Tuesday, August 3, 2021

WITMonth Day 3 | Filling the gap

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague of mine in the lab gaped a little when I told her about this project and WITMonth. It's something that usually catches my labmates off guard; I am a passionate about my love of the sciences and I suspect that for many it seems like an extremely odd balance of interests. But the true surprise isn't in my love of literature - that surprise fades away relatively quickly - but the feminist nature of this project I manage. The questions started immediately. They were nothing I haven't heard before, but that doesn't make them less exasperating; why do you do this isn't this sexist but what about all these authors don't you think you're making up a problem where there isn't one. All sentences that reflect a profound lack of awareness regarding A) the problem itself, and B) the fact that I'm a person who's been working on this for coming on eight years now. But let's set aside B and focus on A, because the truth is that outside of a small slice of the internet, the vast majority of people still are not aware of the Women in Translation project, its offshoots, its impact, or its importance.

It's easy to forget, but most folks in the world do not necessarily engage with art and media the same way that the most hardcore fans might. I run a book blog specifically because I am deeply passionate about books and wanted an outlet to write about them (erm... was encouraged to do so by an insistent sister who was tired of hearing me ramble to her). The folks who read my book blog are, for the most part, also folks who are deeply passionate about books and as such read book blogs. The same is true for BookTwitter, Booktube, Bookstagram, BookTikTok or whatever other social media platform you may use. It's not even that this is the exclusive place for readers; I'm in a non-book-specific Facebook group that has some extraordinarily avid readers, none of whom engage with what I would call the express "book community". Not to mention that there are multitudes of different literary communities in this shared online space. Readers who love James Joyce don't necessarily overlap with readers of Leigh Bardugo (though you never know!), and readers of WWII historical texts aren't necessarily the same folks who are going to gush about the latest Inspector Harry Hole thriller (but again... you never know!). Readers are not a monolith. Nor are feminist readers and nor are activist readers.

I've written before about the awareness gap in WIT, on multiple occasions. I'm not naive to how highly specific this project seems and how broadly unimportant. That reaction from my coworker is one that I've heard countless times from people who simply cannot fathom why I spend my time doing all this work to promote women writers (voluntarily!), and moreover women writers from all these "random" backgrounds that nobody has ever heard of. I often voice my belief that readers cannot be expected to read that which is not available to them, but the same is true of folks outside of these especially focused literary communities. People cannot be expected to care for a problem they neither see nor understand.

This is a huge part of why I've tried to build a Women in Translation website for the past two years. My hope has always been to be able to provide resources for those who are aware and engaged, but also an open door for exactly those who ask the standard question: Why? Huh? Why? There's a lot of work left in order to fully fill the awareness gap, yes, but it's a process. More and more readers are aware of WITMonth and its source. More and more readers are becoming aware of the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation. More and more readers are being exposed to bookstore and library displays that showcase women writers in translation, and not just the same six authors. We are in the eighth year of this process, but it's moving. Maybe, hopefully, someday my coworkers will not gape at me, but instead give me a piercing glare and ask, "Shouldn't you be doing more to ensure equitable translations of women writers?" Touché.

1 comment:

  1. You are right. At times, with all the excitement I see about #WITMonth on Twitter and among my book blogger friends, I start to think the problem is nearly solved, but it's easy to forget we are in a bubble of like-minded people...


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