Two local residents started New Vessel Press out of a W. 99th Street apartment
“It was a friendship born out of words,” said Michael Wise, 56.
Wise, a former foreign correspondent for Reuters, had come to watch his son Solomon, 15, compete in the bee when he met Ross Ufberg, 28.
Ufberg was pronouncing the bee, as he has done for the past few years while pursuing a PhD in Slavic languages and literatures at Columbia University.
During a break, the two struck up a conversation about Eastern Europe. Although they didn’t exchange contact information, they ran into each other on the street a couple of weeks later and became friends.
Bemoaning the lack of works from other languages, they decided to publish translations with their own money.
“It was a natural outgrowth,” Wise said of their decision to form New Vessel Press.
They have accomplished a lot in a short period of time. Since starting their publishing house in 2012, the men have published four books from Argentina, Italy, Austria, and Israel, with two more coming out in February and March from Moldova and Poland. Their titles can be found as paperbacks in 12 Manhattan bookstores and in select stores across the country, as well as ebooks at online sellers like Amazon.
In December, they took advantage of the dearth of bookstores selling new books on Broadway between 57th Street and 83rd on the Upper West Side and set up a pop-up bookstore.
“I felt a little bit like a kid selling lemonade on my street corner,” said Wise with a smile.
Ufberg agreed and then added, “But healthy lemonade.”
Although they seek out books from all over the world, Wise and Ufberg see New Vessel Press as a product of the Upper West Side.
“This is a great neighborhood to start a publishing house,” said Wise. “I go to the gym on 106th and Broadway and it’s filled with professors from Columbia and Fordham and the Jewish Theological Seminary and very bright people, and I’m talking to them on the treadmill about our books. Just as I met Ross during a chance encounter and then we met on the street, again, this is a great place to be for this kind of business.”
And it just so happens that Ufberg met their book cover designer in another chance encounter.
While riding in the elevator of his apartment building on West 99th Street, Ufberg saw a young woman with a large portfolio envelope labeled “A Bintel Brief,” the name of a Yiddish advice column from the first half of the 20th century.
“I’m thinking, either this woman is really confused, or she’s doing something cool,” he said.
Intrigued, Ufberg inquired and learned that the woman was a graphic novel illustrator who was creating a book based on the advice column.
She also happened to live in the apartment directly below him, although the two had never met.
When Wise and Ufberg began looking for cover designers, Ufberg invited Liana Finck, 27, to apply. The men were struck by her simple designs, which became the covers for Cocaine and The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra.
Rather than use a photo or manipulate graphics on a computer, Finck draws the covers by hand, including the titles.
“I love to draw,” said Finck, whose cartoons have appeared in The New Yorker.
“You can make book covers without drawing. But this is my special talent, so I choose to use it.”
Although Ufberg no longer lives in their apartment building, he kept the space as an office for New Vessel.
Finck likes the proximity.
“It’s nice,” she said when asked about living close to the office. “I hear a chair sometimes. It’s comforting.”
Similarly, Ufberg and Wise also enjoy the companionship that New Vessel has given them.
“As a journalist, I spend a lot of time alone,” said Wise. “It’s nice to do something with a friend.”
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