Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Fine Print: Brooklyn's indie publishers turn the page by Jessica Winter

To reach Archipelago Books, just off the DUMBO waterfront, a guest must squeeze past the team of construction workers in hard hats, goggles, and surgical masks who are drilling the Jay Street entryway one rainy May morning, blanketing the stairwell with a thick layer of dust. Publisher Jill Schoolman warmly welcomes the coughing visitor into a small second-floor office that shares a thin wall with a dance company, which today provides a boisterous repeat-play soundtrack of what sounds like Bollywood-inflected Japanese speed-disco.

Amid these friendly, no-frills environs, Archipelago is enjoying a breakout success with the rapturously reviewed American release of Gate of the Sun, Elias Khoury's Palestinian spin on the Arabian Nights. Devoted to literature in translation, Schoolman's company is also an important part of Brooklyn's current literary bloom, which includes the for-profit presses Akashic Books, Soft Skull Press, and Spuyten Duyvil, as well as Archipelago's fellow nonprofit Ugly Duckling Presse. America's publishing capital may be identified with the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan, but a century and a half since Walt Whitman anonymously self-published Leaves of Grass in Brooklyn, the borough's independent presses are fostering a viable alternative for authors too offbeat or "midlist" to find a stable home at one of the main houses.


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