Alumnus Promotes World Literature

Will Evans A.M. '12 opens the first literary publishing house in Dallas
December 8, 2014

While Will Evans was pursuing a master’s in Russian studies at Duke, he asked his professor, Carol Apollonio, why it seemed so few works of contemporary literature were translated into English. Apollonio’s response: “if you ever want to see a book translated, you have to do it yourself.”

Evans took her advice to heart and did just that while studying abroad in St. Petersburg the following summer. In the process, Evans learned about a phenomenon called the “3 percent problem,” which means that only 3 percent of books published in the U.S. are translated from another language. Reading world literature “really opens up our mind about the possibility of literature, about the way people read and live and feel and think,” Evans says, but “there are all these amazing books that have never been translated in English.”

After graduating in 2012, Evans moved to Dallas and started Deep Vellum, the only literary publishing house in the city. The name is part pun (Deep Ellum is Dallas’ artsy neighborhood) and part historical throwback (early books were printed on vellum, a parchment originally made from calfskin).

Through Deep Vellum, Evans wants to promote world literature as well as support the craft of translation. Translated into English from Russian, French, Spanish, and even Icelandic, the books are available in print as well as e-book, and perhaps one day, as audiobooks. Evans isn’t picky about the format. "I just want people to read great literature,” he says. At the moment, Deep Vellum is only translating high literary fiction and creative nonfiction, but poetry, plays, and even children’s books may be on the horizon.

Because Duke pointed him toward this path, Evans is returning the favor by publishing the translated work of Duke professors. Next spring, Deep Vellum will publish French literature professor Anne Garréta’s Sphinx, followed by Carol Apollonio’s translation of Alisa Ganieva’s The Mountain and the Wall.

  • Elizabeth '11 is a writer in New York. She previously worked as a senior editorial fellow for The Trace and a staff writer for Duke Magazine.