Greece's English-Language Publishers

Feature by Willard Manus

Th' printin'-press isn't wondherful. What's wondherful is that anybody shud want it to go on doin' what it does.

--Finley Peter Dunne, "Mr. Dooley's Opinions"

What's even more wonderful--and amazing--is that "printin'" in the English language should have taken root in Greece, a country whose natives still cling to the Cyrillic alphabet. But the internationalization of Greece, beginning with the expatriate writers and artists of the 60s and 70s, followed by the impact of mass tourism and E.U. commerce in the 80s and 90s, has created a small but thriving audience for English-language books. The publishers supplying this market are mostly of the cottage-industry variety, but there are a few major players as well, such as Kedros and Efstathiadis, two Greek companies with deep enough pockets to subsidize an English-language division.

Kedros Publishers ranks among Greece's five largest book firms. With a 5000-strong backlist, the company releases approximately 250 new titles annually. About three per cent of its Modern Greek Literature line is translated into English. A recent outstanding example was the novel What Does Mrs Freeman Want? by Petros Abozoglou (translated by Kay Cicellis). Kedros also occasionally publishes an original English-language title, such as Diana Farr Louis' Feasting & Fasting in Crete.

The Efstathiadis Group has published numerous Greek novels in English translation, including two modern classics by Stratis Myrivilis: The Mermaid Madonna and The School Mistress With the Golden Eyes. The company's pocket-sized paperbacks are mass-distributed by the Hellenic Distribution Agency. Two perenially popular titles are Medicinal Plants of Greece and Trees and Shrubs of Greece by George Sfikas.

The two stalwarts of the independent publishing scene are John Chapple and Denise Harvey, two foreigners who started one-person operations thirty years ago and have managed to stay alive ever since. Between them they have published dozens of distinctive works of literature, such as Gail Holst's The Road to Rembetika: Music of a Greek Sub-Culture, Edward Lear's The Corfu Years, The UnWritten Places by Tim Salmon, and Athens-Auschwitz by Errikos Sevillias.

Born in the USA, Chapple settled in Greece and founded Lycabettus Press in 1968. "The books published here in English at the time seemed to be addressed to the Greek-reading public, without any real attempt to reach non-Greek readers with a different mind-set," he said. "I thought we could do better. Once I began, I soon found that I much enjoy all aspects of publishing, from editorial work through all stages of production and sales. There are some very nice people here in all aspects of the business."

To date, Chapple has published approximately 40 titles. After some early guide books, he hit his stride with such successful titles as St. John of Patmos and the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse and St. Paul in Greece by Otto Meinardus. Both books are popular with Christian groups visiting the holy island of Patmos and have been reprinted--and revised--numerous times.

Another top seller for Chapple has been Cookbook of the Jews of Greece by Nicholas Stavroulakis, now in its third printing.

Stavroulakis, the former director of Athens' Jewish Museum, and Chapple share a special working relationship. In addition to the cookbook, Stavroulakis has published (with Ida Morloh's Talos Press) several other books on the Jews of Greece, including Salonika, Jews and Dervishes., which Chapple helps to distribute.

Denise Harvey is an Englishwoman who came to Greece in 1970, expecting to work as a journalist. "I had a rather foolhardy idea of publishing a weekly news magazine in English--foolhardy because I didn't have any money," she recalled. "In order to publish such a magazine one first had to form a publishing company, which I did. I remember it cost me almost nothing to do so. Fortunately, I came to my senses about publishing a magazine, but as I had a publishing company I thought I would do something with it and decided I would try to publish books, of which the first was a children's book, The Island Kids. So initially publishing was neither a business nor personal mission although it did become the latter in a certain way."

Over the years, Harvey has published an eclectic range of books under two different imprints (Anglo-Hellenic Co. and Denise Harvey Co.). She financed the operation herself. "I don't live from my publishing," she confided. "In the early days I used to work as a copywriter, editor and secretary. All the money that came in from a book--the same holds true today--I used to pay for the next publication, so in a way you could say that I publish for love not money. I don't publish a book because I think it will make money but because I think it is worth publishing."

Other titles on Harvey's backlist include A Greek Quintet: Poems by C.P. Cavafy, Angelos Sikelianos and George Seferis; Making a Garden On a Greek Hilltop by Mary Jacqueline Tyrwhitt; Portrait of a Greek Mountain Village by Juliet de Boulay; and Rhigas Velestinlis: The Protomartyr of the Greek Revolution by C.M. Woodhouse. Her best-selling book, Rembetika, has been reprinted six times and was sold to publishers in Holland and Germany.

"The story of how we produced the book is so untypical of anything," recalled the author, Gail Holst. "Denise and I sat and pasted every single page by hand, carried them down to a printer on Athinas Street and covered the book in brown wrapping paper because there was no money left for anything else."

Harvey moved from Athens to Evia when she married the writer/translator Philip Sherrard in the early-1980s, but she carried on with her publishing efforts. Such titles as Odysseus Elytis and Nikos Gatsos and Athos: The Mountain of Silence by Sherrard have followed.

Sherrard, who died in 1995, has a posthumous book on Harvey's to-do list, This Dialectic of Blood and Light: George Seferis-Philip Sherrard Correspondence 1946-1971.

Another bold publishing venture was launched in 1972 by John Z. Zervos, scion of a famous Athenian family (British mother, Greek father). In the middle of the Junta years, Zervos financed OMPHALOS--A MEDITERRANEAN REVIEW. Edited by Alexander Marais du Toit (with help from Peter Dryer, Peter A. Mackridge and Kimon Friar, among others), the literary quarterly featured the work of writers and poets from Greece, Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt and Tangiers.

"OMPHALOS is non-political," Zervos stated in the first issue, "and stands aside from national hostilities of whatever kind. The magazine is a community venture, promoting intercultural exchange, and as such we hope that all Mediterraneans, whether by birth, adoption or instinct, will lend us their support."

The magazine folded after three issues, but not before having provided a unique forum for the likes of George Seferis, Yannis Ritsos, Pandelis Prevelakis, Peter Levi, Nikos Kazantzakis, Hassan Akir Heikai, Mohammed Choukri, Ya'agov Haramgaai and Boris Pasternak, to name but a few.

Zervos then founded the Athens Centre, a cultural and educational institute which occasionally publishes its guest lectures in booklet form. The Centre also issues a newsletter and not long ago released a book by Zervos' mother, ONE WOMAN'S WAR, an intimate account of her life during the Nazi occupation of Greece.

Zervos' friend and colleague, Sloane Elliott, had a similar experience in Greece. American-born but married to a Greek woman, Sloane for many years edited THE ATHENIAN, a monthly English-language magazine which had been launched in 1974 by a Greek-Canadian couple, Helen and Denis Kotsonis. Elliott and his wife Drosoula eventually took over the magazine and kept it alive for 21 years, building a readership both in and outside of Greece. THE ATHENIAN also published several books as well, notably the collected works of Alec Kitroeff, who contributed a monthly satirical column.

THE ATHENIAN also published a small book on the do's and don'ts of buying real estate in Greece, by Marc S. Dubin. It proved successful and remained in print until the magazine's demise in 1996. Dubin presently writes on Greece and Turkey for The Rough Guides, and makes his home on Samos. His books on hiking in Greece have been published in the U.K. and USA.

A worthy successor to THE ATHENIAN is ODYSSEY, a sleek, glossy, bi-monthly periodical devoted to "the world of Greece." With its emphasis on personality profiles, food, drink, design and fashion, ODYSSEY is a lifestyle magazine aimed at affluent readers. With editorial offices in both Athens and Washington, DC, ODYSSEY is a magazine with an international appeal.

Once upon a time, travelers in Greece could find quirky little English-language books just about everywhere they went. Usually written by a school teacher or amateur historian, translated into English by a foreign resident, printed on ancient linotype machines that regularly changed r's to q's, the books may have been imperfect but they had charm and soul. On Rhodes, for example, one could find, in the 60s and 70s, such titles as Rhodes--The Bride of the Sun by Panayotis Charitos; In Rodos the Sun Reigns Brighter by D.P. Economopoulos; and Rhodes--The Island of Flowers by Paulette Tsimbouki.

Today those ugly ducklings have been chased out of the pond by the lavishly-illustrated, four-color blockbnsters issued by Athenian travel-book publishers. Reading their bland, impersonal text is like eating tomatoes without salt, fish without lemon.

Fortunately, we have the Chapples and Harveys to provide us with books that taste like something. Published on miniscule budgets (without government subsidies or foundation grants), often ignored by the major Athenian bookshops and marketeers, the books somehow find their way to an audience, kicking and scratching all the way.

Hats off to all those who are struggling to keep alive the Anglo literary tradition in Greece. Long may they keep fighting the good fight!

English publishing in Greece, from "Articles"