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A Moveable Feast: A Year of Reading Women in Translation

2016/9/15 — 15:28

【Text by Chris Gribble, David Maclean,Harriet Gilbert, Joanna Walsh, and Sasha Dugdale】

In a genre that prides itself on celebrating diversity and shining a light on marginalised voices, women authors have consistently been overlooked.

This August marked the third anniversary of #WomenInTranslation month, a much-needed attempt to redress the balance between male and female authors within translated fiction. In a genre that prides itself on celebrating diversity and shining a light on marginalised voices, women authors have consistently been overlooked by publishers. The numbers paint a rather depressing picture, since according to Three Percent’s database, translated literature makes up approximately 3 percent of the literature published in English-speaking markets, and women make up a fraction of that — a mere 30 percent, or 0.9 percent of the literature that makes it to stores.


In this respect, #WIT Month is a fantastic way of highlighting women’s voices through the power of social media – demonstrating that not only are these books read, but that there is a large audience with a voracious appetite for literature in translation penned (and translated) by women. But I suspect that, like many others, once the dust has settled and we roll into Fall, my reading habits fall back into routine. The culture industry reflects the character of the society that it markets to, and the fact remains that it is considerably harder for women to get their work to appear to English than their male counterparts. If the problem is to achieve any sort of resolution, #WIT Month needs to first inspire a recognition of the gender biases within the industry and reading habits at large, and to introduce readers to women authors that end up being overlooked or that they might not otherwise have heard of — in short, WIT Month should become a moveable feast.

Knowing that everyone loves a good reading list, I rounded up some ofAsymptote’s friends old and new to provide their own recommendations for what books and authors people should track down to begin a year of reading women in translation.


My own recommendation is for Valeria Luiselli, who embodies everything that is vital about contemporary literature; transgressive, experimental and raucously funny, her novel The Story of My Teeth owes much to modernism in style but is distinctly postmodern in its affinities (one could go as far as labelling it post-postmodern in this regard). Through a heady mixture of farce and Baudrillardian theory, Luiselli creates a philosophical opus out of a man wearing Marilyn Monroe’s teeth.

—David Maclean

Sasha Dugdale, Editor of Modern Poetry in Translation and author of the poetry collections, The Estate (2007), Notebook (2003), and Red House(2011). She has translated Russian poetry and drama, including Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. She tweets @SashaDugdale

Don Mee Choi is a poet, essayist and translator of Korean contemporary women poets, in particular the poet Kim Hyesoon, whose work Don Mee has translated for both US and UK publishers. I’m OK, I’m Pig! is published by Bloodaxe Books and Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Action Books. Her translations are rightly acclaimed for their radical, questioning nature: thoughtful, imaginative translations that probe at the outer reaches of language.

Karen Leeder’s work as a scholar, poet, and translator of modern German literature has brought a new generation of German-language poetry to UK audiences. She has translated Durs Grünbein, Evelyn Schlag, Raoul Schrott, Michael Krüger, and Volker Braun. Most recently she has worked with the young poet, writer, and filmmaker Ulrike Almut Sandigto produce beautiful, collaborative texts and performances. She is a great advocate for the power of translation and cultural collaboration.”

Joanna Walsh, fiction editor at 3:AM Magazine. Her books includeFractals, Hotel and Vertigo. She also runs #readwomen, described by theNew York Times as ‘a rallying cry for equal treatment for women writers.’ She tweets @baduade

“That adjective ‘fearless’ is overused regarding writers, but Dubravka Ugrešić has been writing fearlessly since the war that divided her native Yugoslavia in the 1990s: ‘When reality became morally and emotionally unacceptable,’ Ugrešić said, ‘I spontaneously started to protest.‘

Her protests have taken the form of novels, short stories, journalism, criticism, essay, and are not only angry, inventive, and eloquent, but also funny.

I’m excited about Ugrešić’s forthcoming book which blends all these genres, a little of which can be read at Music & Literature Magazine, where I also wrote a short piece about her work.”

Chris Gribble, Chief Executive of the Writers’ Centre Norwich. He sits on the Board of Directors of ICORN (the International Cities of Refuge Network), is Co-Chair of the National Association for Literature Development, and sits in the Advisory Group for Manchester University’s Centre for New Writing. He tweets @WCNChris

“My childhood featured a number of Scandinavian works in translation. I don’t know why this is the case, as my parents weren’t particularly literary and we haven’t any real links to that part of the world. However, Gunnel Linde, Tove Jansson, and Astrid Lindgren shaped my view of the world and I don’t think I even considered that they were works of translation until I was in my teens. These three women showed me what bravery, sadness and family meant, accompanied me on trains, under seas, over mountains and across skies. I found excitement, comfort, adventure, puzzles and new worlds between the covers of their books and I will never be anything but grateful to them and their translators.”

Harriett Gilbert, presenter of World Book Club on the BBC World Service. Since 2011 she has hosted “A Good Read” on Radio 4. She tweets@HariettSG

Marguerite Duras is best known for The Lover, her fictionalised account of her affair, aged 15, with a wealthy 20-something man in Indochina. But for me La Douleur is her most brilliant, chilling and breath-taking work. Also autobiographical, it’s set in France at the time of the Nazi occupation, and stares, without blinking or passing judgement, at the ugliest and most painful human behaviour — including the narrator’s.

White by Marie Darrieussecq, translated from the French by Ian Monk(Faber): An extraordinary, spare, beautiful novel about two people fleeing tragedy at home to loose, or perhaps find, themselves in the emptiness of Antarctica.

Two Girls by Perihan Magden translated from the Turkish by Brendan Freely (Serpent’s Tail, but I’m sure it’s out of print): Who killed the young man whose body’s been discovered in a lake? This is a whodunnit of sorts but, far more than that, it’s a brilliant novel of teenage frustrations and fury and murderous folie à deux.

(Link to the original article)