A Welsh Government project, the Library of Wales, created to ensure that Wales’ literary heritage written in English was made available to modern audiences, has reached its 50,000th sale.
Titles selected for the Library of Wales are unavailable, out-of-print, or merely forgotten. They range diversely from well-known classics by Raymond Williams, Gwyn Thomas, and Dannie Abse, to forgotten works such as Lewis Jones’s behemoth Welsh epic Cwmardy, and Turf or Stone, the ‘Welsh Wuthering Heights’, by Margiad Evans.
Their publication has done much to reignite interest in the books, with several now appearing on university reading lists, and being adapted for theatre and radio. The series currently includes 34 titles; thirteen of which are also available as ebooks, further widening the engagement of the Library of Wales with a modern audience.
“The success of the Library of Wales series highlights the importance of our long-standing literary tradition here in Wales and we congratulate the publishers Parthian on their excellent work. The continuous sales of the series also testifies to the quality of the writing and the selection of titles by series Editor, Dai Smith. Former First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, noted that the Library of Wales series was a major Welsh Government’s cultural success which the Welsh Books Council are pleased to be involved with in our efforts to promote a range of quality writing from Wales.” – Elwyn Jones, Chief Executive, Welsh Books Council
The Library of Wales is a Welsh Government and Welsh Books Council initiative, and is published by Parthian. Launched in Cardiff, London and New York in Spring 2006, the Library of Wales was designed to ensure that all of the rich and extensive literature in Wales that has been written in English is made available to readers in and beyond Wales.
The Library of Wales project was born out of an understanding that a wide literary heritage is a key component in creating an ongoing sense of modern Welsh culture and history, bringing back into play the voices and actions of the human experience that has made us, in all our complexity, a Welsh people.
“I am delighted that the Library of Wales has reached the landmark of 50,000 sales of out of print Welsh classics and am very pleased that the Welsh Govenrment has supported the scheme to make these books available, both as traditional printed copies and e-books. Providing e-books is an excellent way to make the books accessible to as wide an audience as possible, regardless of where they live and is bringing Welsh literature written in English right up to date. Literature is an excellent way of selling our nation to the world and I am sure the Library of Wales is helping to do just that, as well as keeping our literary heritage alive for future generations.” – Huw Lewis, Minister for Heritage, Welsh Assembly
Jon Gower has recently agreed to take on the challenge of reading the whole series, and has been blogging his experiences online at Wales Arts Review. His post about the first book in the series, Ron Berry’s So Long, Hector Bebb, likens Ron Berry’s writing to contemporary writer Niall Griffiths’s. Such comparisons help to explain why the Library of Wales titles are still able to engage the interest of modern readers.
Arthur Machen provides an example of the far-reaching influence of these forgotten writers: named by H. P. Lovecraft as one of the four “modern masters” of supernatural horror, he is credited with influencing horror writers like Stephen King, and has enjoyed a revival of interest since returning to print.
The Library of Wales is also partly responsible for Mari Stead Jones’s mission to continue where her father left off. Mari was eighteen when her father passed away suddenly and his papers were sealed into a large wooden chest. In 2007, Mari discovered the chest tucked away in the back of a wardrobe, full of notebooks, unpublished manuscripts and plays. Mari found herself drawn into the stories, and began to edit and rework them for a modern audience. Around this time, she was contacted unexpectedly by Dai Smith about a Library of Wales edition of Make Room for the Jester. It was speaking to Phillip Pullman, who wrote the forward to the Library of Wales edition, at the launch that convinced Mari to publish her version of Stead’s thriller Say Goodbye to the Boys (Parthian, spring 2013).
2013 will see an extensive anthology, featuring a range of short stories from Rhys Davies and Alun Richards to Deborah Kay Davies and Rachel Trezise, and an edition of poet, adventurer, and drinker, W. H. Davies’ Autobiography of a Super-tramp with its original preface by George Bernard Shaw.