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.