Posts by Tiffany Tsao

Monthly Update from the Asymptote Team

New year, same busy Asymptote members! Check out what we've been up to, from the page to the stage.

Poetry Editor Aditi Machado‘s translation project, ‘Sentences / Sententiae’, has been published in its current form in the latest issue of Almost Island. Her work also appears in Folder Magazine‘s latest print collection, and you can read a section of her recently-published translation of Farid Tali’s Prosopopoeia in The Guardian. 

‘After Orlando’, a theatre action piece co-led by Drama Editor Caridad Svich, was performed in New York and London, and featured in Exeunt Magazine. Her review of Chris Goode’s The Forest and the Field: Changing Theatre in a Changing World, was also published in the Contemporary Theatre Review. 

India Editor-at-Large, Poorna Swami, has a poem in the third issue of Prelude Magazine. Her interview with art critic and photographer Sadanand Menon on ‘Nationalism and Dance’ has also been featured in Ligament. 

A new short story by English Social Media Manager Sohini Basak has been published in the latest issue of Out of Print, and another was published earlier in December in 3:AM Magazine. 

Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek‘s New Year’s Eve round-up on ‘2016: A Year in Translation’ was published in The Oxford Culture Review. He also has a new poem in the current issue of The London Magazine. 

Indonesia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao appeared on a segment of ABC iview’s ‘Bookish’ programme to discuss the question, “What is ‘Asian’ Literature?” Her novel, The Oddfits, appears on 2016’s ‘Top 5’ list of Superhero Novels 

Chile Editor-at-Large, Tomás Cohen, helped to present ‘Hafen Lesung #9‘, a multilingual literary evening in Hamburg. His poem, ‘Andarivel’ (from his collection, Redoble del ronroneo), was featured on Vallejo and Co., while a Greek translation of the same poem was also published this month in Vakxicon. 

Finally, if you missed it in December, check out Asymptote‘s lovely feature in The Hindu, and read the full version of our Editor-in-Chief Lee Yew Leong’s interview on our blog!

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Read More Dispatches from the Asymptote Team:

“They Cannot Be Pigeonholed”: Julie Koh on Racial Nepotism and Asian Writing

I’m not overly interested in waiting around for reform to take place in publishing in the West. Instead, I’d prefer to create a new center.

This month sees the launch of BooksActually’s Gold Standard 2016—the first edition of a new annual anthology comprising what indie Singaporean bookstore BooksActually considers to be the best short fiction from cult writers of East and Southeast Asia, and the diaspora. Most significantly, the anthology is overtly political: a protest against how Asian writing is curated in the West and an effort to establish a new center for Asian writing within Asia.    

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Julie Koh, the inaugural editor and co-founder of the Gold Standard. I’ve long been troubled by the problems that arise from editors and publishers outside Asia curating Asian writing (a topic I explored at length here). I was naturally excited when Koh invited me both to translate for and contribute to the anthology, but it was only through our conversations that I got a fuller sense of the passion fueling the anthology’s creation and goals.

                    Tiffany Tsao, Indonesia Editor-at-Large, Asymptote

Tiffany Tsao (TT): In its promotional matter, the BooksActually’s Gold Standard anthology describes an attempt at a literary reformation: an effort to “redefine how Asian voices are promoted—providing a counterweight to the often tokenistic way in which Asian writing is curated in the West.” In your opinion, what is wrong with how Asia is currently promoted and curated in the West, and how exactly does the anthology counter it? 

Julie Koh (JK): The best way to begin to explain the rationale behind BooksActually’s Gold Standard is with reference to the controversy surrounding The Best American Poetry 2015, where the editor Sherman Alexie discovered that one of the poems picked for publication, by a “Yi-Fen Chou,” was in fact by a white male poet named Michael Derrick Hudson submitting his work under a pseudonym—more specifically, a name he had stolen from a former high school classmate. Hudson was trying to make a point about how the political correctness of contemporary literary culture unfairly favors Asian writers. Alexie ultimately decided to retain the poem, along with the pseudonym, admitting “racial nepotism” as a major reason for his choice.

As an Australian writer of Chinese-Malaysian descent, my reaction to this controversy was one of shame. It cast a different light on the curation of work by writers of East and Southeast Asian descent across the West. To me, the decision suggested that achievements by such writers were attributable to some external agenda, not to the quality of our writing.

There was also the egregiousness of Hudson’s claim—that Asian-Americans get ahead of white male writers because of their race. This is patently untrue. Any writer of color in the West knows the difficulties inherent in trying to ascend the literary ladder. In the Australian context, for people of East and Southeast Asian descent, the “bamboo ceiling” exists across many sectors—the literary industry being no exception. Although I’ve been fortunate enough to have had many good experiences with Australian publishers, the fact remains that there are generally few people of color in positions of power in the literary game, and this has a direct impact on the type and quantity of work by writers of color that makes it to publication, how writers of color are promoted, and how their work is understood. This in turn can influence what writers of color believe they must write to get published.

In considering the logic of Alexie’s decision, I came to the conclusion that “racial nepotism” was a jolly good idea, and that it should be taken even further—that there was a clear gap in the market for an edgy “best of” collection originating in Asia and transparently curated by “nepotists.”

I decided it was important to question whether we, as writers of Asia and the diaspora, should always to look to the West for cues on how literature should be read, what kinds of literature should be valued, and what our place is within it.

And I’m not overly interested in waiting around for reform to take place in publishing in the West. Instead, I’d prefer to create a new center which doesn’t rely on others to curate us—and the BooksActually’s Gold Standard is an effort to contribute to the work already being done in Southeast Asia to create this new center.

READ MORE…

My 2015: A Frazzled New Mother’s Year in Reading

Aravind Adiga’s Last Man in Tower took me by the hand, led me up the stairs, and pushed me off the roof.

2015 was an eventful year, to put things mildly. I lumbered into it heavy with child, in mid-March I gave birth to a bundle of joy, and post-mid-March has been spent living with said bundle of joy—an experience filled for the most part with elation, excitement, and gratefulness, with a good dose of exhaustion, frustration, and terror.

In other news, I completed the manuscript of my second novel, worked with my publisher to see my first novel The Oddfits through the final stages of editing and proofing (it comes out on February 1, 2016!), and filled in remaining cracks with a few smaller projects—translation, writing, and editing. Chaos took the opportunity to reign supreme in our apartment. What you could see of the apartment between the eternal hillocks of yet-to-be-folded laundry.

Don’t look at the bathroom. For the love of God, don’t look at the bathroom.

And somehow, thankfully, I managed to read. In hindsight, reading is perhaps what kept me sane…if it could be called sanity. Audiobooks were useful when I didn’t have a hand free but still needed to be in motion. And it was nice to be read to, though my choices were hardly the stuff comforting bedtime stories are made of. With the relentless cynicism of Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh cackling in my ears, I saw the world’s cheeks drained of their rosy hue; and I cackled along. Aravind Adiga’s Last Man in Tower took me by the hand, led me up the stairs, and pushed me off the roof. Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son set me adrift on a nightmarish sea, the pitching so constant, however, that I almost felt as if I were being rocked in a cradle. READ MORE…

New Asia Now: A Dispatch From Sydney

"Perhaps it was only natural that conversation that evening revolved around the writer's responsibility to eradicate social injustice."

On the evening of August 11th, the University of Sydney hosted a writers’ panel in celebration of the Griffith Review’s recently released issue, New Asia Now. Co-edited by Julianne Schultz and Jane Camens, and published in parallel with the Asia Literary Review, the two-volume issue is dedicated to writing about contemporary Asia by Asian and Australian authors born after 1970.

The event in Sydney was one of several, held in various locations around Australia last and this month to promote the issue. Making up one set of contributors on tour are Murong Xuecun from China, Joshua Ip from Singapore, and Maggie Tiojakin from Indonesia (who took part in Asymptote blog’s multilingual translation project “Say Ayotzinapa”). The other touring trio featured Indian writer Annie Zaidi, Chinese writer Sheng Keyi, and Filipino novelist (and Man Asian Literary Prizewinner) Miguel Syjuco.

It was the latter trio—Sheng, Zaidi, and Syjuco—who spoke at the University of Sydney that night, along with Schultz, who facilitated the panel and acted as Zaidi’s interviewer. And it was my pleasure to be included on the panel as Syjuco’s interviewer, along with Beatriz Carillo Garcia who interviewed Sheng Keyi, and Jing Han from Australia’s multicultural broadcasting service SBS who translated for Sheng (needless to say, it was very crowded up there on stage). READ MORE…

Worlds-Within-Worlds: A Testimonial

Indonesia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao on Indonesian writing—and how Asymptote fits in a new, more nuanced "World Literature"

Asymptote’s mission is to introduce not only literary voices from a wide range of countries, but a greater number of voices from within each country. That’s where our twenty over editors-at-large, from Cuba to China, come in. Their goal? To seek out the worlds nestled within worlds that may be invisible from the outside. With their fingers on the pulse of their regions’ literary scenes, our editors-at-large act as extra eyes and ears for our section editors, ensuring a stream of the freshest content from the world over. Often this work is commissioned from scratch (see Mui Poopoksakul on Contemporary Thai Fiction or Yardenne Greenspan on Contemporary Israeli Literature). Editors-at-large also organize outreach events, partner with local journals, and send us literary dispatches for the blog. Our Indonesian editor-at-large, Tiffany Tsao, who gave us this dispatch from the 2014 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, wrote the following blog post to commemorate our fourth birthday.

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

World literature is a loaded word with a lot at stake. The term makes a grand promise: access to literatures, in foreign tongues, about unfamiliar peoples, in far-flung places. “World Literature” promises to reveal the astounding diversity of the globe through letters.

But its execution risks the exact opposite effect: in place of diversification, simplification; in place of multiplication, diminishment. A handful of writers behave as spokespeople for an entire nation, ethnic group, even continent; a single novel purports to function as representative of a variegated and ever-varying literary and popular culture of any given context. This prospect of oversimplification alarms both skeptics and advocates of world literature alike, and (unfortunately) even the most good-intentioned of attempts to avoid this plight may count for naught. READ MORE…

What We’re Reading in December

This December: family sagas, American classics, flash fiction, and meta-translation

Tiffany Tsao (Editor-at-large, Indonesia): Family sagas make up my month’s leisure reading so far. Jeffrey Eugenides’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning Middlesex and William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! have been on my to-read list for several years, and it was with a combination of sheepishness and triumph that I finally got round to cracking open their spines. One occupational hazard of being a literary academic is that you often lack the energy to graze beyond your particular fields of expertise. As a recent post-academic, it has been a great pleasure indeed to read more in the way of the American “classics”—and not just so I can finally stop embarrassing myself at dinner parties where I often disappoint fellow guests by not having read every work in the western canon, all the latest prize-winners, and everything listed on the latest “Top 100 great reads” list circulating the web.

READ MORE…

Notes from the Field: Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2014

“Is it possible to celebrate linguistic diversity while using one language only—that same language of global hegemony—to do so?”

The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, held annually in Bali, Indonesia, is Southeast Asia’s largest (and arguably its most well-known) literary festival. This year, the festival featured about 150 writers hailing from more than 25 different countries. Its eleventh iteration, however, proved an even more festive occasion than usual, overlapping with both Saraswati Day—a holy day in the Balinese Hindu calendar dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and knowledge—and a series of religious ceremonies held at the nearby Gunung Lebah Temple. The sun was hot, spirits were high, and the roads were packed as religious and literary pilgrims crisscrossed the small town of Ubud from morning to evening to attend their respective events.

Among the many recurring topics of conversation and debate at the festival was the growing global dominance of the English language. Japanese novelist Minae Mizumura confided her regrets about choosing to write in Japanese rather than English (she was capable of doing both, having spent twenty formative years in the United States), thus forgoing the opportunity to reach the wider audience that writing in English would have afforded her.

And yet, despite initial regrets, Mizumura affirmed her commitment to write in Japanese, noting not only that she has had a far greater impact on Japanese literature than she could have ever had on English literature, but also that she regards writing in a non-English language as a sort of personal moral obligation. Asking her audience to imagine a world in which the best and brightest spoke only English—a horrible, pitiful world, she opined—she regarded her writing as an attempt to save us from that awful fate. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Poetry by Nala Arung, translated by Tiffany Tsao

"Who would have guessed that love would collide / Into the wall that is FPI."

Efpei I’m in Love by Nala Arung

The cover of Efpei I’m in Love, a poetry collection by Indonesian writer Nala Arung, announces that it is “a book of tasteless poetry.” And it is apparent from the outset that its tastelessness operates on multiple levels.

Its title is deliberately lowbrow—a take on the title of the wildly popular teenage chick-lit novel, Eiffel … I’m in Love, published in 2001 and adapted for film as a romantic comedy of the same name two years later.

The Efpei that has displaced the original Eiffel refers to the FPI, or Islamic Defenders’ Front. A hard-line Islamic vigilante organization, FPI has gained national notoriety for using violence to enforce their interpretation of Islamic law. Its members often patrol areas for signs of un-Islamic activity, destroying property and beating up offenders. The organization has also attacked religious minorities, including Buddhists, Christians, and Ahmadi Muslims, whom they consider a heretical sect. FPI is certainly no laughing matter and hardly the stuff love poems are made of—or so it would seem until one reads the titular poem “FPI, I’m in Love.”     READ MORE…