When Karl Ove Knausgaard joins us in New York this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for the Norwegian-American Literary Festival, he’ll do so not just as the author of My Struggle but as the publisher of Pelikanen (Pelican), the house he founded in 2010. Knausgaard runs the press on what he calls “an idealistic basis”—it’s a nonprofit—with his brother Yngve, Asbjørn Jensen, and a few friends.
“As a writer you’re always alone,” Knausgaard told Ane Farsethås of the Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet, explaining why he chose to become a publisher:
I think for me it’s really about getting away from that, creating some kind of a community through publishing books—a community of readers, but also writers. We started with a single book that we wanted to publish, by Geir Angell Øygarden, who is the Geir of the My Struggle books. The project gradually grew more ambitious from there. When I started writing, the U.S. seemed this far-away, unattainable place, the books from there seemed to come from another planet. When I began to travel I got it: Those writers that you just read about in the paper and that seem so far away, are actual people, who sit there writing by themselves, just like writers do here. It’s an obvious insight, not even worth the name of insight, but it felt like a revelation! So translating and publishing books is also a way of connecting with good writers. The Norwegian-American Literary Festival has created many connections between the two worlds, and I see how valuable that is.
The festival will feature the Norwegian author Cathrine Knudsen, published by Pelikanen, and several writers the house publishes in translation: Katie Kitamura, Claire-Louise Bennett, and Christian Kracht. “There’s so little that gets translated into Norwegian,” Knausgaard said. “We can really pick and chose. We publish Norwegian writers, and American, but also writers from Switzerland, Germany, Iceland, and other places. We want to expand and not be limited to a single place or culture.”
Pelikanen also publishes Ben Marcus in translation—his novel The Flame Alphabet is “among the books I am the most proud of having published,” Knausgaard said. “I read In the Age of Wire and String when it came out in the midnineties, and I was struck by it: that short fantastic text conjured up a world of its own, it was an experiment that did something I had never seen before. Much later, when I went to the U.S., I picked up The Flame Alphabet and I had a similar experience, that it was like nothing else. But now I had a way to share it with readers back home.”
Geir Gulliksen, Knausgaard’s editor in Norway, will appear at the festival this week, too. An accomplished essayist, poet, novelist, and playwright, Gulliksen is the author of the novel Story of a Marriage, a contemporary counterpart to Ingmar Bergman’s classic Scenes from a Marriage. The book is nominated for this year’s Nordic Council Literature Prize.
Click here for the festival’s full schedule. All events are free and open to the public.