascination with British and American culture.” Luxembourg’s considerable expat community was, of course, another compelling argument for creating a space to champion homegrown English literature.
Reuter and Thill, along with Nathalie Jacoby and Laurent Fels, were also well placed to take on the challenge. “We all have very strong ties to the UK and the US, so we felt we could bridge the gap between the two communities here in Luxembourg.” Moreover, other local publishing houses had always been hesitant to take on English projects because they didn’t know the market well enough, their focus being on Germany and France. This meant that Black Fountain Press got a warm welcome from all sides since they weren’t competing with, but rather completing what was on offer.
As Luxembourg’s first English publishing house, Black Fountain Press was overwhelmed with project proposals from the day it opened for business. “We felt we were propelled from zero to 100. I mean, we’ve been around for four years and we’re publishing our tenth book right now. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride.” It’s also been a challenge in organisational terms, as the publishing house’s founding members gradually went their separate ways to pursue their careers, most recently Nathalie Jacoby when she was appointed the new director of the Centre national de littérature (CNL). Though supported by an administrative team and a reading committee, Reuter is now essentially running a one-woman show. “I never expected to be the director of a publishing house, but here we are!” she laughs.
A wide assortment of literary offerings
Whether it’s featuring women writers in High Five or emerging talent in Young Voices, Black Fountain Press has presented a range of different authors so far, showcasing the variety of Luxembourg’s small but vibrant literary scene. Always open to new voices and genres, Reuter notes that “the greatest compliment I’ve been paid is that each book we’ve published is completely different from the last.” The publishing house’s roster of authors also reflects that diversity, half of whom are Luxembourgers and the other half English-speaking expats.
This year, true to form, Reuter published Luxembourgish author Tom Hengen’s Journeys into Modern Mythologies – a collection of poems inspired by Edward Steichen’s The Family of Man offering meditations on (hu)mankind in modern times – and most recently Jeffrey Palms’ I’m having a Knippchen, an American’s take on the particularities of Luxembourgish society. Part incisive observation, part nervous breakdown, the book’s title playfully fuses the local term for a chocolate (“Knippchen”) with the American expression for having a crisis (“conniption”). Palms’ work has received a lot of media attention, which Reuter suspects is partly because “Luxembourgers always like to know what other people think of them – it’s a small country after all!”
Moving beyond the borders of said country is another part of Reuter’s role at Black Fountain Press; right now, she’s at the Frankfurter Buchmesse to network and discuss translation opportunities. Of the Black Fountain authors, Robert Schofield is taking part in a panel discussion about the challenges of multilingualism in Luxembourg together with Ulrike Bail and Jos Kayser. On a local level, Black Fountain Press will also be making an appearance at next month’s Walfer Bicherdeeg on the 20th and 21st of November.
Finally, when asked what genres she’d like to explore in the future, Reuter replies that she only has one criterion for Black Fountain Press publications; “They have to grip you, but also challenge you. That’s ultimately the kind of publishing house we are – we publish quality work that’s original, innovative, but also accessible.”