Astra Publishing House
A Global Publishing Venture
Led by Ben Schrank
Astra Publishing House will include:
Astra House: new literary imprint to publish fiction/nonfiction & poetry
mineditionUS, prestigious picture book publisher, to open US office
Boyds Mills & Kane, award-winning children’s book publisher, joins the group
Astra Quarterly, new literary magazine to debut in 2021
Alessandra Bastagli and Maria Russo
Join as Editorial Directors
New York, May 19, 2020 – The formation of Astra Publishing House was announced today by COO and Publisher Ben Schrank. “The time is right for a new publishing house that’s deeply committed to progressive values and that champions authors from all corners of the world. Astra Publishing House’s foremost aim is to build bridges between readers and writers in all nations, and I’m so excited to be part of a venture that speaks to an increasing necessity for a shared global consciousness.”
Astra Publishing House is comprised of Astra House, an entirely new adult trade publisher of American and international literary fiction and poetry, and mission-driven nonfiction – Schrank is Publisher, in addition to his role as COO; Alessandra Bastagli joins as Editorial Director; mineditionUS, already one of the most prestigious picture book publishers in the world – former New York Times Children’s Book Editor Maria Russo joins as Editorial Director; Boyds Mills & Kane, established and award-winning publisher of children’s books will continue to be led by Publisher Juliana Lauletta; and Astra Quarterly, a new literary magazine committed to publishing the best new writers from around the world will debut next year.
Astra Publishing House is a wholly owned subsidiary of Thinkingdom Media Group, a Beijing-based publishing house committed to the discovery, creation and promotion of high quality literary works ranging from fiction, nonfiction and picture books. It also embraces diversity and a global vision with associated publishers in Japan, France and Germany. “We have been building toward this moment for a long time and are so thrilled to have these brilliant editorial and publishing talents joining the leadership team. With a clear mission of publishing books that bridge the world and connect people and cultures, we look forward to an exciting new journey for this growing global publishing program here in the US,” says Leying Jiang, President of Astra Publishing House.
Editorial Director Alessandra Bastagli says Astra House will publish 20 to 25 titles a year and is dedicated to publishing the best non-fiction and fiction writers from the US as well as from around the world. “I have always valued books that are authentic, ask new questions, present counter-narratives and original thinking, challenge our assumptions, and broaden and deepen our understanding of the world,” Bastagli explains. “Our mission at Astra House will be to advocate for authors who experience their subject deeply and personally, and who have a strong point of view; writers who represent multifaceted expressions of intellectual thought and personal experience, and who can introduce readers to new perspectives about their everyday lives as well as the lives of others.” Astra House titles will be distributed by Penguin Random House.
The inaugural list showcases the global reach and unique spirit of Astra House:
~ London-based New York Times Arts and Culture writer Farah Nayeri’s ART IN THE AGE OF CANCEL CULTURE, about the art world’s uneasy reckoning with ethics and morals. Combining art criticism, history, politics and social justice, Nayeri unpacks the controversies around works like Chris Ofili’s “The Holy Virgin Mary,” Dana Schutz’s “Open Coffin,” and more, to explore the forces at play and identify the potential repercussions for artists and their art as regular citizens increasingly wield the power to censor.
~ Award-winning, internationally bestselling Chinese author Li Juan’s memoir, and her first book to be published in English, WINTER PASTURE, chronicling her experiences traveling with a family of Kazakh herders as they take their 30 camels, 500 sheep and over 100 cattle and horses to pasture for the winter in a remote region in Northwestern China. With a keen eye for the understated elegance of the natural world, and a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor, Li Juan vividly captures the lives of these men and women, the extraordinary hardships they face as well as the ordinary preoccupations of their day-to-day, bringing their stories to English language readers for the first time.
~ Chilean Iván Monalisa Ojeda’s collection of stories, THE BIUTY QUEENS, offering insight into the life of New York City’s Latin American trans community. Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar says this collection captures “the American dream as seen from the height of a good pair of heels which turns into a nightmare, an everyday nightmare… These are stories of survival in the face of Trump’s migration policies, with characters who skirt urban dangers with humor and solidarity as they share drugs, pimps, beauty awards, syndromes and delirium, forming a very close-knit community… Ojeda’s stories radiate realism with every sentence.”
“We will launch the imprint with a focused inaugural list in Spring 2021 but are already working toward building a robust pipeline of titles for that Fall and beyond, as we work toward our goal of twenty-five books a year, about half of which will be in translation,” says Bastagli. “We are also looking to expand our editorial team, with a preference for people who are fluent in a second language.”
Editorial Director for mineditionUS Maria Russo brings decades of experience in cultural journalism and, as the former Children’s Book editor of the New York Times, an unparalleled depth and breadth of knowledge about contemporary children’s literature and illustration. She will be working with Michael Neugebauer, the founder of minedition, to expand its readership and the brand’s unique global perspective and commitment to bringing world-class illustration to books for every child.
With an international team based in Switzerland, France, Germany, Beijing, Hong Kong and now the US, which speaks to Astra House’s worldview, minedition taps into talent from around the globe including Hans Christian Andersen Award winners Lisbeth Zwerger, Kveta Pacovska and Robert Ingpen; renowned naturalist Jane Goodall; Association of Booksellers for Children and Parents magazine Best Book winner Elsa Mroziewicz, to name just a few. Recent titles of note include Marwan’s Journey by Patricia de Arias and illustrated by Laura Borràs, a Kirkus Best Book of the Year; Giuliano Ferri’s Brick by Brick, a touching board book that shows how walls can become bridges when everyone works together, among many others.
Russo says, “To leave a job as fulfilling as the New York Times’ Children’s Books Editor could only be for an opportunity that brings together my passions: literature, art, children, and cross-cultural understanding. I’ve long been a big fan of minedition and its international approach to children’s publishing, and I’m thrilled to be joining the Astra Publishing House team and minedition’s groundbreaking publisher, Michael Neugebauer. I’m looking forward to helping create a vibrant list of picture and board books that further the minedition philosophy: emotionally resonant, artistically sophisticated picture and boardbooks that build bridges between nations and cultures. I’m especially happy to be following this dream at such a tumultuous time, when raising globally aware, open-minded and open-hearted children has never been more important.”
Michael Neugebauer says, “This new relationship is another marriage of booklovers, as Maria Russo and I share the same philosophy in bookmaking, author and artist nurturing, and publishing for children in the US and around the globe. We at minedition are truly looking forward with tremendous enthusiasm to how Maria’s vision and this collaboration will benefit our audience, readers from ages 1-99.”
Astra Quarterly, the literary magazine, will be available as a print edition as well as online. Schrank expects the magazine to begin publishing in 2021, and says, “Astra Quarterly will be led by Yan Yan, an editor and translator based in New York and will also have editorial staff in Europe and China, creating a truly global conversation in each issue.”
Boyds Mills & Kane will continue their publishing program under publisher Julianna Lauletta across their imprints, including Calkins Creek, an award winning historical imprint; Wordsong, the only US based imprint dedicated entirely to poetry; Kane Press; and Boyds Mills Press.
Schrank concludes, “Astra Publishing House looks forward to building a range of excellent publishing programs in the US. Our offices are based in the Flatiron district and we are delighted to join the vital publishing community here in New York.”
The Astra Publishing House Team:
Publisher, Astra House and COO, Astra Publishing House, Ben Schrank is also a writer and editor. Most recently, Ben was President and Publisher of Henry Holt and Company where he acquired books including Anna Solomon’s The Book of V. and Pelosi by Molly Ball. Prior to Holt, Ben was President and Publisher of Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House, for over twelve years. At Razorbill, Ben published many award winning and #1 New York Times bestselling books, including the global phenomenon Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Prior to Razorbill, Ben was Editorial Director at Alloy Entertainment where he developed and worked on many nationally bestselling books including The Gossip Girl series. Ben has published three novels of his own, most recently Love is a Canoe at FSG. He is a former MFA writing instructor at Brooklyn College, a fellow at MacDowell and Yaddo, and has written for newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, The Financial Times and O Magazine. BSchrank@
Editorial Director, Astra House, Alessandra Bastagli was most recently an Executive Editor at Dey Street Books where she focused on mission-driven narrative nonfiction, signing books by Rep. Ilhan Omar, investigative reporter Julie K. Brown, PEN CEO Suzanne Nossel, commentator R. Eric Thomas and journalist Helena Andrews-Dryer among others. Previously, she was the Editorial Director at Nation Books. During her tenure there, the imprint published many notable titles, including the National Book Award winner, New York Times bestseller, and Washington Post notable book of the year, Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi; the J. Anthony Lukas Prize winner, shortlisted for the Hurston/Wright Foundation Award, and finalist for the Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism, Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge and Marie Colvin Award-winner Alia Malek’s critically acclaimed memoir The Home That Was Our Country. Alessandra worked as Digital Features Editor at Al Jazeera America, as a Senior Editor at Free Press at Simon & Schuster, and as an Executive Editor at Palgrave Macmillan. She is also the published translator, from the German, of Jurek Becker, and from the Italian, of Primo Levi. ABastagli@
Editorial Director, mineditionUS, Maria Russo is the co-author of How to Raise a Reader (Workman, 2019) and, from 2014 to 2020, was the New York Times’ children’s books editor. Her writing for the New York Times included regular criticism and features on children’s literature, as well as reviews of adult literary fiction and nonfiction. As an editor she has worked with many of the greats of the children’s literature world, including Sophie Blackall, Kwame Alexander, Sergio Ruzzier, and Linda Sue Park. She administered the annual New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Book Awards, honoring the best picture book illustration by artists from around the world, and is a regular presenter and moderator at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and the Shanghai Children’s Book Fair. Before joining the New York Times, she was an editor and writer at the Los Angeles Times, the New York Observer, and Salon, and has written about books and culture for Slate, the Washington Post, and Bon Appetit, among others. Russo has a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University and is currently writing about the traditions of her grandparents’ region of Italy, the subject of a 2019 Travel feature for the New York Times.
Publisher, Boyds Mills & Kane, Juliana Lauletta became Publisher in 2019. Previously she was Publisher and Editorial Director of Kane Press, where she worked as an editor for sixteen years, focusing on fiction and nonfiction books that combined educational content with engaging stories that were beloved by children, parents, and educators alike. Juliana has published books such as Nikki Grimes’ Ordinary Hazards, winner of a Printz Honor and Sibert Honor; Gail Jarrow’s The Poison Eaters, an ALSC Notable Children’s Book and a Washington Post Best Children’s Book; and award-winning series such as The Milo & Jazz Mysteries, Animal Antics A to Z, and the bestselling Math Matters series, which has sold over 11 million copies worldwide. She received her B.A. in English from Vassar College. firstname.lastname@example.org
About Thinkingdom Media Group:
Thinkingdom Media Group is an independent publishing company founded by Chen Mingjun in 2002, and the only non-state owned publishing company to go public in China. Thinkingdom has published more than 4000 titles in China and holds the Chinese publishing rights to approximately 1700 internationally recognized authors including Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paulo Coelho, VS Naipaul, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, Zadie Smith, Haruki Murakami, Jonathan Franzen, and AS Byatt, to name but a few. Thinkingdom also has a brand specialized for childrens’ books, Thinkingdom Children’s Books, and is dedicated to helping every child become a book lover. Thinkingdom Children’s Books has published classic as well as bestselling titles, including work by Shel Silverstein, Ruth Krauss & Crockett Johnson, Leo Leonni, Mo Willems, David Shannon and Aaron Becker, among others.