Tag Archives: Literature in Translation

11 Essential Women to Read for International Women’s Day (and Beyond)

Happy Women’s History Month to all the incredible women who have made our national story, and to all the innovative women who are continuing to make our story. In celebration, here is a list of eleven women novelists, comic and graphic artists, essayists, and activists who are creating heartrending, essential stories that you can read now. Pro tip: many of them have books coming out this year, so you can dig into their backlist titles AND have something hopeful to read in 2017.

  1. Rebecca Solnit: Dubbed the “Philosopher Queen” by ELLE Magazine, Rebecca Solnit solnitwrites approachable, intelligent pieces on motherhood, “mansplaining” (a term she coined), politics, gender binaries, and more. Her indie bestselling title Men Explain Things To Me is also now available in Spanish as Los hombres me explican cosas. In the floodbreak of the 2016 election, her title Hope in the Dark resonated with folks across the country, building to the March 7, 2017 publication of The Mother of All Questions, where she writes lines such as “Liberation is always in part a storytelling process: breaking stories, breaking silences, making new stories. A free person tells her own story. A valued person lives in a society in which her story has a place.”
  2. davisAngela Davis: Davis has been woke before anyone knew what that meant, and she’s still writing about it. With decades of thoughtful activism under her belt, Angela Davis has a depth of experience so essential for today’s people when it comes to our dialogue: race, gender, prison rights. If this doesn’t have you interested, read this: in 1969, President Ronald Reagan requested that she be barred from teaching at any university in the State of California because of her membership with the Communist Party. She was part of the Civil Rights Movement and tied to the Black Panther Party. Her Freedom Is A Constant Struggle hit multiple indie bestseller lists in 2016, but you can’t stop there—dig into her older titles, and you’ll find gold: The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues is a collection of her speeches on racism, community, freedom, and politics, and she’s a bit of a Frederick Douglass expert, having penned additional essays for an expanded version of Douglass’s masterpiece: Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself.
  3. Arundhati Roy: If you don’t know this incredible novelist for her, well, novels, you’re arundhati-roylikely not paying attention. But as Signature noted in a long piece in early February, instead of riding on her fame for her first novel, The God of Small Things, in the last four years, Roy has become something of a political activist, writing about “power and powerlessness,” including India’s 1998 nuclear testing and its efforts to become a nuclear superpower, the American bombing of Afghanistan, fascism in India, and her ponderings on meeting with Edward Snowden. Before grabbing a copy of her new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, read her searing works of nonfiction: Capitalism: A Ghost Story, Field Notes on Democracy, The End of Imagination, and Things That Can and Cannot Be Said. In her newest title available April 11, The Doctor and the Saint, Roy strips down the cultural sainthood of Gandhi and examines some of the uncomfortable and controversial truths about the political thought and career of India’s most revered man.
  4. Valeria Luiselli: If you thought 2016 was rough, you have bookends of Valeria Luiselli to remind you of the goodness of 2015, and look forward to 2017. Mexican born Luiselli wowed almost everyone who read The Story of My Teeth in 2015. The New York Times called her story of the traveling auctioneer Gustavo (Highway) Sánchez Sánchez “deeply playful,” and her novel addressed ideas about art and objects, even tmhieas the hilarity of Highway’s tooth collection of the famous (Plato, Petrarch, and Virginia Woolf included) ensued. But in 2017, Luiselli is taking on immigration, and there’s nothing fictional about this. Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions is available starting March 28, and is Luiselli’s record of conversations with undocumented Latin-American children facing deportation. This essential book humanizes these young migrants and highlights the contradictions of the American Dream, and the fear and racism so prevalent for the people who try to make this their home. More Luiselli titles to add to your list include Faces in the Crowd and Sidewalks.
  5. gabrielle-bellGabrielle Bell: “Quiet, pensive cartoonist creates fantastic, heartrending cartoons that stun world” could be the headline for Bell’s artistic career so far. Bell grew up in an isolated rural community, and then took art classes at community colleges, working dead-end retail jobs while she started her career as a cartoonist. Her titles include The Voyeurs, Truth Is Fragmentary, and her first full-length graphic memoir Everything Is Flammable publishing April 18 from Uncivilized Books. Whether you’re into graphic novels or not, make time for Everything is Flammable: spanning a single year, Bell tells the story of returning from New York to her childhood home in rural Northern California to help her mother put her home and life back together. In the narrative, Bell keeps acknowledging her issues with anxiety, financial hardships, memories of a semi-feral childhood, and her always tenuous relationship with her mother. Don’t take my word for it: Alison Bechdel (Fun Home) is also a fan: “Bell’s pen becomes a kind of laser, first illuminating the surface distractions of the world, then scorching them away to reveal a deeper reality that is almost too painful and too beautiful to bear.”
  6. Bae Suah: If you’re trying to diversify your reading list, look no further than this baesuahheavy hitting Korean writer, who has recently been translated into English. In Korean, her name is “Suah Bae,” and she started writing stories as a hobby. The stories took on lives of their own, and now she’s been translated into English multiple times (thank goodness!). A Greater Music follows a young Korean writer as she evaluates her romance with her rough and tumble metalworker boyfriend, and her deep feelings for her past lover, a woman named M. Her most recent title, Recitation, explores the emigrant experience through the ideas of memory and personhood. Read more about Bae Suah in this interview from 1 Brooklyn with her rockstar translator Deborah Smith (who also translated Han Kang’s Man Booker Prize winning The Vegetarian), and stay alert for her collection of short stories, North Station, publishing from Open Letter this October.
  7. janemaiJane Mai: If chic comics, feminism, and Instagram game had a love child, it would probably be Jane Mai. Mai is a freelance illustrator and comics artist from Brooklyn, and her “autobio with a bite” See You Next Tuesday is relatable for any twenty-something female. She doesn’t just tell her own story. On May 16, her collaboration with An Nguyen and Novala Takemoto So Pretty/Very Rotten: Comics and Essays on Lolita Fashion and Cute Culture publishes, and you won’t find a better cultural critique in comic form.
  8. Carmen Boullosa: This Mexican writer is a literary heavenspowerhouse: poet, novelist, and playwright, Boullosa is the trifecta, and her work is more relevant than ever. Her first novel translated in English is Texas: The Great Theft, which reimagines the 1850 Mexican invasion of the United States (complete with colorful ranchers, cowboys, and dancehall girls). She views border history through distinctly Mexican eyes, which couldn’t be a more critical perspective in our current dialogue. Lucky for us, Boullosa is still writing. Her title Before is part revenge novel, part ghost story, and all coming-of-age. Her newest title Heavens on Earth publishes June 20, and beautifully challenges the primacy of recorded history, transcending the barriers of time through vivid, urgent prose.
  9. Sofia Samatar: Of all the writers on this list, Sofia Samatar could be the one whosesamatar college writing class you’d most like to take. This Somali-American professor and writer creates incredible fantasy worlds in her novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories, and her first collection of short stories, Tender, is out April 11 from Small Beer Press. When asked why she writes fantasy, Samatar had a lot to say, “I’m this person from a mixed background, you know, Somali and Swiss-German Mennonite, that you don’t see a lot of, and that it maybe encourages me to imagine other ways of being.” Cliff note: her fiction is replete with strong female characters.
  10. Bernice McFadden: Her latest novel, The Book of Harlan weaves a young musician’s bernicejourney through jazz, Harlem, Paris, and life in a Nazi concentration camp. Bernice McFadden won the NAACP Image Award for The Book of Harlan, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in her oeuvre. The author of nine critically acclaimed novels (pro tip: get a copy of Gathering of Waters immediately), McFadden started out adult life thinking she wanted to work in fashion (obviously, she’s still got the style—check out her NAACP award photos). After years of bouncing around to different big-industry jobs, McFadden landed on a year of unemployment, which launched her love of writing, and the world is better for it. Loving Donovan, Nowhere Is a Place, and The Warmest December are more required reading from this lifetime storyteller.
  11. Ursula K. LeGuin: LeGuin deserves many awards for her 87 years of life, many for her writing, many for her informed, gracious perspective on current events, including a recent letter to the editor explaining the difference between science fiction and ursulaalternative facts, which Entertainment Weekly covered in February. Since she started writing, LeGuin has been bucking the male stereotypes of the fantasy world, and winning awards doing it (including multiple Hugo awards, a Newberry Medal, a PEN award, a World Fantasy Award, and a National Book Award). The New Yorker covered her life and work in an in-depth feature last October, titled “The Fantastic Ursula K. LeGuin.” For a deep reading experience of LeGuin, check out Words Are My Matter: Writings about Life and Books, 2000-2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week.

 

Three More Books You Actually Can’t Miss for WHM:

Rad American Women A-Z: A new classic, Rad American Women A-Z has spent time on the New York Times Bestseller list, been excerpted on Buzzfeed, inspired Halloween costumes, and is genuinely loved by librarians nationwide. If you don’t have a copy (or know another female who doesn’t) it’s high time you picked up a copy of this.

The Crunk Feminist Collection:  From prison abolition, to beauty parlor politics, to Rihanna, The Crunk Feminist Collection brings essays from the Crunk Feminist Collective together in print for the first time. With essays like “Sex and Power in the Black Church” and “Dating with a Doctorate (She Got a Big Ego?)” there’s very little that the Crunk Feminists won’t cover. Self-described as “critical homegirls,” the authors tackle life stuck between loving hip hop and ratchet culture while hating patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism. This published in January, so get your copy now!

And the Spirit Moved Them: The Lost History of America’s First Feminists: Written by activist Helen LaKelly Hunt, this takes modern feminism back to its roots before the suffragettes. Before Seneca Falls, black and white women joined forces at the 1837 Anti-Slavery Convention in the first instance of political organizing by American women, for American women. These women challenged slavery and the patriarchy, and they created a blueprint for today’s intersectional feminism. With a foreword by the legendary Cornel West, this book is sure to make waves, and remind us where we’re coming from.

 

 

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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15 through October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month, a time for celebrating the culture, lives, and achievements of Hispanic people all across the Americas. The month begins on September 15 in honor of the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua; Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence shortly after, on September 16 and 18. Though Hispanic people make up nearly twenty percent of the United States population, Hispanic authors continue to be ridiculously and frustratingly underrepresented in literature (this study in the Baltimore Sun says that less than one percent of all children’s books are written by Hispanic authors). It’s a statistic that becomes even more infuriating when you realize that Hispanic authors have produced some of the biggest books in the last ten years (Junot Diaz, anyone?). To counteract this inequality, we’ve compiled a list of titles by Hispanic authors from the United States to Central and South America: authors who represent the strength, resistance, and incredible contributions of Hispanic people everywhere, in genres from poetry, to literary fiction, to sci-fi, and more.

Beyond the Wall: New Selected beyond-the-wallPoems by Régis Bonvicino (Green Integer, November 2016) This is poetry at its most crucial and political, poetry that won’t let you off the hook even after you’re done reading. Beyond the Wall is the first English translation of Bonvicino’s work from 2002 to the present. Bonvicino has worn basically every hat you can wear in the literary world, from poet to translator, editor, and literary critic. His experience shows: in his poetry, he nimbly jumps between the stunning imagery of nature and the harsh realities of industrialization in urban environments. There’s a pulse to these words, a driving force that pushes you to constantly think about what you’re reading and why. Bonvicino challenges you to examine the massive role that colonialism played in developing what we think of as poetry.

Blood of the Dawn by Claudia Salazar Jiménez (Deep Vellum Publishing, Novemblood-of-the-dawnber 2016) Three Peruvian women brave the brutal and bloody military insurgence of the Shining Path guerillas in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The insurgence was the beginning of twenty years known in Peruvian history as the “state of fear.” In Blood of the Dawn, Jiménez rewrites the conflict through these women’s voices, marking how the personal can become political and vice versa. Jiménez’s prose is clear-cut and doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of the insurgence and the effects it had on the people of Peru. When this debut novel was first published in Spanish, Jiménez received the 2014 Americas Narrative Prize. Read it, and you’ll see why.

chronicle-of-a-murdered-houseChronicle of a Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso (Open Letter Books, August 2016) is juicy familial drama at its best, rich with gossiped stories of adultery, incest, madness, and decadence. The first  English translation of Cardoso’s iconic Brazilian novel (originally published in Portuguese in the 1930s), follows the legacy of a once-proud family that blames its downfall on the marriage of its youngest son to a vibrant, rebellious, passionate woman named Nina. Cardoso’s writing is far from a fluff piece, however, meandering between plot-based narrative and deep philosophical questions in the driven-yet-pensive way that only literary fiction can. As Cardoso follows the family over the years, he hops between narrative devices from letters to diaries to confessions that will keep you reeled in until the very end.

I’ll Sell You a Dog by Juan Pablo Villalobos (And Other Stories, August 2016) followill-sell-you-a-dos an elderly man named Teo as he attempts to fend off boredom and cockroaches in a retirement home —all with a beer in hand. In his heyday, Teo was known all throughout Mexico City for his dog meat tacos, which he called “Gringo Dogs,” but that was before he lost his girlfriend to Diego Rivera and had his dreams crushed by his hypochondriac mother. Now, Teo is stuck trying to fill his days by antagonizing the literary salon that meets downstairs, flirting with the revolutionary greengrocer next door, and reading critical theory to telemarketers. When I’ll Sell You a Dog isn’t making you laugh out loud at Teo’s ridiculous antics, it’s “full of affection for art and artists” according to NPR. The novel is full of people who are die-hard believers, and it’s impossible not to root for characters who are so unapologetically passionate about their work.

the-revolutionaries-try-againThe Revolutionaries Try Again by Mauro Javier Cardenas (Coffee House Press, September 2016) tells the story of three childhood friends who reunite to transform Ecuador, and then discover that revolution isn’t as easy as it might seem. It’s political, yes (full of election turmoil, history of the Ecuadorian pro-austerity movement, and subversive radio plays), but to say it’s only a political novel would be to undercut the complexity of Cardenas’s writing. In The Revolutionaries Try Again, Cardenas explores the many facets of friendships, the things we leave unsaid, and all of the ways nostalgia acts as a fun house mirror on our memories. Cardenas’s writing crackles with wit and pop culture references (from ABBA to The Exorcist) – there’s a reason Harper’s magazine called The Revolutionaries Try Again a “high-octane, high-modernist debut.”

San Juan Noir, edited and introduced by Mayra Santos-Febres (Akashic Boosan-juan-noirks, October 2016) is an anthology of noir fiction by some of Puerto Rico’s best and brightest authors. Noir is nothing without atmosphere, and the setting here becomes a character of its own. The authors of San Juan Noir dig deep into the city, cracking open the (largely white, American) mythos of, as editor Santos-Febres says in the introduction, “sandy beaches, casinos, luxury hotels, relaxation, and never-ending pleasure—a place that satisfies all senses and appetites.” The stories within San Juan Noir stare right into the face of colonialism as they examine the gaps between the city’s rich and its poor, its residents and its constant flow of tourists, its colorful exterior and its gritty underbelly. This is noir with a bite, noir that enthralls with its dark tales even as it challenges the reader—do better, do better, do better.

transmigration-of-bodiesThe Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera (And Other Stories, August 2016) is a response to the violence in contemporary Mexico. A plague has come to an unnamed city, spreading death and destruction everywhere. Two rival crime families take advantage of the emptied streets to reopen a decades-old feud, but when the situation escalates beyond control, they call in the only person who can rebroker the peace: the Redeemer. Both families have kidnapped the children of the other, and the Redeemer must venture out into the disease-ridden streets to negotiate the return of the bodies they hold hostage. This definitely isn’t one of the lighter books you’ll read, but Herrera’s short, poetic prose “goes straight for the soul,” according to NPR, and is impossible to ignore. The Transmigration of Bodies pays homage to literary greats from Roberto Bolaño to Raymond Chandler and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as it honors all of the bodies that violent crime has touched.

Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya (Mandel Vilar Press, October 2016) is not your avewicked-weedsrage zombie novel. From The Walking Dead to iZombie, you may be groaning at the thought of even more zombie narratives. But Wicked Weeds is different. Instead of a traditional, chronological narrative, the book comes together in scrapbook form, compiled by fictional doctor Isadore Bellamy as she tries to make sense of a brutal accident caused by her (zombie) boss. The book is made up of confessions from our zombie protagonist, transcripts of police interrogations, and segments of prose. Wicked Weeds incorporates all the best parts of sci-fi, experimental fiction, traditional horror, and Caribbean literature to create what Kirkus Reviews called “a culturally resonant tale of zombie woe.”

zero-sum-gameA Zero-Sum Game by Eduardo Rabasa (Deep Vellum Publishing, November 2016) is a biting political and consumerist satire—definitely a timely and relevant pick for this fall. A Zero-Sum Game follows the high-stakes election for the presidency of a residents’ committee, where a powerful stranger threatens to use his influence to shake up the process. Rabasa uses the charged atmosphere to crack dry, wry jokes that manage to lend sympathy to both sides: those in power, who find themselves caught between empowerment and selling out, and those outside of it, who find themselves wanting to be part of a revolution. It’s complex, intense, and would be heavy were the book not so charmingly funny. VERDICT: Add to your pre-election reading list.

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Not Lost: Why Some Independent Publishers Can’t Get Enough of Literature in Translation

On April 19th, The Millions announced the finalists for their ninth annual Best Translated Book Awards. Six titles from five Consortium publishers were included, from both publishers who produce solely translations and publishers who produce a wide variety of genres.

Not long ago, most of the books that made it to translation were classics. They were primarily novels and poetry from already well-known members of the literary canon like Dostoevsky, Camus, and Neruda. Nowadays, translations are no longer reserved for the classical elite. Many publishers are adding brand-new translations of contemporary novels and poetry to their seasons each year with enthusiastic response.

Why translations? Why now? Here’s what the publishers of our award-nominated titles have to say.

Biblioasis, publisher of Arvida (by Samuel Archibald, translated fromArvida the French by Donald Winkler), believes that translation is the lifeblood of literature. Literature that does not engage with other languages and linguistic traditions quickly becomes stale and irrelevant. Translation means more voices can have their time in the spotlightespecially voices that we don’t usually get to hear.

war so muchOpen Letter Books, publisher of Wphysics of sorrowar, So Much War (by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent), and The Physics of Sorrow (by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel) believes that making world literature available in English is crucial to broadening our cultural awareness, to helping us engage with others from all different experiences. In addition, widening accessability of literatures new and old helps maintain a healthy and vibrant book culture. War, So Much War and The Physics of Sorrow both capture sides of humanity inextractable from their original culture and yet still recognizable in ourselves.

signsAnd Other Stories, publisher of Signs Preceding the End of the World  (by Yuri Herrerawhose second work, The Transmigration of Bodies, publishes this Julyboth titles translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman), was founded out of publisher Stefan Tobler’s frustration at the lack of availability of great works of literature published in English. Publishing translationsspecifically, good translationsis so important to And Other Stories that many of their editors and staff members are also working translators. If you’ve read Yuri Herrera’s work, you’ll understand where And Other Stories is coming froma world where non-Spanish-speakers can never read his incredible words is a sad world indeed.

Coffee House Press, publisher of the 2015 literary darling The Story of My Teeth (bStoryOfMyTeethy Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney), sought out this revolutionary novel from a desire for their bookshelves (and their readers’ bookshelves) to more accurately reflect the wide range of voices and stories in the Americas. Voices of the Americas must by definition include non-English speakers. For Coffee House Press, translation is about dismantling a hierarchy in literature, of granting just as much weight to original English texts as to the words of non-native speakers. Translation is about expanding horizons, not limiting them.

load poemsHoly Cow! Press, publisher of Load Poems Like Guns, doesn’t typically publish translations, or poetry for that matter, focusing primarily on fiction and nonfiction from the Midwest. But when Farzana Marie, the editor and translator of the collection, presented her manuscript to Jim Perlman, the publisher at Holy Cow!, he couldn’t say no. Translating the collection brings the voices, joys, struggles, and triumphs of women living in the city of Herat, Afghanistan, thousands of miles, reaching readers who might never have known how much they needed it.

Culture, connection, compassion: that’s why we need literature in translation, now more than ever.

Find out where you can purchase Arvida; War, So Much War; The Physics of Sorrow; Signs Preceding the End of the World; The Transmigration of Bodies; The Story of My Teeth; and Load Poems Like Guns here on the Consortium website.

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Open Letter Books’ Chad Post Expounds on Translation with Poets & Writers

ChadPost

Chad Post. Photo courtesy of University of Rochester.

Contemporary literature in translation—not just translations of Tolstoy—makes up less than three percent of all books published in the U.S. This is a sad statement, especially when you think about all the great stories you could be missing out on. Chad Post and his press Open Letter Books are striving to change this. By focusing on literature in translation and community outreach programs, Post and Open Letter Books are shaking up the translating game by increasing awareness and building a community— and hopefully increasing that three percent.

Recently, Post appeared on a roundtable discussion with Jeremiah Chamberlin for Poets & Writers and colleagues at other presses to discuss the state of translations in publishing. Post transitioned into publishing from a career in bookselling because he wanted to have a hand in deciding which books are actually produced, which led to the creation of Open Letter Books in 2008. The press is a component of University of Rochester which allows Post and the press more freedom in terms of educational and community outreach programs. Post is grateful for these projects: “I think the things that define our organization, and the reasons I’m still in publishing—which can be grueling… are all the ancillary things we do for readers.”

These programs include the Three Percent blog, which is dedicated to bringing readers and translated works together, the “Best Translated Book Award” which Post started in 2007, the creation of a Translation Database, and a translation guidebook, The 100 Best International Books of the Century (So Far), which Post is compiling to provide a “snapshot of what’s being written now all over the world” according to Post’s article that appeared in the Frankfurt Show Daily for the Frankfurt Book Fair. All of these projects—and the many others that Post has in the works—strive to change “look how little is translated into English” into “look at all these great books available to readers.”OpenLetterBooks

In the round-table discussion, Post agreed that one of the most important aspects of publishing, especially for small, non-profit translation presses, is to create a community around discussions of books. Ranging from informal twitter conversations to highbrow literary discussions and book clubs to mainstream reviews, Post endorses it all: “what’s most important, in my opinion, is getting people who aren’t writers or publishing people talking about books.”

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