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Cross-Cultural Communications


by Charles Fishman with Stanley Barkan



Stanley Barkan “Something extraordinary happens at the point of contact between peoples of different cultures, particularly on the artistic level, and the greater the difference in world view, the more extraordinary the meeting.”



With this philosophy, Stanley H. Barkan founded Cross-Cultural Communications in 1971. His aim was “to draw cultures closer together . . . to put messages in a bottle, time capsules for the future”, to transmit and preserve, “particularly for cultures which may be more endangered than the humpback whale.”

Because the focus of Cross-Cultural Communications is “traditionally neglected languages and cultures,” the press has produced over three hundred titles in fifty different languages representing a wide spectrum of ethnic and national groups. For instance, rather than focusing on the major European languages, CCC has published the work of often overlooked ethnic groups, such as the Catalan poets of Spain. Catalan cover

After a stint in the U.S. Army and graduation from college, Barkan taught in the New York City public schools, work for which he received the 1991 New York City Poetry Teacher of the Year Award. While teaching high school English and working as an adjunct professor at Long Island University's Brooklyn Center, Barkan initiated a series of cross-cultural and multilingual courses for LIU's special education program. He became the Cross-Cultural Communications Institute's chairman and, when the institute closed two years later, made Cross-Cultural Communications into an independent publishing house. He has been publishing ever since, assisted by his wife Bebe, art director of Cross-Cultural Communications, and a board of some fifty noted translators, poets, and artists. Barkan also edits the internationally acclaimed Cross-Cultural Review Series of World Literature and Art and directed both the International Literary Arts Festival at the United Nations and the reading series at the Barnes & Nobles and Borders flagship superstores. He has also continued writing his own poetry, which has been translated into 20 languages.

Stanley Barkan was awarded the 1996 Poor Richards Award from the Small Press Center in New York City. The award is given annually “to an individual who has worked with distinction as a small press publisher, editor, or administrator for a minimum of 25 years.” The citation for the award noted that Cross-Cultural Communications “had brought the world closer together through literature.”

snake cover Barkan feels that “the values and insights inherent in the particular world views of endangered languages and cultures are . . . vital” and that “we cannot afford to lose what these different world-view structures offer.” Accordingly, the languages published by Barkan are often attempts to rescue a world view, as was the case with his Native American series, which has included work from Muskogee/Creek, Cherokee, Cheyenne, and Abenaki. The works published have included previously unknown authors, as well as authors that have gone on to become quite well-known. When the work has reflected Barkan's abiding concerns, CCC has occasionally distributed books released by other presses. Two examples are Linda Hogan's Red Clay: Poems and Stories and Joseph Bruchac's anthology, Songs from This Earth on Turtle's Back, both published by the Greenfield Review Press.

CCC has also published in a variety of media—including postcards—for instance, To Struga with Love Struga cover, a packet of postcards that commemorates “The Struga Poetry Evenings” that takes place in Macedonia each August.

Barkan's literary association with Yugoslavia began when he was asked to publish the Yugoslav constitution in American English. Even though Barkan's interest was clearly in publishing the literary arts, he felt that publishing the Yugoslav constitution might be a way to make connections with Yugoslav writers and artists. Eventually he was invited to represent the United States at the Struga Poetry Evenings in 1976 and 1978, and participating in the event allowed him to make the connections that led to his publication of

bookcover
an anthology edited by Branko Mikasinovich, a noted scholar. Widely and well-reviewed, Modern Yugoslav Satire was excerpted in the New Republic and the Pushcart Prize anthology.

Cross-Cultural Communications is also noteworthy for its history of publishing work of different genres. An anthology of Dutch science fiction, cover New Worlds from the Lowlands, was edited by the Dutch writer, Manuel van Loggem, with a preface by Isaac Asimov. Barkan brought van Loggem to the U.S. for a bilingual reading with Asimov at B. Dalton's bookstore in Greenwich Village. This reading was the beginning of Cross-Cultural Communications' venture into the field of videocassette recordings. In 1981, Barkan initiated a series of “talking books,” combining a bilingual chapbook with an audiocasette.

Cross-Cultural Communications has produced posters, chapbooks, minibooks, large anthologies, limited editions, mini-, midi-, and maxi-boxes, portfolio editions, audiocassettes (the first talking books), videocassettes (the first videobooks), records, and CDs. The latest innovation is a series of “canned poems” that will include such offerings as Love Cans, Pasta Poems, Turkish Delight, Pirogi Poems, and Matzaball-ad Poems. Barkan's intention is to package these gourmet treats between peas and beans in cans looking like Campbell Soup tins. He hopes to have this new vehicle for marketing literature available within the next five years, and he already has a slogan: “Canned poems are nourishing—they're good for the soul.”

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“Translations are everything to us,” Barkan has said. “They are keys to other cultures.” The languages published by Cross-Cultural Communications range from Armenian to Yiddish, and Cross-Cultural Communication's goal for the next five years is to publish books in another fifty languages. In fact, Barkan hopes to publish a bilingual collection of poetry by a poet from every country in Europe, Asia, Latin American, and Africa within the next ten years.

Barkan has said that “It is the translator's very self-effacing and giving nature that allows him or her to become the transmitter of a culture. The translator is more important to me than any author, even a Nobel Prize Winner, who is just a single author, however important and significant. The translator is the key to a whole language, a whole culture.” Accordingly, the work of Cross-Cultural Communications has depended upon the presence of translators, both in the works published and in the press's board of directors, which has included a number of well-known poets, translators, and artists, among them: Laura Boss, Maria Mazzioti Gillan, Talat Sait Halman, Gregory Rabassa, Nat Scammacca, and Leo Vroman. Cross-Cultural Communications published Rabassa's first translation of poetry, Vinícius de Moraes' Girl from Ipanema. ipanema cover Barkan has always made it a policy to publish unknown writers and has often encouraged writers to seek out their own connection to other cultures and languages. He “encouraged poet Barbara Lekatsas to return to her Greek origins” by suggesting that she translate some of her own work into Greek. The result was the collection Persephone in a bilingual format.

Kunitz cover

Another project of Cross-Cultural Communciations has been publishing bilingual editions of noteworthy poets. Thus far, CCC has co-published bilingual editions of Stanley Kunitz in three languages: Italian, Polish, and Bulgarian. Four other bilingual editions are in progress: Bengali, French, Serbian, and Spanish. The goal is to have ten different bilingual collections within the next five years. CCC has also published a single poem by three poets— Menke Katz, Langston Hughes, and Allen Ginsberg —in a number of languages (up to 25, to date). Within the next five years, Barkan hopes to have a book for Kunitz and another for Ginsberg, where one poem by each poet is translated into fifty different languages with cross-cultural notes.

Indeed, the special achievement of Cross-Cultural Communications has been to produce an exceptional run of multi-volume series in chapbook and larger formats, as well as in boxed editions. This library of cross-cultural work has included a focus on Catalan poets, writers of African, Asian, Sicilian and Italian heritage, Dutch & Flemish writers, Jewish, cover Israeli and Yiddish writers, Cajun, Polish and East European authors, Native American and Latin American writers, and women writers. cover In the next five years, Barkan plans to broaden the scope of this already impressive series.

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Stanley Barkan continues his work at Cross-Cultural Communications with undiminished enthusiasm. To end in his own words:

“When CCC was in its formative stages, we had the naive hope that our efforts might result in some improvement of the human condition. Somehow, we thought, if peoples of different languages, enthnicities, and cultures would meet on an essential artistic level, they could not help but be more mutually understanding and appreciative. Somehow this might prevent them from killing each other. Well, especially in view of recent history, we have long since abandoned that version of the dream. But, as Donald Lev has written, We keep on, we keep on.”