Publishing Consultant And PublisHer Board Member Emma House Interviews Bookwomen Around The World.
Eva Karaitidi has worked for Greece’s oldest publishing house, Hestia, for 35 years, and has led the company since 1998. Founded in 1885, Hestia has been a family-run business for five generations
As a writer, Eva has published two collections of short stories and translated five books of French literature for Hestia.
She recently translated Micheline Flak and Jacques de Coulon’s Children Who Succeed: Yoga in Education, also for Hestia. Eva began studying and training in the tradition of Satyananda Yoga / Bihar School of Yoga in the 1990s and has been teaching yoga since 2010.
In 2011, she received the French state honour of Knight of the Order of Academic Phoenix.
Did you always want to join the publishing industry?
To be honest, when I was younger I did not even consider becoming a publisher. Of course, I loved books and was raised with them; they were a special part of my youth, as is the case for many children. I admired storytelling, thus authors, but I considered the publishing industry to be about commerce and money, so I thought it was not for me. I mostly admired my physician father and his work with patients and diseases.
I eventually entered the family business after long studies in Greece and France, as a sudden feeling of duty, and of gratitude for a long tradition that kept offering education, knowledge, and enjoyment to many generations of Greek language speakers and readers.
How did the business keep going through Greece’s economic and political turmoil?
I hardly imagine how the business survived during, for instance, WWII; I just know that they were not publishing any new books, and that the Germans closed a printing factory that my family had founded in association with two other Greek publishers when all three publishers refused any collaboration with the occupants.
What I personally experienced was the collapse before and during the financial crisis of the last decade. In my opinion this was also due to the vast number of books published beyond any reasonable absorption by the market. Many bookstores closed, Hestia’s too, leaving serious debts and more difficulties for the publishers. As there were fewer book buyers because of the economic collapse, we faced many obstacles, but finally managed to overcome them. Then the Covid pandemic struck. However, the book market is managing to address these problems, thanks to online services.
As for the secrets of success, I hope they will be discovered one day. I think it had to do with vision, firm resolutions, adaptability, integrity, sense of service beyond material gains and losses. Not forgetting the overall objective of what we do.
What challenges have you faced in your publishing career, especially since you took over the general management of the business?
The greatest challenge has always been overcoming my own limits. My great helping hand was, and still is, the eternal feeling of being a student having to learn new matters every day and passing exams every minute.
I had to overcome the suspiciousness of most people around me by proving I was not just my mother’s daughter. I had to convince employees, colleagues, authors, authors’ heirs and rights managers, agents etc. I also had to convince my own family that I was capable of managing this difficult business. And the challenges continue!
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
Publishing books that overcome the time limits. Surviving the deep Greek crisis, surviving the pandemic, moving on when everything seemed lost. Always honouring the authors that keep honouring us. It is a long story we keep cultivating: we continue to publish the great authors of the 1930s (still under rights and still appreciated and selling well), while our youngest author published his first book when he was only 23.
What is the environment like for women in publishing in Greece
Women have always been very active in the book sector, even in my mother’s generation (she was born in 1928). I mean, Greece is a very traditional country, very conservative at times, and women were not exactly encouraged to shine as careerists. Despite this, they were somehow naturally accepted as publishers, in the Athenian environment at least. And they did shine.
Even in my generation (born in 1955), girls and women felt in their skin they had many fewer opportunities than did men, but I personally always felt equal to anybody, and that stands you in good stead when in danger of being thrown out of the game.
Can you tell us a little bit about the publishing industry in Greece today?
It has a really very small role in the whole economic system, but it is very important culturally, as is the diversity of publishers and the quality and variety of the books produced. Most publishing companies are family businesses, and new ones keep arising, run by cultivated and capable young people. I firmly believe that what we all have in common is passion. Without it you cannot go on in this country. I think many or maybe most of us publishers bear this in common with artists.
How does Hestia fit into the landscape?
Hestia specialises mostly in literature nowadays, Greek and international, history, testimonies and biographies, essays, philosophy, psychoanalysis. We also publish a well known review called Nea Hestia, which has been appearing since 1927.
I have a great love for poetry and children’s literature, and I hope to restart with them in the future. An interesting thing is that many publishers were literally saved by selling children’s books during the financial crisis.
What has been your vision for the company over the last years, and what does the future hold?
It has been mainly a vision of respecting and honouring the great opportunity I was given by inheriting this publishing company. Of course every generation leaves its traces on the long path of Hestia. Mine is continuing the great literary tradition and also working with new subjects, such as yoga or LGBTQ+ literature.
We recently published a book by young author and performer Sam Albatros, which has become a bestselling title, and we plan to publish two other important novels, one by a very young author, the other by a well respected film director and essayist. We now must accept that our Greek society needs to be reeducated concerning a lost sense of tolerance. Hypocrisy and homophobia are being pointed out in several books we are planning to publish soon. We are glad Hestia is fully involved with this new wave.
You run a successful publishing company, you are a writer and a translator, and you teach yoga – how do you manage the various aspects of your life and career?
Alas, I am not a writer in the purist sense. I just love to exercise with language, and it so happened that I wrote short stories for 15 years or so; I think it was my way to find balance in my everyday life. The fact is I needed balance and harmony, and writing was helping me out. When I started practising yoga, I found out that writing was not the only way I could deal with anxieties and despair. For decades I thought I could not survive without writing, but it turned out no longer to be the case. But I hope to come back to writing one day.
As for translation, this is another form of practising with language, and I have translated several French authors (Jean Mattern, Yasmina Réza and Pierre Mérot) who have been published by Hestia, as well as a psychoanalysis book by Jean-Bertrand Pontalis and a yoga manual for school teachers by Micheline Flak and Jacques de Coulon.
Regarding yoga, I haven’t taught it since the beginning of the pandemic as I don’t teach online. So I just taught people for free in the Greek islands during my summer holidays (one of my students was 97 years old!) and I am a regular Satyananda Yoga practitioner, following different online programmes, mostly Greek but also international. Recently I have been dedicating time to proof reading yoga translations from English to Greek. It was something I did some time ago, and recently restarted as a commitment to the practice of and spreading the knowledge of Satyananda Yoga.
Having said that, it is the publishing job that occupies most of my time.
This interview was first published by BookBrunch.co.uk and is reproduced here with kind permission.