Austrian literature is a constitutive element of Austria’s culture and serves as a medium to bring Austria closer to a wide variety of people. Yet to bring this literature to new shores requires assistance, and Ariadne Press of California has been dedicated to this task, publishing “a canon of Austrian literature from Grillparzer to now” as Jorun B. Johns, one of the founders and editors points out. Thirty years ago, most books written in German were considered “German Literature” and even German professors were reluctant to accept Austrian Literature as representative of a unique literary tradition. Today, however, Austrian Literature is generally accepted as a distinct category, even by the Library of Congress, and Ariadne Press is happy that it has played a small part in helping to bring about this awareness.
Ariadne Press was established in 1988 based on the premise that Austrian Literature is unique and deserves its own identity within the framework of German Literature. Its aim is to promote Austrian culture, history and identity to a broad audience by making literature available concerning all of these topics. Such efforts are of great importance, particularly with regard to literature, since even highly recognized authors in Austria are often virtually unknown in the United States. Jorun Johns explains, “I worked for the Journal Modern Austrian Literature, when two of my colleagues and I realized that there was a need to make books available in English translation in order for the authors to become known in the United States.”
Ariadne Press specializes in translations of established and new authors; biographies and autobiographies; as well as scholarly works that provide the kind of analysis needed to make the major figures of Austrian Literature from the 19th and 20th centuries accessible to an English-speaking audience.
The publications of Ariadne Press have also served to preserve the Austrian Jewish culture that thrived before the war. While Jews comprised only a small percentage of the population of the Habsburg Empire, journalists and authors with a Jewish background were at the forefront of cultural production and criticism at that time. Some of the most acclaimed Jewish authors of the Empire and Austria’s first republic include Sigmund Freud (1862-1931), Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), Martin Buber (1878-1965), Franz Kafka (1883-1924), Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931), Karl Kraus (1874-1936), and Stefan Zweig (1881-1942).
In fact, these are among the most successful books Ariadne Press has in its vast selection of over 200 titles. In particular, Stefan Zweig has enjoyed great popularity in the United States. Sadly, not all of the books translated and published by Ariadne are welcomed with the same interest and success. “Sometimes we get books sent back from bookstores after a couple of months…not all of our books are bestsellers.” Jorun Johns explains that covering a wide spectrum of Austrian literature also includes books that cater to a niche market. Surprisingly, the works published by Elfriede Jelinek, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2004, were not strong sellers. While a number of newspapers bought a copy so as to write a review, in general they have not yet reached a wide American audience.
Ariadne Press, however, has great hopes for its two forthcoming titles by former rivals known for being part of the vibrant Austrian Jewish literary community before the war. Tante Jolesch or The Decline of the West in Anecdotes (ISBN 9781572411499) by Friedrich Torberg and Hilde Spiel’s book, The Dark and the Bright: Memoirs 1911 – 1989 (ISBN 9781472411548), will be available in the coming months.