Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking ahead to 2016

So there are three main issues left over from 2015 which I'd like to talk about before I can begin to fully discuss goals for 2016...

First and foremost: While this blog has largely been dormant the past few months, it is not yet obsolete or gone. I'll likely be posting less frequently over the next few months as well, but I expect to be back full-time in the spring.

The translation world

I had the honor of speaking at ALTA this past October on the women in translation panel. While I had to leave the conference a bit earlier than I wanted, I found the entire experience to be fascinating and enlightening. Not simply because I got to learn a lot about the translator perspective on translated literature, but also because I realized that there remains a fairly large divide between the literary world at large (that readers belong to), and the publishing world of translation.

This is something that's come up a few times in regards to the women in translation project, namely that it's very difficult to encourage readers to even recognize that a problem exists when literature in translation is still largely viewed as "niche" and separate. From my selfish perspective of someone who wants to see more published literature by women writers in translation, I want to see this divide thrown out. The pervasive elitism of quite a few translators I spoke with (one of whom went so far as to question my viability as a critic simply because I've not studied literature!) makes it increasingly difficult to bridge this divide, and this is something I think will need to be addressed bluntly if we want to see efforts like the women in translation project actually succeed.

The question of gender as an exclusionary challenge

I've been thinking about the women in translation project quite a bit in the past few days as regards gender definitions. In an offline conversation with my sister, she pointed out that the way in which I define the project may be interpreted as excluding nonbinary genders or transgender writers. I was already thinking about how to address this matter in the FAQ I want to write for the project at large when I came across C. K. Oliver's post about how the "read women" movement (and I suppose, by extension, the women in translation project) excludes and is unfair to transgender men or nonbinary authors. "‘Read women’ puts NB, GQ, and trans male authors between a rock and a hard place [or under a microscope] if they do not disclose their identity, or have come out as trans men while writing their books. It’s that simple."

So while I'll include this more precisely in the forthcoming FAQ, I want to make some things very clear: The women in translation movement - which seeks to draw attention to marginalized voices - will never exclude transgender authors or nonbinary genders. My statistics are drawn up using gender markers from author biographies and have thus far not raised any transgender or nonbinary authors that I have been aware of (which of course is an interesting question in and of itself), but when I do encounter authors whose identities do not fit neatly within a gender binary, I am expanding the scope of the project to include these voices. I can do little to mitigate the problems that gender definitions create, but at least I can try to form a space in which their significance is not absolute.

Use of the term diversity

I also read Khavita Bhanot's recent post about how use of the term "diverse" is well-meaning, but only further plays into racial divides. The post effectively argues that calling non-white writers or stories "diverse" only emphasizes that they are an "other", and whiteness as a default. I found myself largely agreeing with this point (not with other aspects of the article, but I won't get into that right now) - for someone who is Asian-American, for instance, Asian-American experiences are not "diverse", they simply are. Diversity is in the eye of the beholder, which is why the signs readers hold up as part of the "We Need Diverse Books Now" differ wildly between the race of the reader.

But then I thought about how this doesn't really apply to literature in translation. Unlike racial experiences within a specific cultural context (like the US or Britain, in which these sorts of movements are most prominent), nobody can belong to all international cultures or read in every language. Literature in translation (beyond individual titles) will be diverse for literally every single reader, no matter what.

Which is why I continue to view the women in translation project as an important exercise specifically in diversity. The women in translation project is about encompassing all voices and all experiences, such that any and every reader may have the opportunity to read about something new. In this sense, the question of diversity can only be held within a single country/culture (and then Bhanot's post is largely relevant), but upon crossing borders, this definition too should disappear.

What to look forward to in 2016

A lot! Get ready...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Oye What I'm Gonna Tell You | Review

There were a lot of things in Oye What I'm Gonna Tell You by Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés which made me laugh out loud. The short story collection is not meant to be an especially humorous one, but an underlying snark accompanies a good portion of the writing and some lines were, frankly, far too familiar not to make me laugh. "Arroz con pollo, sin pollo y sin arroz" made me laugh for a solid five minutes, not because the statement is necessarily that humorous on its own, but because we frequently joke in my family about my aunt's "arroz con pollo sin pollo" (and I had not known that arroz con pollo - named as such - was not an exclusively Peruvian dish).

The collection is written with almost deliberate indifference to the notion that the reader might not speak Spanish. It fits the tone - Milanés is telling stories of Cubans and of Cuban-Americans, and at times I found myself thinking that including in text translations would have been intrusive. And the Spanish, while prevalent, is not something you'll feel lost without. And you can probably figure it out from context, even if you don't know Spanish very well.

The truth is, I liked Milanés' writing, but I'm not sure I liked the collection overall. As sharp and pointed as it is in parts, there was a very uniform tone to the stories that made it difficult for me to fully separate them in my mind. Not that they were identical (certainly nowhere near the level of similarity across Kjell Askildsen's short stories, for example...), but there wasn't quite enough separation between the majority. The best stories ended up being those that shifted from the familiar structure - a two paged slip of a story about a gay man suspecting his niece's boyfriend is gay, a story about a Chinese immigrant to Cuba, a story which drastically switches perspectives throughout its 28 or so pages with no fixed loop. These stories lingered just a bit longer in my mind, snagged on something I couldn't quite place.

Milanés broaches a lot of topics in Oye What I'm Gonna Tell You, many of which I found myself not only recognizing and appreciating, but also running through in my head again and again. Most notable was Milanés' almost aggressive focus on race, and colorism, often drawing attentions to features that were more positively viewed (pale skin, slanted eyes, smooth hair). Then there were the more general themes: family, belonging, the immigrant experience... A lot here was quite familiar in the positive sense - a sharp reflection of the world.

And yet I still am not sure that I liked the collection all that much. Some of the stories were deliberately truncated in a way that kept me on edge, others felt dragged out without much justification, and some stories felt utterly dry. Despite the relative shortness of the book, it felt long and tedious far more than it should have. And sharp writing is great only to the point where it can stand alone, and here there was a glossed over uniformity to the entire collection that lessened the effect of the writing. Some of these are certainly stories worth reading, but I'm not sure I would add Milanés to my "must read" list quite yet.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Musings for a new year

There's something uniquely literary about the Jewish High Holidays. As much as every holiday entails some reading and relaxing, the High Holidays practically demand it - with a dozen or so internet-free days, you're left with little else other than reading. (And eating. There's a lot, a lot of eating...)

Reading on Jewish holidays (or the Sabbath) is not always ideal. While you're utterly free from distractions, you also lack a lot of the day-to-day tools usually associated with reading. Do you like to annotate while reading? Yeah, that's not an option. How about researching the author of the book? Not going to happen! Are the sort of reader that needs to look up the historical context of every event mentioned in a novel? You're going to have a rough go at it. Reading during the holidays and Shabbat is reading without context or other people's opinions clouding your own or any sort of external factor (for good and bad). For this Millennial, it feels old-fashioned.

So what are the books I plan to explore this year?

After a remarkably unproductive reading year, I'm finding myself vaguely bored by most of the books I'm encountering, and abandoning stories with greater ease than ever before (likely contributing to my unproductive reading year...). I've been dipping in and out of a lot of different poetry and short story collections over the past few months (particularly during WITMonth, which was far more stressful than I had expected), and getting a bit sick of it. September holds the hope of breaking that spell with full-blooded novels.

In the women in translation department, I'm hoping to tackle Magda Szabó's much-lauded The Door. I'm also currently in the middle of Xu Xiaobin's Feathered Serpent, which isn't quite hooking me as much as I would have liked but it's not losing me yet either. I also have - humming and calling to me in increasingly louder tones - Elena Ferrante's The Story of the Lost Child (and I do have reasons for putting it off, but they're starting to sound sillier and sillier to my ears).

In the broader translation department, I feel a bit stuck. I know there are many male writers I've been sidelining of late in favor of women, but... who are they? What are the books I'm supposed to be reading? Where is the rush of excitement at a new novel? Hopefully I'll find something good at the library today before the holiday begins.

But the truth is... this feels like a holiday to reinvigorate my love of reading, and the best route for that is almost always through younger stories. Books without the jaded cynicism adulthood seems to define as realistic. Books without "grittiness" or bitterness or dramatic, gratuitous violence. Books with optimism. Books with hope. (This is something I may someday discuss more in depth, but not right now.)

I have many reading days ahead of me this month, and too few books to fill those gaps. Too few books with positivity and happiness, with fun stories and sweeping narratives, with cleverness but with empathy too. I have too few books which truly give me a unique perspective on the world and add something to my perception of mankind. Too few books which challenge my cultural assumptions. I'm confident I'll find a few, but as always I miss the days when people could tell me "You have to read this book, you'll love it!" and know exactly what they're talking about.

A new year, a new year...

Monday, August 31, 2015

WITMonth Day 31 - The End (for now)

And there you have it, friends. Another August has gone by, and WITMonth is ended. It's hard to find the words (but I'll try anyways).

A lot has changed between this year and last. First and foremost: the scale of the project this year was so much greater than I expected. I'll be exploring this a bit more over the next eleven months, but suffice to say it was extremely gratifying and encouraging to see so many more publishers actively participating in the Women in Translation Month and project. A great deal more bloggers, sites, readers and publications participated as well (in some form or other), with people continuing to discover the project until late in the month!

The project is growing. As well it should.

Like last year, I find myself a bit torn. Does WITMonth truly increase people's awareness for literature by women writers in translation, or does it segregate our reading such that August is the only time for reading women? My hope, of course, is that readers will not simply cease reading books by women writers in translation simply because August is over.

To me, 2015 feels like the year of the resources. Many publishing houses put the spotlight on their existing women writers, publications made lists of worthy women writers, and I believe we have begun the long process of integrating women quite natively into our broader cultural understanding. I cannot be sure it's enough, but one thing is for sure: we now have resources that did not previously exist.  It is getting easier to find books by women writers in translation.

There is more to do, however. First: We need to stop viewing this as a niche problem, and we need to stop viewing literature in translation as a side field. Diversity efforts need to join hands and recognize that we are all fighting the same battles. Within the context of women in translation, we further need to make efforts to ensure our recognition is not limited as well by a lack of cultural diversity. We are still struggling to read books by older women writers, still struggling to find books by queer women writers, and still struggling to recognize books by women writers from all manner of diverse backgrounds. We're doing a far better job than most of the literary community, but that doesn't mean we can dust off our hands and have our job be done.

We also need to turn publisher participation into publisher responses. It has not escaped my notice that the publishers most active in the women in translation project have largely been those with the better translation rates, nor the deafening silence we continue to get from the publishers with the worst rates (who are typically the most prominent and vocal publishers in the business). I'm still not sure what the best approach to this problem is, but one thing is certain - something needs to be done. Publishers need to be held accountable for subtle (and less subtle) sexism in the industry. We need to start seeing improvements and active measures.

Here's the thing about WITMonth. For one month a year, we decide to place a greater emphasis on a marginalized group. But our work lasts 12 months out of the year. For the next 11 months, we can (and should!) read all of the leftovers from this August. We can (and should!) continue to make clear to publishers that a 30% translation rate (at best) will no longer cut it. We can (and should!) insist that larger media outlets discuss the problem and help solve the awareness gap (at the very least). There is a lot more work to be done, from so many different perspectives.

But for now? August is ended, and I have nothing but gratitude and affection for every participant of WITMonth 2015. Without you, this could not have happened.

Thank you, and see you all soon!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

WITMonth Day 30 - Books I've read

To be honest, WITMonth has not been all that successful for me this year. A stressful first half (schoolwork), followed by a fairly ill second half left me drained and unable to either read as much as I would have wanted to, or review and post at the pace I had initially planned. But... that's not to say I didn't get some quality reading done in August!

I had the opportunity to re-explore classic poetry by women writers in translation through two collections: Women Poets of Japan (tr. Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi) and Yu Xuanji's poetry in The Clouds Float North (tr. David Young and Jiann I. Lin). Both books were a refreshing change from the long-winded poetry of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (tr. Margaret Sayers Peden), which I also mostly plodded through at the top of the month. All three collections, however, are critical reminders that women have been writing quality literature for a very long time. In the poetry department, I also explored poems by Anna Akhmatova (tr. D. M. Thomas) and Marina Tsvetaeva (translated into Hebrew by Miri Litvak).

But there was more than poetry this WITMonth! I sampled quite a few short story collections as well, most notably Tove Janssons's brilliant The Woman Who Borrowed Memories (tr. Thomas Teal and Silvester Mazzarella), which I've been finding a stylistic contrast to Cubana, a collection of short fiction by Cuban women writers. Jansson's style is fairly minimalist and crisp, while the stories in Cubana feel distinctly heavier and wordier.

In the novel department, we have two main books: First is an Israeli novel by teenager Carmel Ben Naftali ("Stages of Grief", which is not a direct translation but the one provided by the publisher), which is curiously written and uniquely young adult, but also predictably clumsy in its perspective of the world and very immature in its stylings. It's been an interesting experience, if somewhat uncomfortable simply because of the author's youth and inexperience. She shows a lot of potential, though.

The second novel I've been reading this WITMonth is Isabel Allende's classic The House of the Spirits (tr. Magda Bogin). I'm about halfway through but I completely understand Allende's status as a leading voice in Latin American literature now. While I've read her YA fiction in the past (middle school book club choices!), The House of the Spirits has a strength and confidence to it that makes me feel guilty for taking so long to read her more highly regarded titles. Regardless: I'm enjoying The House of the Spirits quite a bit and am glad that this is the novel with which I'll be wrapping up WITMonth.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

WITMonth Day 26 - More places on the internet

August is starting to wind down, the air is cooling, the mosquitoes are receding, and it's time to see what else has been happening throughout the month (see previous post here):

And as always... #WITMonth on Twitter is active as ever, join us as we wrap up the month!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

WITMonth Day 25 - If not at the library, if not digital... then how?

The problem I'm going to describe here is not unique to women in translation, but it's especially noticeable: Books are often technically in print but unavailable for all intents and purposes.

Here I am, plugging in author after author after author into my very liberal, very well-stocked library's database. And when I search for women writers in translation, I find that only a handful are available. And certainly when I look for digital copies through my library, only a handful of recent titles show up. Why?

I know that a lot (a lot) of literature in translation is published by not-for-profit university presses, but here's the thing: most readers cannot afford to buy every book they want to read. And certainly not when the book is more expensive than the average paperback (I'm looking at you, $28 paperback 200 paged novel!). We inevitably rely on other entirely legal and moral resources such as libraries or digital libraries to access literature. (Of course, even this is highly limited - I speak as someone who spends at most a month of the year with access to English-language library books, relying more on the graces of the eLibrary and kind souls who are willing to cart books across the ocean for me.)

But if the books aren't available... what are we supposed to do? Like I said, this problem isn't unique to women in translation, but it's felt much more strongly. The moment the playing field is so much smaller, it becomes increasingly difficult to actually get your hands on backlog women writers in translation. Even titles which are still in print but less mainstream are all but impossible to find.

I don't have a solution here. A few years ago, I thought the answer would be through digital books: All publishers would obviously digitize their entire catalogs and provide them to libraries with loan limitations and we'd be on our way to a utopian future full of all books. That hasn't happened, and honestly it seems like publishers - particularly smaller ones - are in no rush. That leaves us with a bit of a problem. Any thoughts?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

WITMonth Day 23 - Women Poets of Japan - A poem

Making my way through this fascinating collection (translated and edited by Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi), and decided to share one of my favorites from it while I focus on recovering.

I Forget - Yoshihara Sachiko

when i awake
i wonder
if the color
i thought i saw
in my dream
was real
or imaginary


was it red?
i turn back
towards the word red
but the color is gone

what i thought was being alive
is only various colors
reflected and
scattered
in my mind

sun setting
turned the windowpane orange
shower spray
was a diamond color
so i thought

now only the memory
of color remains
the window
and the shower spray
have vanished

Saturday, August 22, 2015

WITMonth Day 22 - Spotlight on Argentina

After a few days of illness... I'm back(ish)! This time with some of Argentina's excellent women writers. Of whom, I should note, there are many!
  • Alicia Steimberg
  • Angélica Gorodischer
  • Cecilia Pavón 
  • Silvina Ocampo
  • Alejandra Pizarnik
  • Liliana Bodoc
  • Alicia Borinsky
  • Silvina Bullrich
  • Manuela Fingueret
  • Juana Manuela Gorriti
  • Liliana Heker
  • Sylvia Iparraguirre
  • Alicia Kozameh
  • Tununa Mercado
  • Claudia Piñeiro
  • Ana Gloria Moya
  • María Negroni
  • Olga Orozco
  • Lucía Puenzo
  • Beatriz Sarlo
  • Luisa Valenzuela
  • Alfonsina Storni
  • Ana María Shua
Furthermore, there are dozens of writers I've encountered in my research who despite clearly playing an important role in Argentine literature have not been translated. Though I have not done this for other languages, the gap appears significantly more wide with South American literature and so below is a distinctly abridged list of untranslated Argentinean women writers, many of whom are award-winners and critically acclaimed.
  • Agustina Andrade
  • Ariana Harwycz
  • Margarita Abella Caprile
  • César Duáyen/Emma de la Barra
  • Emma Barrandeguy
  • Elsa Bornemann
  • Susana Calandrelli
  • Sara Gallardo
  • Betina Gonzalez
  • Norah Lange
  • Marta Lynch
  • Eduarda Mansilla
  • Martha Mercader
  • Liliana Díaz Mindurry
  • Elvira Orphée
  • Luisa Peluffo
  • Samanta Schweblin
  • María Dhialma Tiberti
  • Aurora Venturini
  • María Elena Walsh

Monday, August 17, 2015

WITMonth Day 17 - Elsewhere online...

That's right, another lazy blog post, this time directing you to other blogs and sites that have been churning out excellent WITMonth posts right, left and center, or roundups, or lists, or... honestly whatever is currently on my radar. This doesn't begin to cover everything, though! Check out the Twitter tag for a more complete picture of the fun we're having.

First, BookRiot have a great post up with a bunch of WITMonth recommendations. Happy Women in Translation Month, indeed! Very excited to see such a major blog getting involved. There's also For Books' Sake, which have a whole page dedicated to their women in translation posts... well worth checking out.

Like last year, Tony Malone and Tony Messenger have both been knocking it out of the ballpark with a jaw-dropping and frankly inspiring number of reviews and books read. Another scale entirely. Hats off does not even begin to cover it. If you're looking for a place to start with diverse WITMonth recommendations, the Tonys have you covered.

Publishers have also been getting involved! Shoutout to Europa Editions for their series to introduce readers to their women writers in translation, as well as to Two Lines Press who are encouraging readers to share photos of their WITMonth reads. Love seeing more publisher involvement this year, but there's of course room for more! Publishers who haven't caught on yet... you've still got just a little under two weeks to go, that's plenty of time to surprise us all.

And of course... a lot of excellent people on Twitter are engaging in discussions and posting reviews, but alas I cannot link to everything. So check out the tag, find the reviews and recommendations and stories that interest you and... get reading!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

WITMonth Day 16 - Spotlight on Northern Africa

Jumping around continents a bit, but it's definitely time to broaden our horizons a bit. Let's see what Northern Africa's women have to offer, shall we? Note: This list contains books translated from several different languages, as befits such a broad and diverse geographic region.

  • Leila Abouzeid (Morocco)
  • Rita El Khayat (Morocco)
  • Mririda n’Ait Attik (Morocco)
  • Malika Oufkir (Morocco)
  • Amina Said (Tunisia)
  • Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt)
  • Radwa Ashour (Egypt)
  • Hala El Badry (Egypt)
  • Mansoura Ez-Eldin (Egypt)
  • Alifa Rifaat (Egypt)
  • Maïssa Bey (Algeria)
  • Assia Djebar (Algeria)
  • Malika Mokeddem (Algeria)
  • Ahlam Mosteghanemi (Algeria)
  • Leïla Sebbar (Algeria)
As always, this list is woefully incomplete and narrow. As always, compiling this list made me realize how many writers are not translated (and I'll talk about this a bit more in depth later in the month). But once again I find myself thinking, "Well, at least it's a place to start." So... onward we march.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

WITMonth Day 15 - Books I want to read (part 2)

If my last list contained the books on my bedside and more highbrow books, I want to talk a bit about some SFF and YA books by women writers in translation I'm curious about and want to read.

  • The Island of Eternal Love - Daína Chaviano (tr. Andrea G. Labinger). Fantasy! Always.
  • Prodigies - Angélica Gorodischer (tr. Sue Burke). Um. New sort-of-fantasy from one of my favorite writers (and favorite women in translation)? I need this in my hands right now.
  • A Time of Miracles - Anne-Laure Bondoux (tr. Y. Maudet). Some translated young adult literature, definitely an area I have not yet explored enough.
  • Full Metal Alchemist - Hiromu Arakawi. My friend has been bugging me to read this for years, and frankly I think it's about time. Bit different from my usual fare, but... isn't that the whole point?
  • The Wall - Marlen Haushofer (tr. Amanda Prantera). I wanted to read this last year, plus it's been recommended to me a few times.
And of course... there are many, many, many others. Don't worry... more posts to come!

Friday, August 14, 2015

WITMonth Day 14 - Spotlight on the Caribbean

Truthfully, I haven't read enough Caribbean literature in any language. But WITMonth is a great opportunity to broaden our horizons, and so here's a starter-kit for Caribbean women writers in translation!

  • Marie Vieux Chauvet (Haiti)
  • Full Haitian resource: http://writersofhaiti.com/list-of-women-writers-of-haitian-descent/
  • Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Cuba-Spain)
  • Cubana (anthology of Cuban women writers)
  • Daína Chaviano (Cuba)
  • Julieta Campos (Cuba-Mexico)
  • Wendy Guerra (Cuba)
  • Dulce María Loynaz (Cuba)
  • Mayra Montero (Cuba-Puerto Rico)
  • Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro (Puerto Rico)
  • Giannina Braschi (Puerto Rico)
  • Julia de Burgos (Puerto Rico)
  • Rosario Ferré (Puerto Rico)
  • Ana Lydia Vega (Puerto Rico)
  • Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe)
  • Simone Schwarz-Bart (Guadeloupe)
  • Three Women Poets from the Dominican Republic
  • Hilma Contreras (Dominican Republic)
Once again, many older titles (indeed classic feminist works, by the looks of it) have not been translated. There's always more to explore!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

WITMonth Day 12 - Brief thoughts on genre diversity

First off: here's the link to my post from last year about "genre" writers. I don't have many more titles to add for this year, but I wanted to note a few things specifically I've learned over the past year.

For example, at some point this year it occurred to me that I was doing a pretty poor job of even defining "genre". Last year I lumped mysteries and thrillers in with SFF, ad tat was probably unfair to both genres. Furthermore, I completely neglected to look at things like graphic novels or comics, where you can actually find a fairly diverse range of women writers in translation (Moomins, Persepolis, Full Metal Alchemist to name but three).

I also didn't try to build a very comprehensive list. While that's not quite ready for this post, I do hope to have an encompassing "spotlight" post for diverse genres later in the month. There's a lot genres like SFF or historical fiction or whatever can offer the literary community at large, and this is certainly true within the fairly elitist "literature in translation subcommunity". While obviously genre diversity is often about personal taste, I do think it's important that we recognize the entire range of literature written by women in translation, and not just select titles. I didn't do a very good job of championing different genres last year, so hopefully I'll be able to improve on that this year.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

WITMonth Day 11 - Books I want to read (part 1)

Today is going to be a bit of a lazy day. Rather than telling you about a book I've already read, or compiling a list of specific books from a certain country or author or category... I'm just going to swipe a few books off my shelves and off my lists and tell you why I want to read them. This will likely become a recurring thing... my lists just keep getting longer and longer, and unfortunately my reading pace isn't quite up to speed!

For part 1, I'm going to be especially lazy and just tell you about one of the stacks of books by my bed:

  • The Vegetarian - Han Kang (tr. Deborah Smith). I don't think I've seen a single unimpressed review of this one, and honestly I'm just itching to get to it. It looks weird and interesting and I want.
  • Women Poets of Japan - ed. Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi. A really recent acquisition, looking forward to getting back into Japanese poetry after so many years!
  • The City of Ladies - Christine de Pizan (tr. Rosalind Brown-Grant). Medieval feminism for the win. 'nuff said.
  • The House of the Spirits - Isabel Allende (tr. Magda Bogin). A classic I've never quite gotten around to, seems about time.
  • The Three Fates - Linda Lê (tr. Mark Polizzotti). I have not yet figured out what this book is about, but it's been on my radar since the start of the women in translation project and I just... feel like reading it.
But these are only a taste... somehow, my WITMonth to-be-read list seems to grow exponentially by the day, as more and more readers share their personal plans and books. Which is frankly excellent, so keep at it!

Monday, August 10, 2015

WITMonth Day 10 - Classics Challenge - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was one of the first authors I was introduced to when I started to search for classic women writers in translation, and one of the easiest to track down in terms of actual printed works (thank you, Penguin Classics and translator Margaret Sayers Peden). It sat on my shelf quietly for most of the past year. WITMonth seemed like the most appropriate time to read her works: Poems, Protest, and a Dream.

I haven't read the entire collection yet (frankly the poetry gets a bit... rambly), but I've read and reread the "Protest" (encouragement to let women be educated and study), and find myself continuously in awe of its contradictory and revolutionary nature. Sor Juana is at times nothing less than a radical feminist, but she also repeatedly calls for the status quo and frankly supports many patriarchal misconceptions about both women and men. It makes for a wondrously complex and fascinating feminist text, if only through that lens. Unsurprisingly, the piece also incorporates many religious concepts (only a specific some of which I feel qualified to comment on...).

Sor Juana is blunt in her belief that women can - and should - be educated. Her effective rant in which she lists biblical women, classical figures and important women of history is a relevant reminder for our world today, since it is sadly not yet a universal fact that women are expected to learn in the same way as men and since many women are sadly still prohibited from any form of education. Sor Juana's list of women - some mythological, others distinctly real - is an inspiring reminder that women have always existed. Have always written, have always contributed to culture, have always inspired and have always sought to learn.

However in discussing women's right to learn, Sor Juana reveals herself to be quite classist: "[N]ot only women, who are held to be so inept, but also men, who merely for being men believe they are wise, should be prohibited from interpreting the Sacred Word if they are not learned and virtuous and of gentle and well-inclined natures." While her message is a positive one (citing sectarian violence and indeed violence in general as the result of improper reading of religious texts... goodness, does this sound familiar?) and while I adore her for pointing out what women have always known about men consistently thinking they're automatically wiser by virtue of being men (see: mansplaining), her cold approach to broad education is something I cannot believe she would believe in today. This separation is so anathema to modern feminism it almost hurts to read, but it's also an important reminder of how feminism - and the fight for equality of all kinds - has been waged through time: slowly, and largely for a privileged class within the oppressed group.

This is a book I'm glad to own. Glad to be reading. Glad that it exists and holds a fairly prominent place in the canon (that is, it has been moderately recognized as belonging there). While I don't think this is necessarily the best book for every reader (specifically, it's probably not so good for mostly fiction readers), I can certainly recommend it to readers interested in unraveling the notion of feminism. I personally found it enlightening.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

WITMonth Day 9 - Spotlight on Mexico

It's interesting to me how little Mexican literature is translated. Considering its proximity to the US (and its cultural impact...), you'd expect there to be a little more than minimal translations. And yet largely the Anglo world is less interested in Central American literature. However, whereas the literary community has largely ignored South American women writers (while touting male ones, of course...), the reverse seems to be happening for Mexico. Let's look at a few, shall we? Incomplete list time!

  • Valeria Luiselli
  • Sabina Berman
  • Carmen Boullosa
  • Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
  • Laura Esquivel
  • Elena Garro
  • Margo Glantz
  • Natalia Toledo (Zapotec as well as Spanish)
  • Cristina Rivera Garza
  • ...and as always many, many others who have not been translated
Reminder: These lists are not only grossly incomplete, they represent my own research flaws almost as much as they do my capabilities. Lists of this kind must continue to be fluid and growing, as both more titles are translated and as more are revealed from the backlog.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

WITMonth Day 8 - Classics Challenge - Yu Xuanji's poetry

Yu Xuanji's The Clouds Float North - a collection of the poet's entire poetic repertoire, circa the 9th century, translated by David Young and Jiann I. Lin - is a slim volume, and I'm not quite through it yet. But as inexperienced as I am in reviewing poetry (that is, as bad as I am...), I found myself lingering over a few specific lines and wanting just to share the clarity in these very old poems.

The first thing I noticed is the strange diversity of them: The Clouds Float North is an odd mishmash of flowery language, personal and shared poetry. Some poems here are clearly metaphorical, gently referencing all manner of social interactions. Others are introspective, detailing those small feelings that aren't always easy to put to words. And then there are the universal (ubiquitous) poems about nature and the flow of water or whatever. Beautiful and all, but not necessarily particularly noteworthy. I wouldn't have expected them to be noteworthy, at least.

I'm finding myself drawn much more towards the introspective poems sent to friends - tiny fragments of thoughts which have come down through the years and still fully represent humanity:
I alone feel yearning
without any limit
reciting my own poems
staring up through the pines.
 It's often the punchlines which make me pause and smile, some gentle reminder that humans haven't really changed all that much and our desires - to share our thoughts and words with loved ones - are effectively universal. Yu Xuanji's writing has that slightly transcendent quality of something otherworldly, but totally human as well. And reading her poems makes me feel warm inside, moved by more than just the flowery language or the fact that these poems have been around for far, far longer than I have. This is classic literature I probably never would have known of if not for the Women in Translation project, and I'm glad I'm getting this chance to experience it.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

WITMonth Day 6 - Queer Literature Challenge

Here's the thing about the queer literature challenge - it's hard. It's hard no matter what genre you choose to look at, no matter what subfield of literature you're investigating and focusing on. There simply isn't much queer literature in the world today, and unsurprisingly there isn't that much in translation either. And of course... for women in translation this component is all but invisible. That said, there is a respectable amount of queer women writers in translation, as well as books about queer topics written by women, which do qualify for the challenge and provide us with an additional (necessary) dimension.

I am certain this list is not only incomplete, but unfair in many regards; I am listing authors alongside novels and stories with queer characters. I am also using the broader definitions, such that this list includes LGBTQA+ to the best of my knowledge as well as less defined terms such as Boston Marriages*, alongside novels which specifically focus on queer characters or romances. This list is obviously largely hindered by my own research inabilities, and I strongly encourage readers to continue the effort!
  • Sphinx - Anna Garréta (French; tr. Emma Ramadan)
  • Aimée & Jaguar - Erica Fischer (German; tr. Edna McCown)
  • Yona Wallach (Hebrew)
  • Tove Jansson (Swedish)
  • Nicole Brossard (French [Montreal])
  • Nancy Cárdenas (Spanish [Mexico])
  • Qiu Miaojin (Chinese [Taiwan])
  • Selma Lagerlöf (Swedish)
  • Violette Leduc (French)
  • Sappho (Greek)
  • Marina Tsvetaeva (Russian)
  • Sophia Parnok (Russian)
  • Sirena Selena - Mayra Santos-Febres (Spanish [Puerto Rico])
  • Marguerite Yourcenar (French)
  • Sworn Virgin - Elvira Dones (Italian [Albania]; tr. Clarissa Botsford)
  • ...and many others!
While this isn't a particularly long list, it's certainly an improvement from last year (when I was aware of only one or two books) and it's a pretty good place to start (despite being incredibly and disappointingly Euro-centric). Hopefully these lists will continue to grow as I both broaden my own horizons, and as more and more women writers from around the world are translated into English.

* Definition; also the name of my sister's other band (the one that doesn't include me)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

WITMonth Day 5 - Classics Challenge - Lea Goldberg's And This is the Light

It's rather stunning that I'm two years into a project regarding women writers in translation (and women writers in general), and this is the first time I've ever read Lea Goldberg, one of Israel's most prominent poets. What's more shocking is that I started not from her poems (though technically I suppose I must have read some as a child, since she is a popular children's book writer and many of her poems have been used as song lyrics...), rather her single novel. Indeed, it turns out to be a strange place to start...

And This is the Light is an odd novel. First and foremost, I find myself incredibly curious as to how it was translated into English - one of its most notable traits in Hebrew is the distinctly old-fashioned style. Written in 1942 in a still-new Hebrew (from a literary perspective, at least), And This is the Light is a strange mash-up of familiar modern terminology (not the aloof Hebrew of either ancient literature or historical fiction), yet it's also clearly not the literary Hebrew which would follow only fifteen years down the line (significantly more down-to-earth and conversational, though written Hebrew remains far more formal than spoken). And This is the Light reads archaic and nostalgic for a language which never quite existed, and sometimes the words felt so strange in my mouth. It was like reading a novel from the 17th century, not just from fifty years before I was born.

It's a strange novel from the plot perspective as well, mainly because... it doesn't have one. And This is the Light is a novel of feelings more than anything, a character study of the young Nora going through a specific (rough) transition period in her life. Yet it's not quite a coming-of-age story either - Nora doesn't change much throughout the story, rather she seems to accept certain facts about the world and herself.

These could all mean that And This is the Light would fail as a novel, but it surprisingly enough doesn't. Goldberg's style is unsurprisingly lyrical, and Nora's introspection is lovely. She's not a flawless character of pure perfection, but her struggles and emotional turmoil felt decidedly real. Her thoughts on her place on the world, on her perspectives, on her own health and happiness, and especially as regards her position relative to others resonated deeply with me. It helps that the novel has solid pacing and a wonderful flow.

Nora's feelings are not unique - she's a very ordinary young woman, guided by her emotions along familiar tracks. Her romantic inclinations are predictable, but also distinctly restrained: the novel makes room for Nora's fantasies, but also keeps them distinctly in check. There's a sense that Goldberg was writing to remind young readers (perhaps her past self?) that sometimes life isn't just that fairy tale you wish it would be.

I want to note two interesting points. The first is that despite being written in the midst of the Holocaust, And This is the Light hardly addresses matters of either anti-Semitism or Zionism. Nora briefly discusses her Zionist tendencies (she is studying archaeology with the express purpose of going to Israel/Palestine), but it's portrayed as a clearly far-off event in Nora's life. The second is that And This is the Light is much more about internal feelings than externally expressed ones. There's an expectation, and little fulfillment. I don't want to ruin aspects of the novel, but suffice to say that despite the familiarity of And This is the Light's story, Goldberg avoids common plot points neatly.

And I liked the book. I did. I liked the writing, and despite knowing that I'd probably dislike Nora if I ever met her in person, I found it interesting to see the world through her fairly naive eyes. It's not the foremost literary classic out there, but it's an interesting early Israeli novel (that is distinctly European) and a great example of what happens when poets write novels (spoiler alert: they write beautifully).

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

WITMonth Day 4 - Sphinx - Anne Garréta

Start with the obvious: Sphinx is a weird book. If you're picking it up, you likely know that. Whether you know its underlying concept or not, you can probably figure out just from the Oulipo tag it carries that this is going to be a strange and... unique novel.

I didn't buy Sphinx for the Oulipo aspect, to be honest. I purchased the book for another tag: "A modern classic of experimental, feminist, and LGBT/queer literature". One of my goals this year was to read more literature by queer women, or about queer topics. Sphinx isn't exactly what I was expecting, but its Oulipo-style experimentation makes it an interesting statement on gender and identity regardless.

Warning: the remainder of this post describes in part the Oulipean quality of the novel. If you'd rather come in blind, I would advise against continuing this post (as well as avoiding the introduction and the back-cover blurb or really any other review of the book...).

This isn't a real review of Sphinx. You can find far more nuanced and intelligent reviews elsewhere. My experience reading Sphinx was very much colored by my expectation of the queer aspect - the gender-bending, gender nonconforming aspects that were supposed to make the book stand out (specifically the fact that neither the narrator nor their lover are ever given a specific gender). I read the book constantly trying to figure out what my gender default would have been, trying to figure out what my sexuality default was becoming, constantly trying to better understand my biases as regards identity and sexuality. This made the rest of the reading experience feel... tame.

Because crisp as the writing may be, there's not that much  here that I haven't read elsewhere. Certainly not the musings on love or the disaffected youth aspect or the glitzy night-life angle. The narrator felt dully familiar, with that false cleverness that often trips me up on books. It was tedious at times, and beyond the constant game of gender expectations, I'm not sure how much Sphinx really challenges anything at all. Because the strength of Sphinx is in its concept (the vagueness, the nondescript, effectively); it doesn't actually tackle very many queer issues. They're there - tangent to the story, hovering around the edges in implications and suggestions - but not part of the story's core. There's not much in the story's core, for that matter.

Maybe I'm just a crank. Maybe I'm not sophisticated enough for "experimental" literature (and I suspect this plays some role). But I found Sphinx to be... alright. Not much more. Aspects were good - I liked the ending and I did appreciate what Garréta was attempting with gender - but on the whole I read the book with a hint of disinterest. Then again, most other readers have agreed that Sphinx is a unique and important book so maybe I'm alone in this. So I suppose what's left is... read it yourself?

Monday, August 3, 2015

WITMonth Day 3 - Spotlight on Japan

It would be practically absurd to imply that a country that not only boasts the first recognized female novelist - and first novelist at all - lacks women writers on the whole. Indeed, cursory research shows that there are plenty of women writers working out of Japanese, and in a wide variety of genres. That not all are translated or recognized for their works... well, that's what we're here to work on. There's no denying however that Japan's situation is significantly better than most countries around the world (at least in terms of recognition of its women in translation to English), and disturbingly better than many of its East Asian neighbors (to be discussed further later in the month).

And yet all this positivity translates into:
  • 4 books translated by women writers in translation out of 14 translations from Japanese in 2014
  • 5 out of 17 translations in 2013
Hmm. Let's focus on the good, shall we? Let's pull up a short list:
  • Murasaki Shikibu
  • Sei Shōnagon
  • Fumiko Enchi
  • Lady Ise
  • Akazome Emon
  • Yoko Ogawa
  • Sawako Ariyoshi
  • Hiromi Kawakami
  • Banana Yoshimoto
  • Minae Mizumura
  • ...and many many many others...
Some more helpful resources:
Conclusion: There are a lot of Japanese women writers translated into English. But you know what? There are also a lot of Japanese women writers who are not translated into English. It could be so much better. And for now... let's get reading!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

WITMonth Day 2 - Classics Challenge - Isabelle de Charrière's sharp romanticism

I most likely would not have been introduced to Isabelle de Charrière if not for the women in translation project. And this specific collection - a rare title by a woman in translation for Penguin Classics - is a fascinating portrait of Europe at the time, and an even more interesting comparison to significantly more famous writers.

Of course de Charrière is immediately compared to Austen (despite predating her). Penguin Classics resorts to the cheapest of comparative recommendations by noting de Charrière's writing "not unlike Jane Austen" in "[tackling] the intricacies of high society, particularly in matters of love". Really? So any woman writer - since Jane Austen and indeed also before her time - is like Jane Austen for writing about... life? Oh goodness.

This is further made absurd by the fact that de Charrière's writing is nothing like Austen's. Not only does her style itself lean very heavily towards epistolary and conversational (far more than Austen's detached, droll style), de Charrière writes far more bluntly about the problems of the world. The stories rarely end happily, and the nuances of complex existence are not tossed out for the sake of a simple romance. In fact, de Charrière seems to dance around her endings altogether, usually leaving the reader hanging.

And thus does de Charrière's The Nobleman and Other Stories manage to keep the reader intrigued. Not necessarily because each story is flawless - some are distinctly unfinished and fairly dull - but because there's a clear passion in each perspective. The stories follow similar structural patterns (generally epistolary), but often differ in tone or temperament. And de Charrière does a brilliant job of actually making the letters feel realistic. Unlike most epistolary novels (and certainly modern ones...) which lose realism points for talking only of plot, de Charrière goes on tangents and side-stories and rambles about clothing or whatnot. This could be interpreted as sloppy writing (and perhaps it is...), but as a huge fan of the realism side of literature (and realistic fictional webseries, for example), these storytelling quirks actually endeared me quite a bit.

There's a lot more I can discuss as regards de Charrière - her writing, her exciting life, her intelligence, her total lack of naivety and sugar-coating, her approach to storytelling - but I'll focus for a moment on her legacy, and its general lack thereof. de Charrière is not a low-tier writer - she was prominent enough in the day, and her writing largely stands the test of time better than many of her contemporaries (men and women alike). But her placement in the canon is... nonexistent.

I suspect that most readers (like me) have not heard of Isabelle de Charrière. And so consider this your introduction. Penguin Classics has thankfully produced this interesting (if at times unbalanced and repetitive) collection of de Charrière's shorter works, and it's absolutely worth reading through. If the purpose of the Classics Challenge is to showcase classic women writers who have sadly been sidelined, I can think of no better starting point than Isabelle de Charrière's sharp romanticism.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

WITMonth Day 1 - My Personal Plan

Here we are. August 1st 2015 - day one of the second annual Women in Translation Month! Whew. How exciting.

Last year I proposed a general (optional) schedule for readers participating in WITMonth. This year I've decided to go much more casual: I'm posting my personal general plan below, but by no means expect anyone else to stick to something so strict. The point is to raise awareness, find new books, and read excellent literature!

This year I will be focusing on three major challenges:

  1. The Classics Challenge
  2. Queer literature by women in translation
  3. Obscure or otherwise marginalized groups
The last point is perhaps the most vague - it encompasses both out-of-print or otherwise little-discussed books I'll read/find, as well as books by especially underrepresented groups in literature in translation (for example Latin American women writers, African women writers, etc.).

One of the things I realized last year was that I had trouble keeping up with the outright reading demands. And so this year I'm also relaxing my strict daily posting policy. Rather than daily reviews or outright discussions, I will fill August with spotlight posts as well, discussing books I myself have not yet read but would like to. I'll also try to include "Translate This Book" posts about various interesting titles I've come across in my research, in the hopes that some publishers may yet get the hint.

Stay tuned for reviews, discussions and random rants! And may we all have a very happy August!

Friday, July 24, 2015

WITMonth Prep | The Classics Challenge | Part 3

Parts 1 and 2 here. Note: Titles in bold are readily available and are in print (in English). Translator names were not included in order to prevent any confusion as regards specific editions.
  • "The First Day" and Other Stories (c. 20th century) - Dvora Baron - Hebrew
  • Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar (1886) - Emily Ruete - German
  • The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova (c. 20th century) - Anna Akhmatova - Russian
  • The Sun Shines Over the Sanggan River (1948) - Ding Ling - Chinese
  • The Chinese Book of Etiquette and Conduct for Women and Girls / Lessons for Women (c. 1st century) - Ban Zhao - Chinese
  • The Field of Life and Death & Tales of Hulan River (1938, 1942) - Xiao Hong - Chinese
  • From Wonso Pond (1934) - Kang Kyŏng-ae - Korean
  • Black Butterflies: Selected Poetry (c. 20th century) - Ingrid Jonker - Afrikaans
  • Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral (c. 20th century) - Gabriela Mistral - Spanish
  • Gabriela Mistral: A Reader (c. 20th century) - Gabriela Mistral - Spanish
  • My Heart Flooded with Water: Selected Poems (c. 20th century) - Alfonsina Storni - Spanish
  • Jerusalem (1902) - Selma Lagerlöf - Swedish
  • After the Divorce (1902) - Grazia Deledda - Italian
  • Kristin Lavransdatter (1922) - Sigrid Undset - Norwegian
  • Collected Poems I: 1944-1949 (c. 20th century) - Nelly Sachs - German
And a couple collections or authors with collections of stories ranging from before 1960 and after:
  • Women's Poetry of Late Imperial China: Transforming the Inner Chambers - Chinese
  • Silvina Ocampo
  • Tove Jansson
As always, this list cannot remotely be considered complete. While I'm uncertain that I'll have the time to publish another Classics Challenge list before WITMonth itself, it is important to note that the main reason these lists are so short is not because there are too few books by women writers in languages other than English, rather that the plethora of poetry collections, novels, essay collections and more is simply untranslated. I'll be writing about that some more in the coming days.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

WITMonth Prep | The Classics Challenge | Part 2

Part 1 here. Note: Titles in bold are readily available and are in print (in English). Translator names were not included in order to prevent any confusion as regards specific editions.
  • The Heptameron (1558) - Marguerite de Navarre - French
  • Suite Française (1942) - Irène Némirovsky - French
  • Poems, Protest and a Dream (c. 17th century) - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz - Spanish
  • And He is the Light (1946) - Leah Goldberg - Hebrew
  • The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by Herself (c. 16th century) - Spanish
  • The Moomins and the Great Flood (1945) - Tove Jansson - Swedish
  • Autobiography of a Geisha (1957) - Sayo Masuda - Japanese
  • Industrial Park (1933) - Pagu - Brazilian Portuguese
  • Child of the Dark (1960) - Carolina Maria de Jesus - Brazilian Portuguese
  • Torn from the Nest (1889) - Clorinda Matto de Turner - Spanish
  • Dreams and Realities: Selected Fiction (c. 19th century) - Juana Manuela Gorriti - Spanish
And many, many, many, many other classic women writers from around the world who have not yet been translated. And also others who have been translated! More to come, and not just for the classics challenge. August is coming...

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"What else can we add?" | Some thoughts about women in translation and publishing

I want to preface this post by emphasizing that my criticism of publishers having a poor record when it comes to women writers in translation is only about that. This post is not meant to serve as a general "shame"-post, nor is it meant to incite much more anger than the initial statistics did. The reason I have chosen to write this out as a post at all is because I felt that I would not be able to be fully expressive (and fair) in whatever comments I might put up on Twitter. And I thought that the issue was a serious enough one to justify giving it its space.

The introduction is simple: P. T. Smith tweeted about publisher willingness to talk about and improve on matters regarding women writers in translation. I noted that the positive behavior is very publisher-specific, and that there are some who are better than others, to which P. T. Smith named and tagged a few good ones, and named and tagged Dalkey Archive as one of the "less hot" publishing houses. The full thread can be found here (posted with consent; since Dalkey is not an individual person rather a public entity, I see no need in gaining their consent to re-share their public tweets).

A few hours later, the Dalkey twitter account went active and responded with a barrage of tweets:


The tweets mostly sought to list women writers in translation Dalkey are going to publish, but there were two points in reading these that I had to stop. And stop myself from responding too harshly too quickly. This list is really, really wonderful in that it shows that Dalkey Archive will be publishing women writers in translation in 2015-2016. Compared to the jaw-dropping 0% of 2014, I think we can all recognize this (with absolutely no cynicism) as a step forward. But there's a lot, a lot more here that Dalkey has not yet addressed. They end their barrage with the rather snark-tinged question: "What else can we add?" And so, Dalkey Archive, in all seriousness, here's what:

As far as I have been able to tell and certainly in response to my own inquiries in 2014, Dalkey Archive has never once made a public statement regarding women writers in translation and why their publishing house consistently falls well behind the already-low translation average for women writers. 2014 was a shocking anomaly, but it's not alone. My 2013 statistics found them at a solid 24%, when the overall average was 28% (and recall that Dalkey was the leading publisher of translated literature in 2013 by a comfortable margin).

And so simply publishing the names of women writers Dalkey plans to publish is not merely not enough, it's meaningless. Are these all of their women writers for 2015-2016? If so, we're right back to the beginning with atrocious ratios... At this stage, we are working largely from percentage-based work. Amounts are wonderful - yes, truly wonderful that each and every one of these books will be published! - but they do little to address the fact that for every woman writer it publishes, Dalkey by and large publishes 5-6 more books by men (from the years I've counted, at least, and most likely worse statistics the further back we go).

Furthermore, one tweet touts fairly balanced Best European Fiction anthologies. While I do not have the statistics in front of me, my recollection was that the 2013/4 anthologies were at around 40% when it included the English-written stories. Perhaps I am doing Dalkey a great injustice by quoting merely from my unreliable memory (and I strongly encourage anyone with access to the book to fact-check me because I absolutely do not want to spread false and hurtful claims), but I recall specifically noting that Dalkey had included an interesting array of English-written stories by women writers, and then had a similar 30% stumble when it came to the translations. I will happily correct this notion if it turns out to be wrong. I will point out that the other Dalkey anthology I've encountered (Georgian literature) had a solid 25% women writer representation rate.

The main point is this: Dalkey Archive has a pattern of publishing significantly fewer women writers in translation than men. And it has a bad track record when it comes to addressing the problem. Merely pointing to your upcoming women writers does not explain how you went an entire year without publishing a single work by a woman writer in translation. Listing writers does not tell us what their percentage is within the larger body of your publications. It does not change the pattern, and it explicitly refuses to address the problem in the way that other publishers have daringly done.

"What else can we add?" Well, answers to these questions. Clear statements regarding Dalkey Archive's future efforts to reach gender parity in publishing (I hope). Explicit publication lists with transparency regarding the gender breakdown and ratios. Explanations for 2014. Perhaps even public explanations for why women writers have until now been so marginalized.

"What else can we add?" Let's start here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

WITMonth Prep | The Classics Challenge | Part 1

As promised, here is the first installment in my potential titles for the Classics challenge in this year's Women in Translation Month! These lists will unfortunately be very scattered and disorganized, with no consistency in terms of list-building and of course extremely limited to what is available in English. There are hundreds more works of classic literature that have simply never been translated. I'm still trying to collect as many potential titles as possible, so these lists will inevitably be messy in terms of language, era and genre. I also cannot necessarily vouch for the titles on these lists in terms of quality and/or content, as I have only read a handful...

Happy WITMonth planning!

Note: Titles in bold are readily available and are in print (in English). Translator names were not included in order to prevent any confusion as regards specific editions.
  • The Tale of Genji (c. 11th century) - Murasaki Shikibu - Japanese
  • The Diary of the Lady Murasaki (c. 11th century) - Murasaki Shikibu - Japanese
  • The Pillow Book (1002) - Sei Shōnagon - Japanese
  • Dark Soliloquy: The Selected Poems of Gertrud Kolmar (c. 1920-40s) - Gertrud Kolmar - German
  • A Jewish Mother from Berlin; Susanna (c. 1930s-1940s) - Gertrud Kolmar - German
  • The Princess of Cleves (1678) - Madame de Lafayette - French
  • The Nobleman and Other Romances (c. 18th century) - Isabelle de Charrière - French
  • The Book of the City of Ladies (1405) - Christine de Pizan - French
  • Brocade River Poems: Selected Works of the Tang Dynasty Courtesan (c. 9th century) - Xue Tao - Chinese
  • The Clouds Float North: The Complete Poems of Yu Xuanji (c. 9th century) - Yu Xuanji - Chinese
  • Complete Poems (c. 12th century) - Ching-Chao Li (Li Qingzhao) - Chinese
  • The Alexiad (c. 1148) - Anna Komnene - Attic Greek
  • Parvin E'tesami: Life and Poetry (c. 20th century) - Parvin E'tesami - Persian
  • Ruba'iyat of Mahsati (c. 12th century) - Mahsati - Persian
A few collections which include works by classic women in translation:
  • Women Poets of Japan - ed. Ikuko Atsumi and Kenneth Rexroth
  • Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism - ed. Kang-i Sun Chang, Huan Saussy
And this is just the start! Many, many, many more titles to come. Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments and let the WITMonth preparations begin!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Ways to participate in WITMonth 2015 | Video




Hi everyone! I thought it might be nice to organize some ideas for the August 2015 Women in Translation Month! Reminder: There are ZERO requirements or expectations. Even sharing the information or thinking about the issue is a lot. It would be amazing to see more readers, bloggers, vloggers, booksellers, publishers, translators and everyone involved in WITMonth. So please SHARE the video and the stats, and let's make WITMonth 2015 an event for the ages! :)

Check out other useful WITMonth resources here on the blog, under the "women in translation" tag! 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

WITMonth 2015 Intro Post: FAQs and helpful references

What is WITMonth?

WITMonth stands for Women In Translation Month! It's an annual event held in August, with the designated purpose of encouraging readers, reviewers, translators and anyone really to take part in the dialogue about women writers in translation, as well as providing us all with a convenient outlet to explore more books by women writers in translation.

Why do we even need WITMonth?

Simple - look at the stats. Women writers represent approximately 30% of translations into English. And if you don't mind me throwing in some anecdotal evidence as well, women writers in translation seem significantly less likely to get profiled by major literary outlets and are less likely to have their books sent for review. Further numerical stats: women are significantly underrepresented in translation awards and additional critical recognition. The problem is widespread and especially worth noting because of the generally low representation of translated literature in the English speaking world.

So what does it mean that I'm participating in WITMonth?

Whatever you want it to mean!

Seriously. That's it. WITMonth requires no effort on your part, except maybe some curiosity and interest in the problem. If you're like me and struggle to plan your reading or follow any sort of plan, having a designated month may seem like torture but it really doesn't have to be. There is no pressure whatsoever involved with WITMonth, and there are no actual demands. Do what you want at the pace that you want in the way that works best for you.

Okay then... what are some different ways to participate?

Here are a few suggestions, with varying levels of involvement and difficulty:
  • Share! Let other people know that you are aware of the women in translation problem. Share the stats, share this post and share the love!
  • Tweet! The hashtag is #WITMonth (original, right?) but yearlong we use the longer #womenintranslation tag to discuss the issue and link to interesting resources. Check it out!
  • Think about the issue. This is probably the easiest. If you're reading this post in August, congratulations! You're participating.
  • Read at least one book by a woman writer in translation. It'll be fun, there are a lot of brilliant recommendations.
  • Read only books by women writers in translation. If you want to be extra focused, you can say that in August, you're only reading books by women writers in translation. This is a tougher challenge, but a rewarding one: you may be inspired to pick up a book you weren't expecting. I know I was (in 2014).
  • Read books by women in translation written before 1960. Go back in time! Contrary to popular belief, non-English or American women did indeed write literature prior to the 1960s and the Feminist Revolution. There's a lot of fascinating literature out there, ready to be explored and rediscovered. In fact, some of the best classic literature was written by women writing in languages other than English. The first novel? Yep, that's a woman in translation.
  • Read books by women of diverse backgrounds. Don't get me wrong, Europe is great, but what about the rest of the world, which is also less represented in translations? What about queer women writers, whose identities are often ignored or outright erased? Diversity has many forms, and this is another extra challenge to try to explore it in as many different ways as possible!
  • Put the button on your blog, to show your support and participation:
  • Read books by women in translation in different genres. Yes, literature in translation is usually of a similar, more "literary" cut... but it doesn't have to be. Another fun challenge is to try to explore the women writing in different genres. Young adult, thrillers, sci-fi, picture books, romance, poetry, nonfiction... there's loads of diversity of genre if you know where to look...

Ahhh! Where do I look for books by women in translation?!


While this is still a work-in-progress database (and yes, you can help make it better), it's got loads and loads of titles just waiting to be tracked down. While the overwhelming majority of the metadata has not yet been filled in, you can still search for language and author for all titles. And for the few that might have some metadata, you may just find the perfect book!

Now what?

Remember how we started WITMonth? The most important thing to remember here is that we are facing a battle of awareness. Despite many people's good intentions, most readers do not realize how few titles are translated per year into English. Certainly very few are aware of the huge imbalance between publications of women vs men in translations. And so now - armed with all the knowledge on WITMonth you could possibly need - you are ready to go out and do the absolutely only thing that needs to be done: use this knowledge. Share this with other readers, so that more people can recognize this problem. Use it in the bookstore, when looking for your next translated read. Talk about in the industry, where perhaps more publishers may try to improve their publication stats. 

And read. And most importantly... enjoy!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Women in Translation | The grim improvement of 2014

It would be wonderful if when I ran the statistics on women in translation, I looked only at the raw percentage. I could come and point to the slight increase - from 28% to 31% - and say that there's been an increase. There's been an increase! Excellent! Let's pack up and go home, we're done here, right?

Well... no.

It should be fairly obvious actually. A 3% increase is fairly pathetic. I don't particularly consider it to be a significant change, considering how fluid these things are. One tiny uptick does not yet qualify a trend, and it's worth digging a little deeper into the numbers before we start to celebrate. So let's dig deeper. Warning: I will try to remain objective in this post, but I'm not going to pretend that there aren't problems where they exist.

As always, statistics were taken from the excellent Three Percent database. I'll also point out that another batch of statistics was recently released at womenintranslation.tumblr.com. Our calculations were completely uncoordinated, so take that as further proof of the existing problem. Oddly enough, we seem to have reached different calculations for many fields... I expect I used an outdated database but the percentages largely stand. I also find their charts to be less intuitive and comfortable, so I'll be posting my data regardless. Check it out though. It's grim.


I find it very interesting that women are better represented in poetry than fiction. I don't have an explanation for it, but it's interesting and worth noting, especially given (false) assumptions that women are more likely to write "thrillers" and "Genre fiction".


Some of you may recognize this graphic from Twitter, which I posted a while back. This looks at the top six translated languages, and the gender breakdown. As you can see, the "other cultures" excuse that is so loved by denialists is moot. Essentially, we see that the lack of women writers starts at the top and continues on down (evidenced by the complete language chart below, which sadly is much less visually clear but paints the picture quite well). A country like France does not for a moment lack women writers (and yes, France is the overwhelming source of books translated from French), yet it fails miserably at translating them. Is the problem really in French? Or is the problem in our translations into English?


As we can see, the overwhelming majority of languages have a male-majority translation rate. Even the usually gender-balanced Scandinavian countries suddenly have gender imbalances (Finland excepted). Again we're forced to ask ourselves whether the problem is abroad in other languages, where "women are perhaps not writing" or whether the problem is in the English-speaking world which devalues those books which women are writing and just aren't having translated.


Here we have the top publishers (published 10 or more books in translation in 2014), numerically. This chart is important alongside the next, but I want to look at it harshly for a moment. Note that the top publisher of literature in translation - AmazonCrossing aka The Devil Itself - crosses the halfway mark for women. Of the top publishers, AmazonCrossing is the only publisher to pass the 50%, with Atria the only other one to reach it at all. And note that the second highest publisher of literature in translation - Dalkey Archive - published a stunning grand total of zero books by women writers in translation. Quite frankly, we could leave the chart with just those two stacks and dust off our hands.

Chart arranged from most books published to least, with at least 6 translated titles in 2014

But now let's look at the percentages. Percentage-wise only, we see only three publishers reach/pass the equality mark. Four managed not to publish any books by women writers at all. And another eight published only one book. Taking into account only the top publishers, we see that the translation rates suddenly shift down drastically. Instead of that initial 31%, we get 27%. Uh-oh.

So what do these results even tell us? What did we get from all this supposedly pointless number crunching?

Confirmation.

Like last year, we see that the spread of languages indicates a problem here at home rather than in the countries of origin. Like last year, we see that the problem is very publisher specific, with some publishers striving to make improvements and others distinctly not. We see that same ~28% number everywhere - awards and translations and reviews. And from the results that the Women In Translation Tumblr posted, we see that the myth of "women translators dominating the field" is just that - a myth. The Tumblr found that women actually made up just under 50% of translators. Hmmmm. It's almost as though women are perceived to "dominate" in fields even when they don't, and this is used against them...

And now the million-dollar question... what do we do?

As readers, there's a lot. First and foremost, I highly recommend taking part in the conversation. Looking at your personal reading trends. Challenging yourself as to why you picked this book over another. Challenging publishers. Questioning, checking, thinking and being aware. That's the first step, before anything else. Before you even begin to read or buy books, just ask yourself these questions.

Second: Take part in the Women in Translation Month. Yes, shameless self-promotion! Spread the word and make WITMonth a major part of the discussion. One of the biggest problems the fight for equality in literary translations has at this time is how utterly spread out it is and uncoordinated. We've got lots of different passionate people who are completely unaware of the fact that others are fighting the same fight. Let's find each other, and we can only do that through the help of the hivemind internet. Let's work together. Let's localize and give ourselves this organized space to discuss and move forward. The idea of WITMonth - far beyond just reading books by women writers in translation - is to spread the word about the specific problem of the lack of women writers in translation. So let's help fix that.

Third: Help build the Women in Translation Database! This bigger project is meant to make it easier to find books by women writers in translation, so that we're able to at least offset decades of completely unbalanced publication rates and erasure. There are many different ways to help the database: if you're wondering how to help, feel free to contact me through any of the acceptable means (email, Twitter).

Fourth: Make the change yourself. If you're a publisher or a translator or someone involved in the industry, look at these numbers. Look at the numbers over at the Women In Translation Tumblr. Look at them again and again and ask yourself what you can be doing to fix it. It's a complicated question, and I'm afraid I can't think of any easy answers (because no, I don't think that quotas are necessarily the way to go). But the moment you start to think about it, you start to fix the problem. And that's a huge first step that we need to take, readers and industry-folk alike.

Fifth: Spread the word.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Announcing WITMonth 2015!

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the weather is getting extremely and unbearably hot (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere)... must be time to announce Women in Translation Month, 2015 Edition!
Like last year, WITMonth 2015 (still #WITMonth for those following on Twitter, mostly because it seems easier) will be taking place in August. This gives us three full months to prepare.

This year's goals:
Last year I noted that while it was incredible to see so many reviews, the books were largely very popular recent releases. I proposed - and now make official - a trickier challenge: reading older titles and less-known gems. I've been compiling (and will soon publish) a list of potential titles (with publications from the 11th century and on!), and definitely encourage readers to explore some of these older titles a bit more. The challenge will be to read books written before 1960. Obviously these will be harder to track down and likely not to everyone's taste. If this challenge isn't to your taste, feel free simply to focus on women writers in translation. 

Another one of my personal goals last year was to broaden my general horizons. While I try to maintain diversity in my reading overall (so that I'm not simply reading books from France or Scandinavia), there are areas in which I could be doing better. As with last year, I strongly encourage readers to look beyond Europe. More so, I found it extremely difficult last year to locate titles by queer women writers in translation. My hope is to find a few titles/authors to showcase this year, though at this stage it's unclear which books precisely this will be. I'm open to suggestions.

Like last year, this is a very, very open challenge. The idea is not to force yourself to read books you're not interested in, rather it's to give voice to so many women writers who perhaps get lost in the male-dominated field. Explore and experiment, read and delight. If you find yourself struggling with the challenges... don't do them. If you find yourself too busy to read any books by women writers in translation... it's fine, just join the discussion. This is a no-pressure event.

Finally: The final 2014 Women in Translation Tally will be published in the coming days. I've spent a lot longer on it this year for a number of reasons which will be mapped out in the post itself, but suffice to say that despite growing interest in reading more women writers, there's still a long way to go in terms of the actual publication statistics. And this is the reason I find WITMonth to be so important: while of course we ought to be reading women writers in translation throughout the year, the difficulty in finding many of these titles is genuine, as is the general lack of availability. As long as such a striking imbalance exists, I will continue to encourage readers to take up this mantle every August. If only for a month to raise awareness and foster a discussion. And read lots of excellent literature, of course.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Nun & Sky Burial | Two minireviews

The Nun - Simonetta Agnello Hornby
This is a weird novel to review. Simonetta Agnello Hornby's The Nun (tr. Antony Shugaar) is an odd, somewhat imbalanced, generally entertaining novel that disappointed me somewhat in its ending and in little failures throughout. The writing was solid and the main character Agata was extraordinarily alive, but there was something... off about the book.

First of all, I'll note that in terms of basic readability, The Nun passes: the moment Agata is so sympathetic (despite... not actually being a sympathetic) is the moment the reader remains hooked. Because The Nun is a novel that very much tells of Agata's growth (or lack thereof), her rebellion and struggles and traumas and dreams. Agata is interesting largely because she's complex: her initial dreams are sweetly young, but there's a bitter aftertaste of her persistent stubbornness, even in areas where she could have perhaps acted differently (especially later in the book, where her motives dissolve into a strange mess of "why is this happening?").

The Nun is all about Agata: forced into a convent by her mother in a bizarre game of politics and personal spite. Both of these factors come into play throughout the book: Agata is constantly seeking approval from her mother (despite recognizing her spite), and constantly stumbling through the political mechanics of the period. The politics frame the story interestingly, but never quite pan out, and I often found myself baffled by the lightness with which Agnello Hornby treated many of these issues (that is: she did not develop them nearly enough).

Finally, the book has a series of love stories at its heart. Truthfully, none of these stories particularly worked for me, and I would have been happier with a technically "colder" book, but with the same sharpness of mind that Agata was given. Oh well.

Sky Burial - Xinran
So... Sky Burial (tr. Julia Lovell) is just a weird book. There's a level on which I absolutely understand the mass appeal (touching story, foreigner's view of a different culture, sparse language), but I also could not (could not) reconcile the genres. Was the nonfiction? Fiction? Fictionalized reality? Something else entirely?!

The story is ostensibly that of a young Chinese woman who goes to find her husband, presumed dead in Tibet. What follows is her journey through Tibet as she searches for him, getting lost multiple times and finding home with different nomads. As befits this premise, the ending is uplifting (sort of?), inspiring (ish) and meant to convey a powerful statement about love (yeah, actually).

If I sound deeply cynical, it's because I am. The story reminded me of a lot of survival stories I read as a child (specifically, Julie of the Wolves, and I'll explain further in a moment), with the same sort of saccharine appreciation of the exotic culture our narrator is suddenly cast into. As a novel of Tibet, I found myself less enlightened than confused, often wishing I had a more direct (and firsthand) narration of the experience. Xinran is writing for our narrator, who is elderly and I seriously doubt was able to remember so many extremely specific details (hence my skepticism as regards the definition of this as "fiction" versus "non"), and herself relaying a lot of secondhand information. My head hurt from all the retellings.

So why the cynicism? Ultimately, Tibetan culture is expounded upon just as much as wolf behavior was in Julie of the Wolves. Our narrator is still "The Human" and has a purpose in life that is completely separate from the "Other" nomadic group "The Human" is traveling with. It felt... wrong. Less believable, less representative.

I should point out that the book is still very interesting and informative, even if largely through native Chinese eyes. It's a fairly quick read, and probably a fair starting point for literature about Tibet (I hesitate to call it "Tibetan literature" for the obvious reasons). It's not exactly a bad book, but its memory faded somewhat unpleasantly in mind in the weeks after reading it.