“A one-man operation that grew to become one of the most influential book companies in the United States.” — The New York Times
“Long struggling and long astonishing” is how Richard Eder in The New York Times described New Directions, the publishing house founded by James Laughlin in 1936 on the advice of Ezra Pound to do “something useful.” The 22-year-old’s first book was an anthology, New Directions in Prose and Poetry, containing avant-garde writers such as Pound, Gertrude Stein, e.e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop and Henry Miller. (He had excellent taste, but forgot that books needed page numbers.) With 600 copies in the trunk of his Buick, the intrepid Laughlin set out to persuade bookstores to stock a few volumes “out of pity.”
Since then, New Directions’ selection of authors has been governed by two principles, which Laughlin succinctly defined as “the assumption of quality and the assumption that these books would not sell in the marketplace.” Such a novel approach to the business of publishing has allowed editors throughout New Directions’ seventy-plus years to select the best literature from around the world.
New Directions is proud to be the first American publisher of Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, W.G. Sebald and Roberto Bolano. The longtime publishing home to Tennessee Williams, Djuna Barnes, Nathaneal West, Henry Miller, and many others, New Directions continues to foster bold and audacious writers such as Cesar Aira, Javier, Marias, Forrest Gander, and Inger Christensen. Appropriate for a house begun on Ezra Pound’s advice, New Directions’ poetry list contains the most important poets from the Modernist period onward, whether it’s H.D., William Carlos Williams, Dylan Thomas, Nathaniel Mackey or Susan Howe.
Keeping alive the original spirit of the enterprise, New Directions always offers adventures for the reader. A voracious reader of New Directions’ books, Octavio Paz said: “for us, each volume was a map, not of discovered and colonized lands, but of the unknown territories that were being explored (or invented) by the new writers appearing in the four corners of the earth. To read the ND publications was to open a window.”