Marie Chribkova - one woman in a publishing house

Marie Chribkova

Knowing that with the exception of the "Second Sex" by Simone de Beauvoir, published in the 60s, there was literally no feminist or gender-focused literature available in Czech, Marie Chribkova, a young cultural activist, decided to introduce world feminist writing to the Czech readership and founded her own publishing house. In this week's Profile Pavla Horakova talks to Marie Chribkova about the hardships and joys of a small-scale publisher in the Czech Republic.

At the Gender Studies Centre in Prague the Czech translation of "Surpassing the Love of Men" by Lillian Faderman is being presented. Two young women are talking about the book - the one reading extracts is Marie Chribkova, the owner, manager and sole employee of an enterprising publishing house called One Woman Press. Founded in 1997, One Woman Press focuses on women's writing from around the world, both fiction and non-fiction. After the reading, I talked to Marie at a cosy cafe over a cup of coffee, with a Tracy Chapman album playing in the background.

What did you want to become when you were 10, what did you dream of?

"I wanted to be a dancer because I did classical ballet and I thought all my childhood that I would dance, just dance."

It's quite far away - dancing and publishing books... How did you get to publishing books?

"I always say that I wanted to read books in Czech, so I had to publish them because it was the only way to read them in Czech. I don't know so many languages; so I had to have them translated and publish them and then read them in Czech."

You publish literature written by women and also literature concerning homosexual issues or women's health. When you started did you have that in mind, did you want to publish this particular sort of literature or did it just happen?"

When I started my goal was to publish feminist classics but I found out it was very difficult to publish them because thousands of such books have been published during the last 30 years in Western Europe and America and many of them are classics now. But I don't have so much money. I don't have such a big financial source that I could publish everything. I found out this was not possible. I had to minimise my idea and make it real, to find a position from which I would like to publish. And this position in the non-fiction section is to publish books from any branch but the point of view of the writer must be feminist or gender-oriented. Or it must be about gay or lesbian issues or women's health.

With a great surprise Marie found out that with the exception of the "Second Sex" by Simone de Beauvoir, which was published in the 60s there was literally no feminist or gender-focused literature available in Czech. Her goal was very clear: to bridge the existing gap and translate books following the development of world feminist thinking.

"I wanted to bridge this gap but it was, as I said very difficult. I had to pick up just a few titles which would create this bridge. People who are interested have to read all the other titles in the original languages which is sad, because, of course, not all of them can read in foreign languages. But it's the reality that we cannot do all of them. When I started to cooperate with the Gender Studies. When I started, gender studies did not exist at university. I started with the NGO Gender Studies Centre and we talked a lot about this - what to translate, what is necessary and could bring any new, relevant information for the end of the 1990s. And we still cooperate. Then the Gender Studies Department at the Faculty of Philosophy started to work and I cooperate in some way with people who teach there and they use some of my books for their seminars or they recommend them to the students. For example, last year they had lectures about queer studies. So they can use a book I published about this topic by the American historian, Leila Rupp. The book is called 'A Desired Past' and it's really the basic book about this topic.

How many books do you manage to publish a year?

"When I started I thought four titles a year was enough but last year it was eight titles. And I think that it will increase but not too much. My publishing house is called 'One Woman Press' and it's really what it's called - it's one woman in a publishing house. And I have my physical limits. I am afraid that not more than 10 titles a year is possible if you are one woman."

Looking for financial sources is understandably one of the chief problems of a small publishing house. What other difficulties does a small publisher have to face?

"Distribution is a very big problem for all small publisher as I am or for some special publishers who have a special topic. Because of course, distribution companies do commercial titles and they don't care too much. In the Czech Republic it's maybe one distribution company which does this does this specific thing. The other trouble is that the book sellers are maybe not so interested in "high literature". They prefer books about famous people, cookery books etc. For them it's not so interesting to sell some contemporary women writers from around the world or some feminist issues, studies and essays about the position of women in this world."

We spoke about difficulties; now, what is the greatest joy?

"I would say I have many joys. For example meeting writers is very nice. Usually it's very nice to see the writer you have published. I have met a few of them because I try to cooperate with national councils or embassies and they invite writers to book-fairs so that the readers can see the writer."

Is there a book Marie cherishes the most?

"I would say that every publisher would say the same: the last book is my favourite. I have to say that all my books are my favourite because I am such a small publisher that I have to be very specific in my choice and I publish only books I really like or books which are very close to my heart. I have to say they all my books - now it's 25 titles - I like all of them."

Books published by One Woman Press are easily recognisable in the shops by their covers, quite different from the rest of the production on the Czech book market.

"The author of the covers is my husband who cooperates with my publishing house as a graphic designer. It was his idea to do these specific covers. He uses photographs for the covers, which are usually taken by him or myself, so it's really particular and you can see the specific view we have about this world. It took a few years to find out how to do it. In the first two years, every book had a different cover. But afterwards we found out it was not working and we did not like it. Also now it's much easier to do it; you just choose the picture and the rest is very easy to do. And it's working. It's true that people now recognise my books very easily and they can identify in some way and I'm very happy for it, that it's working and people like it. So thank you that you like it, too."

When you were a child you wanted to be a dancer - that was your dream. What is your dream now?

"One of my dreams is to go on for a few years as a publisher and maybe to be able to find a way to bring the books to the readers. Because this is something I really want to solve. I think the books I publish and they are very nice. Only we have to find how to bring the books to the readers. So this is my dream now."