European Bridge-Builder: Wieser Publishers
A small Austrian publishing house has held its own in the book market against all odds for what will soon be 25 years: Weiser Publishers is much more than a specialist for Eastern European literature.
Weiser Publishers has its headquarters in Celovec in the Austrian province of Carinthia. It is named after its founder and owner Lojze Wieser, a Carinthian Slovene (in Slovenian it is called Založba Wieser). Since his birth in 1954, the publisher has known two homelands and both “Western” and “Eastern” Europe.
From 1981 to 1986, the trained bookseller headed Drava Publishers, which specializes in Slovenian literature. In 1987 he founded his own publishing house, which is still dedicated to this day particularly to literature from and about Eastern Europe: the program includes works from Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian, Albanian, Polish, Romanian and nearby Slovenian authors. Since its founding, Wieser has had about 350 works of (southern) East European writers translated into German, an average of more than one title every month, and all together nearly a third of the books published since 1987.
Books in wartime
Weiser inaugurated his program with two works written in Slovenian by the Carinthian-Slovenian writer Florjan Lipuš. As the presentation venue for his first titles in November 1987, Wieser chose not distant Vienna but rather nearby Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, then still a constituent republic of Yugoslavia. The time of change had already announced its coming; in 1991 Slovenia declared its independence. It was the beginning of the final dissolution of Yugoslavia and of wars that Europe had thought until then were no longer possible.
For Western observers, what was happening in the Balkans in the first half of 1990s was difficult to understand. For those who took a closer interest, Wieser Publishers offered food for thought: with German translations of Tagebuch der Aussiedlung (Diary of Expulsion) (1993) und Der östliche Divan (The Eastern Divan) (1994), the publisher helped Dževad Karahasan, today probably the best known Bosnian writer, to achieve recognition in the West. And in Die Stadt und der Tod (Death and the City) (1993), the Serbian architect and journalist Bogdan Bogdanović (died 2010), once mayor of Belgrade, plumbed the connection between the lack of urban civilization and blind violence.
Portraits of Lojze Wieser often call him a bridge-builder between East and West. He has not only received awards for his commitment (for instance, the “Austrian State Prize for Publishers); in October 1993 the passionate publisher almost paid with his life for his engagement for the Slovenian minority in Carinthia and for refugees and persecuted groups. He received a letter bomb.
“Reading Europe” explores the continent
The publishing house calls itself a “specialist for literature from the European East”. Though the description is accurate, it still falls short: with the series “Europa erlesen” (Reading Europe), inaugurated at the end of the 1990s, Wieser began exploring the entire continent. Since then, about 150 handy volumes have appeared in the series; they are cultural portraits of cities and regions by well-known and previously unknown authors, ranging from Athens and Warsaw to Iceland, from Carinthia to Provence and Lake Constance. As help for preparing a trip and as traveling companions, the series has found a loyal readership; all together, it has sold a half million copies.
Wieser has also crossed the borders of Europe; literature from and about other cultures are now part of its program. The mission here is the same: to make readers familiar (or more familiar) with cultures by means of the written word. Examples are the editions “Orient erlesen“ (Reading the Orient) and “China erlesen” (Reading China).
Books: a valuable cultural asset
Not only authors and programs shape a publishing house: it is also shaped by the now often no longer common understanding of the book as a work of craftsmanship and a valuable cultural asset. Thread stitching and embossed printing, ribbon page markers and gilded edging, are here still a matter of course. “From the start, we made every effort to make beautiful books and expended great care in the selection of materials”, says Wieser, and adds: “In this way we laid the foundations that enabled us to survive even our hardest times”. Wieser Publishers can explain how this is done – in Celovec, also known as Klagenfurt.
The author is a freelance journalist and writer, with a focus on European policy.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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