At the end of the 1970s, Michel Moushabeck came to the USA on the run from the war-torn Beirut and the Lebanese civil war to study history at New York University. It was, he recalls, “quite an eye-opening experience,” and he says he “immediately embraced American values ââlike freedom of expression and democracy”.
But Moushabeck, the founder and editor of Interlink Publishing in Northampton, says he was also shocked to learn how little most people knew about the country he was from. And as a Palestinian, he was also concerned about how “some people did not accept the Palestinian narrative”.
So Moushabeck, who came to the Valley with his family in the early 1990s and now lives in Leverett, changed his plans. Instead of embarking on a career as an academic, he decided to start an independent publisher – a publisher that would present the work of writers from around the world, ideally to create greater global understanding and to transcend national and cultural boundaries.
“It was an important mission from day one,” Moushabeck said in a recent interview in Interlink’s sprawling building on Crosby Street, a converted timber shop that was originally built in the 1860s. “The idea was to bring the world closer to American readers in the hope that we can bring the world’s readers closer to each other.”
It is a business that began under humble circumstances in Moushabeck’s former apartment in Brooklyn, New York. He laughs and realizes that he didn’t have a background in publishing but thought, âI’ll try. I’ll learn as I go. “
Today Interlink celebrates its 35th anniversary with 10 employees and the company has weathered the dismal economic tides of the pandemic by restarting its business model and expanding its online presence.
With a number of award-winning cookbooks focusing on international cuisine, Interlink publishes 50 books annually, including fiction by writers from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, as well as children’s books, travel and travel guides, history and contemporary affairs, art, and more. According to Moushabeck, Interlink also plans to expand its production in the future.
The company continues to advocate the importance of the written word. Interlink recently co-published a story marking the 100th anniversary of PEN International, the worldwide group of writers founded in Great Britain in 1921. A forum was held earlier this week at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on the Group’s work on protecting fellow writers.
Interlink is also largely self-contained. With the exception of printing, 10 employees take care of all aspects of book production: commissioned work and manuscripts, layout and cover design, marketing and shipping. Plenty of space in the building on Crosby Street is reserved for inventory (Moushabeck says they had to place steel jacks under the venerable wooden floorboards in select spots to counter the weight of the pallets stacked with books).
Moushabeck notes that he originally envisioned his company in international fiction and what he calls “radical left” books of social and political observation. But “I soon knew that I couldn’t support a family with it,” he said – he had three young daughters – and so came up with the idea of ââdoing something different, a book series called “Traveller’s History”, which gave tourists a basic understanding of history and culture of the countries and cities they wanted to visit.
“The idea was to read it before you go on a trip,” he said. “It’s not about finding the cheapest hotel or the best place to eat.”
Fiction – “That has always been my passion,” said Moushabeck – especially works translated into English were slow at first. But Moushabeck says he’s built connections with academics in programs like comparative literature, convinced professors to include his titles in their curriculum, and sales have increased. (It is generally believed that only about 3% of the books published annually in the United States are works translated from other languages.)
âWhen you’re ready to stay, over the years [fiction is] sell, âhe said. “Some of the novels I published 25 years ago have now reached 40,000 copies after selling maybe 500 copies in the first year.”
Interlink has also turned down some of its books, particularly for political titles that are critical of US foreign policy and capitalism, and those that focus on Palestinian rights in their long-running struggle with Israel. Since September 11, 2001 and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Moushabeck has said, “We have received our fair share of hate mail and threats.”
Most Interlink titles are sold in the US, but many are translated into other languages ââand sold overseas. Cookbooks are the bread and butter of the business, notes Moushabeck, as the company has focused on introducing American customers in particular to the international cuisine and cultures that these recipes come from.
A book on Ethiopian cuisine won the 2020 James Beard Foundation Award, a prestigious award in the field, and other Interlink cookbooks have won major awards and positive reviews in places like the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.
One such work was The Immigrant Cookbook: Recipes that Make America Great, a 2018 book compiled and edited by Moushabeck’s eldest daughter, Leyla. The title was in part a reprimand for the anti-immigrant backlash that flared up during Donald Trump’s presidency, and it also reflected Leyla’s own background: she has a Palestinian father, a British mother and a Colombian husband.
Leyla Moushabeck is Interlink’s longtime cookbook editor, and the business is something of a family affair. Another daughter, Maha Moushabeck, is co-managing director (with husband Harrison Williams) of the publisher, and a third daughter, Hannah Moushabeck, commissions picture books for children (she also works full-time at Simon & Schuster).
“My whole family is in the book business,” wrote Moushabeck in a follow-up email. âMy brother Gabriel owns Booklink Booksellers in Thornes [Market]; my sister owns a bookstore in Montreal; and the children were always involved in the business from an early age. “
These type of family bonds likely helped the company weather the worst of the pandemic, notes Moushabeck; With bookstores closings, sales shutdowns and even print shops closing, Interlink had to expand its web presence, he said. The employees worked together to develop methods to achieve this, so that Interlink’s e-mail list of around 30,000 people is now approaching 80,000.
Moushabeck says he is ready to leave more day-to-day business and more editorial work to his daughters, son-in-law, and other employees. He is a self-author and has made connections with many writers over the years through lectures he gives around the world on international literature; He is also a seasoned percussionist who plays with jazz and Arabic music ensembles and has taught about music in the Five College system.
Whatever happens, he wants Interlink to stay true to its mission: to produce books that encourage more intercultural understanding and appreciation.
âIntroducing American readers to leading African, Arabic, and Latin American writers, getting them to take the chance to find a new novelistâ¦ presenting them with books that inform, delight, and entertain – as well as those that counter negative representations, hatred, and fear of the unknown – were the main motivating forces on my journey, âhe said.