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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

John Wilk Interviews John Martin on Writers Cast

I recently followed some traffic to The World Poetry Translation Project which is in the process of translating the work of about 300 poets:

The Charles Bukowski file includes about 120 of his poems which are translated in French, German, Portuguese and Spanish.

The site also does public searches of blogs and news of each poet. Bukowski’s can be found here:

Recently posted, for example, was a link to an excellent podcast interview of John Martin (formerly owner of Black Sparrow Press 1966-2002) by John Wilk:
In the interview Martin talks about a wide range of issues including his early love of reading, how he got into the publishing business, his relationship with Bukowski, his impressive stable of writers- including Paul Bowles, Ed Sanders, Jack Spicer & others and the reasons for selling his press and publishing rights in 2002 to Harper-Collins.

He discusses how he first approached Bukowski in 1966 to publish some broadsides and eventually how he famously offered him $100 per week for life if he quit the Post Office. Martin claims he never had an argument with Bukowski. By the end (1994) Martin says he was paying him royalties of $10,000 every two weeks. One of the main earners was Post Office, Bukowski’s first novel which sold 5,000-10,000 every year for 30 years. 

The main reason Martin sold Black Sparrow Press in 2002 was that he saw the writing on the wall. When he started his business there were over 1100 small independent bookstores across the country, however this fell to about 50 by 2000. Most of the books he sold were 'non'returnables' to these small independents. The three big chains had taken over 80% of the market and they demanded large retainers from publishers to stock their books.  

Martin says that Harper-Collins (Ecco inprint) were not interested in continuing to run Black Sparrow Press. They only wanted the publishing rights to Bukowski's work & a couple of other writers. Black Sparrow Press was sold by Martin to David R Godine for $1. The company is now known as Black Sparrow Books:

Another interesting point was that in his 36 years at Black Sparrow, Martin estimates that he received about 30,000 unsolicited manuscripts. Of these he published only 4.

The Podcast is long (50m41s) but worth listening to.

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