Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 24

Publishing in Europe and publishing in the USA are two different beasts. I first brought out my photobiography in Germany. When I heard that two women had taken over the renowned literary publishing company Arche Verlag I instantly contacted them and offered them my services as a translator. “What would you like to translate?” they asked. Their list of world-famous authors already included several titles by Gertrude Stein. “Gertrude”, I said in a blink. I picked a short and “easy” one, “Blood on the Dining Room Floor”, Stein’s one and only detective novel (which of course turned out not to be not exactly easy, but that’s another story). It was tricky but I had fun with it; we all had fun with it, and as a result another Stein project had to be invented. There was no biography available in German at that time, except her “Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas”, so my idea of filling that gap with a “photobiography” hit home. Arche gave me green light to plow through any archive where photos might be hiding. They even encouraged me to splurge — and they paid for all the fees, the copyright for the 360 images and two or three times as many pieces of text. Many of the texts had to be translated into German for the first time, especially Stein’s abstract poetry — but I got paid as a translator, and I got an advance.
When Algonquin acquired the foreign rights I learned that it was MY task to pull in the permissions for the English-speaking edition — and that now I had to pay for the whole cornucopia myself. Welcome to American publishing! I had no choice, of course, but to do what couldn’t be done. I had already developed quite a passion for Gertie. During the year it took me to find every copyright holder and negotiate every permission fee, there was no doubt on my mind: I couldn’t let go of her, and she wouldn’t let go of me… It was an adventure, and there was the hope that my advance would cover the cost (it almost did).
Under these conditions, I realized, there probably would never be another photobiography of Gertrude Stein in the market place of books…
Stay tuned.

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