Friday, August 14, 2020

WITMonth Day 14 | How to find books by women writers in translation

Last week, I wrote about accessibility and availability for books by women writers in translation. There, I mostly focused on the sorts of barriers that prevent works in translation - and especially works by women writers in translation - from getting into the hands of many readers. But one of the things that I didn't really address was the question of discovery. Of course the question of literal availability is huge in ensuring that books reach readers, but how are readers supposed to know about these books in the first place?

I've heard a lot about this over the past few years, especially as WITMonth has grown. Twitter, Instagram, and Booktube are full of readers who are exposed to the women in translation project through someone else's passionate involvement, and then begins their own journey of reading more books by women writers in translation. One of the most common first steps is trying to find that initial path in: What books even qualify? Who are the women writers in translation that are available? How do you find them?

It's not trivial. Like with almost every "minority" in literary publishing, the problem isn't that the books don't exist or can't exist, but that they're not given nearly the same space, attention, marketing, and fame as the straight, white, Anglo "default". Things like bookstore or library displays go a long way in exposing readers to new books. Things like Buzzfeed lists and viral recommendation threads also do a lot. 

But let's say you're new to this. You're not on Twitter, you're not on Instagram, and you mostly do your bookshopping at major chains or online outlets. Where, you may ask, are the women writers in translation? Here are some ways to find the very most popular women writers in translation:

  1. Look over the 100 Best WIT! Yes, some shameless self-promotion here, but this list was crowdfunded by a couple hundred folks from around the world and reflect some of the most popular contemporary titles in the world of literary translation.
  2. Check out some of the heavy-hitter publishers in terms of popular books by women in translation. Europa Editions, for example, has published some of the most best-selling WIT in recent history, including Elena Ferrante, Muriel Barbery, and Mieko Kawakami. While not all publishers of popular women writers in translation necessarily publish a lot, many do.
  3. Use Goodreads for groups and lists of books by women in translation! There are all sorts of different options which can help a newer reader find appropriate books.
  4. Follow sites like Book Riot and LitHub, which both occasionally feature works by women writers in translation and have some great lists on hand.
But what about readers who are already familiar with these, as well as other, more specific blogs, sites, and outlets? What about readers seeking books from outside of Europe's dominant literary influence? What about readers seeking books from different genres or backgrounds? Well, you too have several options!
  1. Always go back to the original international literature sources as well: Words Without Borders, Asymptote, Three Percent, and literary journals like Modern Poetry in Translation or Two Lines, as well as many others (of course).
  2. Peruse the annual WITMonth new releases list, which I try to compile from a lot of different sources and covering a lot of different genres and literary designations.
  3. Lovers of speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, and adjacent genres) are strongly advised to check out Rachel Cordasco's phenomenal SF in Translation site. While there's sadly too few WIT in speculative fiction, there are some great options on the site, as well as a really organized resource for finding reviews and such for any books you may be interested in.
  4. This may, again, seem like a bit of shameless self-promotion, but check out this and last year's 50 Day Countdown(s) to WITMonth. Between the two lists, you can find literally dozens of writers from across the world, some of whom are definitely big names and others who are decidedly not!
  5. And for the top-tier difficulty level, seek out the tiniest publishers of literature in translation! Academic presses, obscure poetry publishers, publishing houses from different countries (who may still publish works in your native language, whether English or otherwise!), online publishers, and so on! It can be arduous work to find women writers in translation, but there are some extraordinary gems to be found if you put that effort in.
Right now, the bottom line is this: Readers need to work to find books by women writers in translation. Despite the occasional outlier, the biggest publishing events of the year rarely promote works by women in translation and rarely give space to their voices. This is largely why WITMonth exists - August is our opportunity to loudly make this space and promote these books. At the end of the day as I've said before, the two greatest resources I can offer new readers wanting to find more women writers in translation is Twitter and Instagram. The #WITMonth tags on both sites (as well as #womenintranslation year-round!) are extraordinary resources for seeing which women writers in translation readers from all across the world are passionate about. 

And... well, there are also some projects in the works to make this whole process of finding books by women writers in translation a little easier. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

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