Robert Fulghum’s new book: First in Czech. English follows later!

As we screen and analyse international bestseller lists for several book trade magazines month by month, we were puzzled by that the new book of Robert Fulghum, author of many essays, notably All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (1986).

His new collection of notes, essays, and observations, titled “What On Earth Have I Done”, hit the Czech charts as of last month – while the English original is announced only for next fall. months before its publication in English. Surprised by such a strange routine, I wrote to Robert Fulghum – and got back a wonderful story that says a lot about why sharing information on interesting books from many places makes a lot of sense and a lot of fun to many people indeed. So I share that story with you in its entirety down below. 

This is what Robert Fulghum wrote:

In partial answer to the question to you raise, I’ll tell you a nice story. All of my books have been published in Czech over the years as a result of the interest of one person, Eva Slamova, the editor-in-chief of Argo. When I began writing a novel, she wanted to see it. My own American editor didn’t want me to write fiction and wasn’t encouraging. Eva, on the other hand, published the novel as I wrote it – in three volumes and beautifully – and it has had great success. THIRD WISH is the tile. Now it has been published in Slovak and Hungarian. A radio adaptation was made for Czech Radio, and a theater piece has developed from it.  My entire contract for the novel said, “Publish it well and send me some money if you make some.” They did and they did. Nice, yes? 

And so, when I finished my new book of essays and stories, I wanted the Czechs to publish it first, in appreciation for Eva’s faith in my writing. Some critics wonder if the novel and the essays are somehow not good enough to be published in the states, but they don’t understand. It is a real honor to be published first in Czech – theirs is a long and distinguished literary tradition. My American editor and publisher find this confusing, but the USA is not at the top of the heap in many respects these days, and it takes some getting used to. Mostly American publishers think of the sales to European countries as stripping the cow – just extra income – without much respect for the readers outside the USA. Who cares what the Czechs and Slovaks and Hungarians think and read? Well I care very much.

 My new book of essays, What On Earth Have I Done? will be published by St. Martin’s Press in the USA in September, and the novel is being considered now by three publishers here. Meanwhile, I am very happy to continue to have my books launched in Czech.

 There’s more to the story, but that’s a beginning. So far, nobody has really noticed this except you. Come to the Czech or Hungarian book fairs and see first hand what’s going on.  With thanks for your interest and warmest regards, Robert Fulghum“

PS: In the mean time Fulghum has arrived in Prague, just in time for the local book fair, Prague Book World“, and enjoys the fair, the books, good company – and good Czech beer, as he told me on the phone.

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