When lockdown hit, Luka Grigolia left the city with a stock of books to get through. But despite the difficulties of lockdown, it has been a busy time of launching new ventures, including Tbilisi World Book Capital, as well as the crucial work of connecting with readers.
The first lockdown came, and I stocked up some books (I thought maybe this was the time to finish Infinite Jest, or Ducks, Newburyport), some movies and some spirits. I fled the city the day the news was announced, and poured my energy into my parents’ gardening and simultaneously dealing with publishing chores, plus keeping in touch with my international colleagues.
The adrenaline came before the dread. It all seemed like a dangerous adventure to everybody at first.
I saw how publishing started to adapt, and we were also having many discussions about how to use successful examples to get through it. We launched our new website (never the primary source for sales). It started to generate minimal sales at some point, but books became quite a commodity considering daily survival priorities. We had to sell off over 200 titles to create a cash flow, which was necessary to keep the staff and keep the production going. Some people have been furloughed since March in the UK; there is no such thing in Georgian reality. Many people had just lost their jobs already by May.
Letting go many books we were initially really excited to have the opportunity to publish was a hard hit. It got us through summer.
Meanwhile, we heard how publishers got back on their feet in different countries. The people started to read more. I thought that books might become a sort of remedy for people when they began to share how they adapted to the new circumstances in Georgia as well. I think people from here felt they have been missing out for a long, long time now and that something is always happening out there, but not in Georgia, not for Georgians. I always thought books could help in many ways. They could help people go back and make peace with themselves, that the world is progressing around them, not elsewhere, where they are not.
And now Tbilisi is UNESCO’s World Book Capital. Considering what I just said, this sounds like a perfect opportunity to have a considerable impact, right? I am involved in this project as well. We want to use every possibility to capitalize on both pre-pandemic issues and the ones the pandemic brought along. We have various projects for every age group. We are launching programmes to support authors, publishers, translators, illustrators and everybody involved in literary processes here.
My colleagues and I are trying to involve as many people as possible. We are trying to talk about what our next book is (this is the official slogan of the project too: “So, your next book is…”).
I haven’t finished Infinite Jest, nor have I read Ducks, Newburyport, but life moves on and evolves as it always did. So does the publishing and so do the readers.
Luka Grigolia is a publishing professional representing Sulakauri Publishing. He discovers/publishes award-winning Georgian writers, but mostly publishes classic and contemporary classic literature (Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, Joyce, Golding, Saramago, Franzen, Arundhati Roy, Max Frisch, Ali Smith, Knausgaard, JK Rowling, Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman and many, many more).
Currently Luka is an international project manager at UNESCO’s Tbilisi World Book Capital 2021.
He’s also just established an indie publishing house called Avril 14 Books, focusing on the voices nobody has ever translated before in Georgia despite the fact they are prominent names. The concept was partly inspired by Fitzcarraldo Publishing.