Secession Publishers Exploring New Horizons

Christian Ruzicska and Susanne Schenzle, founders of Secession Publishers; © Secession Verlag
Christian Ruzicska and Susanne Schenzle, founders of Secession Publishers | Photo (detail): © Secession Verlag

Secession Publishers, founded in 2009, offers a small but distinguished programme of contemporary literature and forgotten authors. It is worth joining them on reading tour of discovery.

The preview of Secession Publishers invites you to ‘Read Your Time’. The publishing house is still young, more or less in the fledging stage, and it is small. From time to time, a few interns join the publisher duo, helping and learning, and have the good luck of having landed not in some book factory but rather amongst a rare species today: true bibliophiles. In 2009 Susanne Schenzle and Christian Ruzicska founded Secession, a publishing house for literature with its headquarters in Zurich. From there Schenzle, who comes from Ammann Publishers (unfortunately now disbanded), takes care of sales and distribution, events and marketing. In the Berlin branch office Ruzicska is responsible for licenses, rights, editing, translations and public relations. It is his second career start as a publisher. Together with a colleague, he previously founded Tropen Publishers, which has now slipped under the umbrella of Klett-Cotta.

Pearls and lucky finds

Schenzle and Ruzicska decided to explore new horizons: let’s create a programme that we really like and that presents select literary pearls and rare lucky finds. In 2010 they brought out the first programme. Now the backlist comprises some twenty titles, and among the new books last autumn was Glückskind (literally: Lucky Child) by house author Steven Uhly, his third publication with Secession, and Sunderwarumbe (a line from a prayer by Meister Eckhart), the second book with Secession by the Swiss writer Christian Uetz, who is likewise one of their regular authors.

But back to the name: why ‘Secession’? ‘Aesthetically speaking, the letters are round and very beautiful – our designers felt them to be extremely pleasant because they yield a beautiful typeface.’ Christian Ruzicska quickly adds: ‘The substantial and more important reason is that these beautiful, round letters send a very clear signal: we’re attempting our own formulation of the publisher’s office, away from a mass production that must constantly flush a vast amount of literature onto the market. We’re attempting to create our own presence, of thoughts, content, precision, of treating literature as an instrument for sharpening perception’.

So the name is a programme: ‘Secession’ means deliberately setting oneself off from the mass market on the one hand and committing oneself to an unconditional independence on the other. ‘Independence’ in this field means one must possess well-nigh kamikaze skills and burn for one’s ‘calling’ – and that is what Ruzicska does. Even when he was still at university and jobbed on the side at a bookshop, he says, his customers were grateful for his recommendations. He somehow had the right instinct for which book suited which reader; he had, it appears, read them all.

Quality in the forefront

Session Publishers was from the start successful. It can proudly point to six awards: in the year of its founding, it already received the 2011 Newcomer Publishers of the Year award; there followed the 2011 Tukan Prize for Steven Uhly’s novel Adams Fuge (i.e., Adam’s Gap); the 2012 red dot design award for Sprechendes Wasser (i.e., Talking Water) by Jürg Halter and Tanikawa Shuntarō; and now the Prix Goncourt for the novel Le sermon sur la chute de Rome by Jérome Ferrari, announced for spring 2013. Secession received the red dot design award for the exemplary design of its hitherto only book of poetry. It thus honours the Munich-based firm of Kochan and Partner, who is responsible for the publisher’s website, corporate identity and complete book design. Each book has a uniform appearance, a small, slim format with an attractive but restrained cover, without dust jacket and, of course, with a bookmark ribbon.

Ferrari’s new book was translated by Rusiczka. He translates the acquisitions from the French and sometimes those from English. It is Ferrari’s second publication with Secession. The now highly honoured author has remained with Secession, although other publishers have tried to win him with lucrative offers. His latest book, Where I Left My Soul, is about loyalty. ‘And he lives up to that perfectly – an absolute exception’, rejoices Ruzicska, and divulges two other books of which he is particularly proud: The Case of Mr Crump by Ludwig Lewisohn, a reissue of a novel from 1928 by a forgotten author, which Ruzicska describes as superb; and the re-discovery of the French writer Hélène Bessette, who died penniless and forgotten, but whose writings were influential for the Nouveau Roman.

Apart from the love of high-quality literature, it is hard to elicit a programme line from the hitherto published books. Schenzle and Ruzicska follow their noses and their credo: ‘Books bind people together’. This has worked out well. But the real secret of success is probably the fact that the two young publishers are absolute book lovers – or in their own words: ‘We would like to say: Go ask a bird why he sings’.