Thursday, August 5, 2021

WITMonth Day 5 | Voices on the outskirts

It occurred to me at some point in late 2020 - just around the same time that I was formulating the idea behind what would become the DailyWIT - that there were a lot of Hebrew-language women writers that I had never read. Of course that's an obvious statement; there will always be more writers to read than time to do so, and I will inevitably miss out on a lot of great art. But the thought/realization that I had was focused less on individual writers, as much as writers of different and wildly diverse backgrounds. It occurred to me that even without the biases that are set in place in translation to other languages, I was exposed to and reading writers (men and women, to be perfectly honest) of very specific, typically quite privileged backgrounds. And of course that this was the case with the books that I was reading in translation (whether to English or to Hebrew). 

One of the things I have tried to do with the DailyWIT is include writers from all sorts of different backgrounds. That might sound a bit trivial, but the truth is that translation as a field is not always the most... let's say "generous" toward those writers who aren't already part of the mainstream. There are understandable risks associated with any translation; there is often little motivation for publishers to try to translate and publish a work that doesn't have some sort of proven track record or high chance of success. So if you're starting out from a place of literary marginalization, you're going to face steep odds when it comes to translation.

This is part of what drives the women in translation project at large, of course, but it cuts across so many different types of backgrounds and experiences. At the beginning of the year, I asked folks for recommendations of authors they might like to see included in the DailyWIT, encouraging the inclusion of writers who maybe aren't translated at all. A friend messaged me with a list of Indonesian writers, specifically, and noted a disproportionate lack of Muslim Indonesian writers translated/published in English, despite Indonesia being a Muslim-majority country. Their observation is one I haven't necessarily delved into in much depth, but it did make me think about religious, linguistic, cultural, and ethnic biases across the world.

But of course, those biases are not fixed in and of themselves. One region's dominant culture is another's minority. The question of which voices are published and translated is one that cannot be homogenized across the globe; every country and region will have its own nuances and complexities. In some countries, "immigrants" may be the most prosperous class. There are states that are ruled by regional ethnic minorities. The extraordinary range of experiences and existences across the world make it utterly impossible to set clear definitions for what the literary outskirts may be for any region.

Which is why, as always, my solution is quite simply... more. Let's make sure that there is space for all of these different backgrounds and voices. Let's make sure that we're not just letting those voices from the very top continue to filter through, but that we also recognize that there are always going to be relative outskirts and writers working there. That translation can't exist in the context of narrow definitions, but must broach more borders than linguistic alone (and also there - recognize literature from under-translated languages!!!). As ever: more.

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