Monday, August 31, 2020

WITMonth Day 31 | The end is, as always, just the beginning

For all my love for August 1st, I have to admit that some years I find myself looking forward to August 31st just a bit more. The beginning of WITMonth symbolizes so much hope for how the month will unfold, but the end demonstrates just how far we've come. The end of August is a full, beautiful display of all of the books and reviews and short stories and poems and photos and recommendations and engagement that WITMonth has borne. 

This year especially - a year that has been remarkably difficult in many ways - I find myself full of love as I contemplate the different ways in which readers took part in WITMonth. There are always new readers discovering the project, with responses ranging from righteous anger over the imbalances and biases to excitement over new books to committed fervor in continuing to read works by women writers in translation. There are countless book recommendations shared, literally too many to count. Readers span six continents (to the best of my knowledge, nobody on Antarctica has yet participated in WITMonth, but maybe someday!) and dozens of different native languages, reading works from backgrounds just as varied. Some works are as-of-yet unpublished (whether in translation to English or in another language!), while others are established, canonic classics. There are books and works and poems that cross genres and reader designations. 

WITMonth is, ultimately, one of the easiest reading or "challenge" months, since there's only one real requirement: Engage with the topic of women writers in translation. No matter your reading tastes, you are likely to find at least one book by a woman writer from around the world that will suit you (though finding two or more may be a bit trickier for some genres...).  Women in Translation Month - for all the misnomers - is meant to be there for everyone. And it shows, with passionate and diverse and fascinating engagement across the internet. Importantly, not all of this engagement is necessarily full of praise - readers also include their critiques of certain works or certain WIT-adjacent topics (though the latter is a genre that I think is mostly comprised of my own writing...). There are meaningful conversations about what WITMonth means to different readers, to translators, to publishers. There are conversations about what WITMonth should mean (beyond my own definitions), and these are all good and healthy things. There is just so much and it is wonderful.

So another year has passed, and as always I find myself wanting to remind readers that this is only the beginning. WITMonth may end with August, but the women in translation movement lives year-round. I always have specific goals that roll over from August to the rest of the year (even if it occasionally takes another full year before I manage to publish them...) and I don't think that the efforts we make should be limited to one month. On the contrary! Every reader who has laughed that their TBR has grown too much as a result of WITMonth? Excellent! You now have reading material for the whole year. Enjoy it

There is more work, as well. As I posted yesterday, there is so much room to expand the women in translation movement worldwide, where it was always meant to be. For this, we non-English speakers will need to ask ourselves how things look within our own native languages and try to figure out how to address unique imbalances we may find. We must continue fighting against cultural/linguistic biases in translation, as well as falling into limited patterns in the stories we choose to center. The women in translation movement must also become a normalized conversation within the larger feminist movement, rather than something on its outskirts. There remain publishers and gatekeepers who do not see value in setting aside space for women writers in translation, but we readers can do so much ourselves. We can stand up and make clear just how important women's voices are, whether as reflections of our own experiences, windows into new ones, or doorways that bring the two together. We can make a point to center writers - famous and untranslated - who represent different parts of the world. We can seek to rework the canon to reflect the broader world and find the joy in literature that exists worldwide. We can do all of this while addressing structural accessibility problems, as well as subsequent genre imbalances.

WITMonth, as I mentioned a couple weeks ago, is an opportunity, not an obligation - an opportunity to discover new books, new writers, and new perspectives. It's also our opportunity to do a lot of this work, but it's not an exclusive setup. We can (and must!) continue this effort throughout the year, and I am certain there are so many more topics and issues that we have yet to fully explore. August ends as it always does, but the movement lives on.

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