Place: Croatia

Meet the Publisher: Phoneme Media’s David Shook on Translations from Underrepresented Languages

I do think we’re living in a very good time for publishing translations.

Phoneme Media is a nonprofit company that produces books in translation into English and literary films. Based in Los Angeles, the company was founded by Brian Hewes and David Shook in 2013, though it wasn’t until 2015 that the press began publishing on a seasonal calendar. To date, Phoneme Media has put out over twenty titles of fiction and poetry, and is particularly interested in publishing works from languages and places that don’t often appear in English. Many of their books are accompanied by short films that take on different formats, from video poems to book trailers, and have been shot around the world. Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Argentina, Sarah Moses, spoke to David Shook over Skype about publishing translations from underrepresented languages and some of the titles he’s excited about.

Sarah Moses (SM): How did Phoneme Media start?

David Shook (DS): It came about basically because of my own work as a poet and translator. In my own travels—when I was working in community-based development, mostly in East Central Africa and Latin America—through relationships, through friendships with writers, in places like Burundi and Equatorial Guinea, and writers working in indigenous languages in southern Mexico, for example, I was just encountering all of these writers that I felt deserved to be read in English, that would contribute something important to our literary dialogue and that couldn’t find homes in terms of publishers here in the United States and in the UK, too, for a couple of reasons. The first being the lack of translators working in those languages and familiar with those regions, and the second was the fact that these books were somewhat outside the purview of even the publishers who specialized in translation—some great publishers. I think of Open Letter, for example, which has largely focused on literature from European languages, which I also think is incredibly important, but something like a book of poetry from Isthmus Zapotec, or the first translation from the Lingala—a novel we’re preparing to publish later this year would definitely be a bit outside their wheel house.

SM: How do you find translators for languages like the ones you’ve mentioned?

DS: Well I think our reputation is such that, despite having been around a comparatively short time, we’re often approached by translators working in more unusual languages. Our translation from the Uyghur, for example, by Jeffrey Yang, and the author is Ahmatjan Osman, who was exiled in Canada, was exactly that situation. Jeffrey brought the translation to us because he knew of our editorial interests. In other cases, like our book of Mongolian poetry, I was alerted to its existence because the translator won a PEN/Heim grant. And I do read widely, both in search of writers and of translators, who I think are important. For example, a place like Asymptote, which I read regularly with an eye toward acquisitions. I mean when we acquired, for example, this novel from the Lingala, the translation was a huge issue because there are very few, if any, literary translators from the Lingala, so I actually auditioned a few Congolese translators before finding this husband-and-wife team, Sara and Bienvenu Sene, who did a really great job. They’re really literary translators, whereas most of the translators I’d auditioned were technical translators or interpreters. And it’s pretty spectacular, considering I think English is their fourth language. I think a big part of my work is scouting out these translators and also encouraging a new generation of translators to go out into the world and find interesting books. I’m very proud that we’ve published many first-time translators on Phoneme Media.

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November News from the Asymptote team

From erotica in translation to magazine launches, no rest for world literature!

Spanish Social Media Manager Arthur Dixon has helped to found Latin American Literature Today, a new online literary journal, with support from World Literature Today! He will serve as its Managing Editor when it launches on January 31, 2017.

Contributing Editor Ellen Elias-Bursać will be part of an evening of readings in translation at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop on December 17, 2016, presented by Harlequin Creature. Her translation of Dubravka Ugrešić’s brilliant address on receiving the Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2016 has been published on LitHub.

Slovakia Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood‘s co-translation (with Peter Sherwood) of Uršuľa Kovalyk’s short story “Julia” was published in the latest issue of SAND, Berlin’s English literary journal.

Romania & Moldova Editor-at-Large, Chris Tanasescu, aka MARGENTO, will be launching an anthology of contemporary Romanian erotic poetry in New York together with past Asymptote contributor Martin Woodside.  Another contributor to the project is Ruxandra Cesereanu, the primary editor of Moods & Women & Men & Once Again Moods.

Editor-at-Large for India Poorna Swami‘s poetry reading in Bangalore was featured by The Hindu, Metro Plus. Her poem “River Letters” was published in Prelude, Volume 3. She also wrote a blog piece on the politics of social media friendship for The Huffington Post, India. She has been long-listed for the 2017 Toto Awards for Creative Writing (English).

English Social Media Manager Thea Hawlin‘s ‘five-point guide’ to avant-garde artist Yves Klein was published in AnOther magazine.

Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek  placed Second in the Stephen Spender Prize 2016 for poetry in translation, and his translation of Wong Yoon Wah’s poem, ‘Shadow Puppets’, was featured in The Guardian‘s Translation Tuesday series in collaboration with Asymptote. He was also part of recent poetry readings at the Woodstock Poetry Festival and the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

Indonesia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao has had two translations and a short story published in BooksActually’s Gold Standard 2016—a “best of” anthology of short fiction by cult writers from East and Southeast Asia that aims to counter the tokenistic way Asian writing is often curated in the West.

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More Dispatches from the Asymptote Team:

Poligon Literary Festival: A Dispatch by Ivan Šunjić

"This year's Poligon boasts three prize winners: Krivokapić, Kaplan, and Pajević."

The first incarnation of the literary festival Poligon was held in Mostar on September 25-27, 2015 at several different venues in the city. The decentralization of the festival and the “occupation” of Mostar’s cultural hotspots by poets and writers helped revive the city’s dormant literary scene. The festival was imagined as a space for dialogue between authors from the former Yugoslavia, an opportunity for strategic planning and strengthening of interregional literary exchange. In the words of Mirko Božić, the initiator and co-organizer of Poligon, the festival hopes to put Mostar on the region’s literary map by providing a multi-medial platform for literature, but also visual arts and music. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Four Poems by Anita Pajević

"technically speaking, you’ll clasp her to your knees. / you’ll clean her fish ponds / to make her laugh."

houpačka

 

it morned. godded.

thin soup enspooned on the stove.

an emotion to match. an H on the access tabulations,

in lukewarm plates. like H, like morn.

i didn’t go to the Hraveyard with dad.

not even when things prayered down on him. READ MORE…

The Festival that Won by Knockout

A dispatch from the Festival of the European Short Story in Zagreb and Šibenik, Croatia

Zagreb’s vibrant cultural scene was home to the Festival of the European Short Story last week: an appropriate end to what has certainly been a great season of culture, music, and activism in Croatia’s small (yet exciting!) capital.

This was the festival’s thirteenth year running, and the festival featured Brazil as its partner country. The festival was delightfully lively and action-packed, featuring not only readings and discussion panels, but also a charitable football game, an introduction to Brazilian fiction, a Portuguese translation workshop, and a cook-off (?). Some of the festival took place in Šibenik, a town on the Croatian coast (a sound decision, as the Croatian culture scene is becoming notoriously monocentric, with virtually all of the events and manifestations happening in Zagreb).

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The Croatian Theatre Showcase

An interview with Matko Botić

This year’s Croatian Theatre Showcase, held from November 28 to December 1 in Zagreb, was the first such revue since Croatia joined the European Union last July.  The plays represented in the showcase were not simply the most popular or highest-grossing shows of the year; they all shared a certain attitude, a social awareness, a desire to, as the organizers stated, “speak out about the time and place in which they were created.“ Fine Dead Girls (directed by Dalibor Matanić) deals with the issue of our society’s attitude towards homosexuality, Hermaphrodites of the Soul (choreographed by Žak Valenta) and A Barren Woman (directed by Magdalena Lupi Alvir), each in its own way, tackle the problem of gender roles, while Yellow Line (directed by Ivica Buljan) speaks out about our uncertainties and misgivings about the European community we recently joined. Coupled with the fact that all of the shows were translated and subtitled in English, it  could be said that the aim of the Showcase was to represent not only Croatian theatre, but the current state of Croatian society in general, to foreign viewers. Intrigued by this concept, I sat down with theatrologist and dramaturge Matko Botić, one of the organizers of this event, to chat about the Showcase, the idea behind it, the issues arising from translating theatrical texts, and the state of Croatian theatre in general.

READ MORE…