P.O. Box 1333
Merchantville NJ 08109, USA
Men of Letters
by Gwen Shrift
Bucks County Courier Times
Tuesday, 7/22/03, Page E3
Publishing executive Tony Schiavo Jr. doesn't buy the green-light-at-the-end-of-the-dock romanticism that permeates F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "The Great Gatsby."
His colleague, writer and editor Claudio Salvucci, has equal disdain for the works of Joyce Carol Oates—he calls them "painful."
The two are not heretics, though their tastes put them at odds with most modern writers. Call them true believers in literary glories of the past.
Salvucci and Schiavo prefer tougher reads such as the novels of Alexandre Dumas or C. S. Lewis. "I was on a big Dostoevsky kick for a long time," says Schiavo. "That's the kind of thing we love, that interplay of humanity, the thing that [writers like] Jules Verne understood, the humanity of man," Salvucci adds.
The two men, friends since they attended St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia, set up Arx Publishing in Bristol Borough [www.arxpub.com] several years ago to issue new literary works composed in the same vein as old-school classics. We're talking thousand-years-old school here—the office at Arx is likely one of the few places outside a university classroom where epic poetry is freely discussed.
The two friends prefer such classics, with their strong sense of right and wrong, to more recent literary schools infused with nihilism, Marxism and other modern intellectual currents.
So the catalog at Arx is filled with works such as Salvucci's epic poem "The Laviniad," and a new release, "Niamh and the Hermit," a fairy tale billed as a Christian Alternative to the Harry Potter novels. "We don't want to turn the clock back, but we want to preserve that grain of truth [from classic times]," said Salvucci, who is also an occasional contributor to the opinion page of the Courier Times.
Emily C. A. Snyder, author of "Niamh," says Schiavo and Salvucci are tapping into wide-spread contemporary attitudes that are simultaneously linked to the past.
"Among Christians, and Catholics as well, there's a lot of nervousness about fantasy, a lot of nervousness about art," she said. "There's been so much ugliness in art, so much that's destructive, that somehow they've [Christians and Catholics] forgotten what art's purpose is, which is the glorification of God. So rather than trying to regain art, they shun it. I think you're seeing a slow movement back to regain art, and fantasy is a good place to start.
"There are almost no Christian fantasy publishers around, and the only Catholic fantasy publisher that I know is Arx Publishing. That is Arx's goal, to remind everybody who gave the world the Sistine Chapel. It was Catholicism."
"We know our markets quite well," said Schiavo, whose background includes working for another small publishing house. He said Arx's fiction list is well received among families who home-school their kids, while libraries are a natural outlet for titles such as "A Dictionary of Pennsylvaninanisms."
The Keystone State lexicon and other books on language are the fruit of Salvucci's longtime interest in linguistics.
He compiled the Pennsylvania dialect dictionary and also issues reprints of Native American vocabularies that were recorded by early explorers and missionaries. Among the works in this collection are "Elliot's Vocabulary of Mohawk," taken from the research of the Rev. Adam Elliot in 1845 and "Ridout's Vocabulary of Shawnee," a collection derived from a list of 400 Native American words Thomas Ridout wrote down "while a captive of the Shawnee in 1788," according to a company catalog.
Source material for some of the Native American language books and for other Arx titles is drawn from a Catholic document called the "Jesuit Relations," a long series of reports sent by missionary priests in North America to their superiors in France starting in the early 1600s.
More books based on extracts from the "Jesuit Relations" are planned, with titles including "Native American Spirituality," "Women in New France," "Lost Tribes of the Interior," and a two-volume history of the Iroquois Wars of the 17th century. Salvucci not only edits the colonial-era and language series, but binds each copy himself.
The publishing company values that kind of dual talent, which it found close to home. Robert Kauffmann, Schiavo's brother-in-law and an investor in Arx, writes epic poetry and illustrates it. He also animated part of his epic fantasy, "The Mask of Ollock," which Arx published in paperback.
Schiavo and Salvucci say they're looking to expand Arx's fiction list with science-fiction and epic-adventure titles. As you might expect, they're highly selective. Our rejection rate is 95 percent or higher," said Schiavo.