The Recorder – Books as barrier breakers: Interlink Publishing turns 35

In the late 1970s, Michel Moushabeck came to the United States to study history at New York University, fleeing war-torn Beirut and the Lebanese Civil War. It was, he recalls, “quite an eye-opening experience” and he “immediately embraced American values ​​like free speech and democracy.”

But Moushabeck, the founder and publisher of Interlink Publishing in Northampton, said he was also shocked to find out how little most people knew about the country he came from. And as a Palestinian, he said he was also disturbed at how “some people did not accept the Palestinian narrative.”

So Moushabeck, who arrived in the Pioneer Valley in the early 1990s with his family and now lives in Leverett, changed his plans. Instead of pursuing an academic career, he decided to start an independent publishing house – a company that would showcase the work of writers from around the world, ideally generating greater global understanding and breaking down national and cultural boundaries.

“It’s been an important assignment from day one,” Moushabeck said in a recent interview at Interlink’s rambling building on Crosby Street, a converted woodworking shop originally built in the 1860s. “L The idea was to bring the world closer to American readers in the hope that we could bring the readers of the world closer to each other. “

It’s a business that started out in humble circumstances, in Moushabeck’s former apartment in Brooklyn, NY. With a laugh, he noted that he had no experience in publishing but thought, “I’ll go. To give it a try. I will learn as I go.

Today, Interlink, with a staff of 10, is celebrating its 35th anniversary, and the company has also weathered the grim economic tides of the pandemic by restarting its business model and expanding its online presence.

With a range of award-winning cookbooks focused on international cuisine, Interlink publishes 50 books a year, including novels by writers from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, as well as children’s books, the literature and travel guides, history and current affairs, art and Suite. Moushabeck said Interlink also plans to expand production in the future.

The company also continues to be a champion of the importance of the written word: On November 16, Interlink co-sponsored a conference at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of PEN International, the global group. of writers who trained in Great Britain. Great Britain in 1921.

Interlink is also largely autonomous. With the exception of printing, the 10-person staff handles all aspects of book production: commissioning and manuscript editing, layout and cover design, marketing and publishing. ‘shipping. Much of the space in the Crosby Street building is reserved for inventory (Moushabeck said they had to place steel jacks at selected points under the venerable planks of wood to compensate for the weight of the pallets stacked with books).

Moushabeck noted that he originally envisioned his company to focus on international fiction and what he calls “radical left” social and political observation books. But “I quickly realized that there was no way for me to support a family with this,” he said – he had three young daughters – and so he had the idea of ​​something different, a “Traveller’s Story” series of books designed to give tourists a basic understanding of the history and culture of the countries and cities they plan to visit.

“The idea was to read it before going on a trip,” he said. “It’s not about finding the cheapest hotel or the best place to eat.

Fiction – “This has always been my passion,” Moushabeck said – especially the work translated into English, was slow at first. But Moushabeck said he made connections with academics in programs such as comparative literature, convinced professors to include his titles in their programs, and sales increased. (It is generally believed that only about 3% of books published each year in the United States are works translated from other languages.)

“If you’re ready to hang in there, over the years (the fiction) is going to sell,” he said. “Some novels I published 25 years ago have now reached 40,000 copies, having sold maybe 500 copies in the first year.”

Crossing borders with food

Interlink has also resisted the setback of some of its books, especially for political titles critical of US foreign policy and capitalism, and those that focus on the rights of Palestinians in their long-standing struggle with Israel. Since September 11 and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Moushabeck has said, “We have received our fair share of hate mail and threats. “

Most Interlink titles are sold in the United States, but many are translated into other languages ​​and sold overseas. Cookbooks are the “bread and butter” of the business, Moushabeck noted, as the business has focused on introducing American customers especially to international cuisine and the cultures from which these recipes originate.

A book on Ethiopian cuisine has won the James Beard Foundation Award 2020, a noted award in the field, and other Interlink cookbooks have won major awards and favorable reviews in places such as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

One of those books was “The Immigrant Cookbook: Recipes that Make America Great,” a 2018 book compiled and edited by Moushabeck’s eldest daughter, Leyla. The headline was in part a rebuke of the anti-immigrant backlash that erupted during Donald Trump’s presidency, and it also reflected Leyla’s own background: she has a Palestinian father, a British mother, and a Colombian husband.

Leyla Moushabeck is actually Interlink’s longtime cookbook editor, and the business is kind of a family business. Another daughter, Maha Moushabeck, is the co-managing director (with her husband, Harrison Williams) of the publishing house, and a third daughter, Hannah Moushabeck, commissions children’s picture books (she also has a job at full time at Simon & Schuster).

“My whole family works in the book business,” Moushabeck wrote in a follow-up email. “My brother Gabriel owns Booklink Booksellers in Thornes (Marketplace); my sister owns a bookstore in Montreal; and children have always been involved in the business from a young age.

Those kind of family ties likely helped the company weather the worst of the pandemic, Moushabeck noted. With bookstores shutting down, distribution stopping and even printing shops shutting down, Interlink had to expand its web presence, he said. Collectively, staff have developed methods to achieve this, so Interlink’s mailing list of approximately 30,000 people is now approaching 80,000.

Moushabeck said he was ready to hand over more daily business to his daughters, son-in-law and other staff and do more editing. An author himself, he has forged links with many writers over the years through lectures he gives around the world on international literature. He is also a seasoned percussionist who performs with jazz and Arabic music ensembles and has lectured on music in the Five College system.

Whatever happens, he intends Interlink to stay true to his mission: to produce books that promote more cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.

“Introducing American readers to leading African, Arab and Latin American writers, getting them to try their luck with a new novelist … from the unknown – have been key motivating forces in my journey,” he said. declared.

About Joey J. Hott

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