Friday, August 2, 2019

WITMonth Day 2 | Here we go again...

One of the first things I remember thinking when people starting asking about a second year for WITMonth was, "Wow, I hope that someday we won't need this". When I first started this project, I kept feeling like it would all be fixed within a year or two. Publishers would immediately notice their bias, everyone would get up in arms, and that's it, no more problem!

So here we are. August 2019. WITMonth year 6.

It's hard to deny that this project has grown from year to year. I have a variation on this exact post for pretty much every one of the past few years, because... it's surprised me every time! A few more translators, a few more writers, a bunch more blogger, and a whole lot more readers. We grow from year to year in the most wonderful way, with publishers taking part and bookstores organizing events and readers hosting readathons and so on. These are all excellent signs that we're moving in the right direction when it comes to giving women in translation the proper space they deserve in our literary consciousness.

And yet. And yet...

We're here because we still need to be. Literature in translation remains shockingly niche in the English-speaking world. Most English-language readers are still hard-pressed to name more than one or two books they've read by women writers in translation, and readers from around the world are similarly stumped when they try to find many non-Anglo women writers. And honestly, it's okay if you haven't had the chance to read many books by women writers in translation, it's not trivial, they're too often not part of the canon (though of course, we'll be getting to that a bit more in depth later in the month), and they're rarely the ones given center stage in either the major literary reviews or on the shiny "new releases" table at your local bookstore. (Not to mention certain online retailers...)

That's part of why we still have WITMonth, to be honest. It's still a struggle to explain to my real-world friends what this project is, and there is still a major awareness gap between those who spend a lot of time in these literary circles and those who are, perhaps, more "casual" readers. This is a gap I'd like to see bridged and I think that as the years go by, it becomes smaller. More and more readers are finding WITMonth through different platforms and means. It's truly wonderful.

But there's another part, the one that I'm always a little uncomfortable pointing out. And that's that the main reason we still have WITMonth is because progress has been crushingly slow in certain regards. No matter how much I hope that this will be the year that publisher [fill in the blank] will take part or message back or acknowledge their bias, it never is. More than that, the bias still exists. As you'll see a little later in the month, I did something a little bit differently with the women in translation statistics this year, trying to widen the lens a little bit (while also narrowing the scope somewhat). I won't get into too many details now (spoilers!), but there's a lot to be hopeful for in the data, and a lot that disappoints.

The truth is that we do still need to give this extra space to women writers in translation, because the default remains (dishearteningly) masculine. More than that, we need to give space to the discussion. We need to be able to talk about why it is that certain biases exist, how it is that certain things are changing for the better (and they absolutely are!), and where it is we want to ultimately end up. WITMonth, more than anything, is our chance to try to understand what it means to support women in translation. What it means to take part in this project in the first place.

Here we go again...


  1. So true! I always thought of this as a celebration, but it is also a warning or reminder that things are not progressing that much. Bit like the women's vote, really, that took decades!

  2. Yes, each year more and more people are becoming aware of the bias and the imbalance. It's a start, and it's hard work, but it's having effects.


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