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Excerpts from the interview with Michel Moushabeck published in Banipal 30
"I founded Interlink in 1987 with the help of my former wife Ruth shortly after I graduated from New York University. As a Palestinian and a young student activist, coming to America from war-torn Beirut was a life-changing experience. While I quickly embraced the values of freedom, democracy, education, and free speech, I was utterly disappointed to see only a few people – albeit very powerful ones, such as Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Eqbal Ahmad, Richard Falk, and the like – speaking out against injustice.
I was also shocked to learn how little people in this country knew about where I came from – especially their one-sided view of the Arab-Israeli conflict that was not accepting of the Arab history and narrative. I was dismayed to find out the lack of interest, knowledge and understanding colleagues I met had about other cultures.
When it came to literature, I found that the door was wide open. There was very little in the way of translated fiction published in the US at that time. The only translations available were from European literature. There was hardly anything from the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, or the Caribbean. I got very excited and I became determined to publish the best of the world’s contemporary fiction in translation and bring to North American readers the once-unheard voices of writers who have achieved wide acclaim in their native lands, but are not recognized beyond the borders – especially women writers.
I also wanted to share with Western readers the beautiful Arabic and North African literature I so much loved and enjoyed reading back home. These unique ideas, together with our solid list of timely and politically relevant non-fiction, would make us the distinctive publisher we have become today.
The Interlink World Fiction series was by far the hardest to launch and market. Due to the high cost of translation and the dismal trade sales in the first year or two, I was beginning to lose my confidence. The series was dear to my heart, but it was draining our resources and we had to do something drastically different in order to increase our sales and save the series.
I decided to try a different marketing approach. I started attending academic conferences (Middle East Studies Association, Arab American University Graduates, International Studies Association, American Historical Association, etc) and I soon succeeded in placing Arab novels in the hands of professors who would later use them as required texts for courses in comparative literature, women’s studies, history, and Middle Eastern studies. This was a life saver. It also brought us much praise and recognition from educators nationwide. “What would professors do without Interlink?” was a phrase I heard often at academic conferences.
The new fiction series jacket design showed the name of the country from which the book originated on the front cover of every title. I really wanted to see them placed on the travel shelf next to our Traveller’s Histories and Cultural Histories so that they could be spotted easily by readers planning a trip abroad.
I believe that reading fiction – the unofficial language of the people – is the best way to learn about people and places far away and I preached about it at every opportunity I had. Like music and art, literature is the doorway to a country’s soul. It speaks to the heart, tells you what history books hide, what mindless media does not reveal, what mainstream tourist guidebooks cannot possibly capture. It will give you insight into the way of life, the customs and traditions of the society and, more importantly, it will take you on a journey into the minds and hearts of the diverse peoples of the world.
Click here for Interlink's website, http://interlinkbooks.com