Posts featuring Lee Yew Leong

On Editing an English Literary Journal as a Person Of Color

The matter-of-fact, even slightly cheerful, answer: "Have your characters come to the US!"

Hello! (Taps mic…) Our regular blog editors Madeline, Hanna and Nina are on leave today, so I’ll be guest-blogging to continue our daily programming. My name is Yew Leong (yes, that’s two words for my first name) and I’m the Singaporean editor working behind the scenes of the magazine since 2010. I’m thirty-nine this year (the photo of me, above, was taken in a yakisoba restaurant when I was thirty-six).

Some details of how I came to found the journal are mentioned in the interview I share below, so I won’t get into that here. What I will say to preface my breaking the fourth wall is this: After July 2011, I stopped signing the quarterly issues’ editor’s notes at least partly because, as the only full-time member at Asymptote, I didn’t want to overshadow the team’s collective efforts (for the same reason, I also declined to be videoed for our first-ever Indiegogo campaign). For several years thereafter, all editor’s notes were simply ascribed to “The Editors.”

In July 2016, I decided to sign my name after the editor’s note again: Prior to that, I’d seen Asymptote being written off as a mere “platform” by a prominent translator, but specifically in the derogatory sense of “editor X used the platform Asymptote to do Y” (Y being a massive translation project, requiring coordination across the different roles), as if all I had done was create a free-for-all Facebook or Twitter-like interface for providers of world literature. That could not be further from the truth: there is someone leading the magazine (although hopefully not off a cliff!), someone with a vision to boot, not merely a loose collective of editors, contributing whatever they’d like to contribute.

Secondly, I’d started wondering if, by not putting myself out there a little more, I had become complicit in, let’s just say, a certain racial oppression. This year, after six years of editing the magazine, I was happy to be invited to my first London Book Fair panel (actually any event that wasn’t organized by Asymptote, although, as its editor-in-chief, I have played varying roles toward making 33 world literature events happen in four continents), and I remain eternally grateful to the Translators’ Association of the Society of Authors in the UK for subsidizing my trip there (as I could not afford the flight ticket otherwise).

But, few know that, in 2014, about five years into helming the magazine, and surviving those five years by wearing many different hats to keep the journal going, an invitation was received by someone on the team to represent Asymptote at an international conference, with the offer to be flown in from wherever. The invitation was sent to a part-time White Assistant Managing Editor who’d been on board less than seven months, who actually lived further away from the conference than me, based on her current city at that time. I’d left the US many years ago to avoid being an invisibilized person of color, specifically in a literary environment (Junot Díaz and Ken Chen talk about this issue very eloquently), and suddenly there I was being overlooked again.

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What’s New With the Asymptote Team

From reading tours to new publications, here's what Asymptote staff have been up to recently!

Contributing Editor Adrian West launched his new book, The Aesthetics of Degradation, for the occasion of which former Asymptote Section Editor Matt Jakubowski conducted this interview in Berfrois.

Contributing Editor Ellen Elias-Bursać has been interviewed about her authors in Authors and Translators.

Assistant Managing Editor Justin Maki published a review of Jon-Michael Frank’s book of poem-comics, How’s Everything Going? Not Good. (Ohio Edit and Cuneiform Press) at The Small Press Book Review.

Editor-in-Chief Lee Yew Leong’s translation of ‘Next’, a poem by Taiwanese psychiatrist-poet Jing Xianghai, was featured on the Guardian Books Network as part of Asymptote‘s ongoing Translation Tuesday collaboration with The Guardian.

Editor-at-Large for Romania & Moldova MARGENTO (Chris Tanasescu) participated in the CROWD Omnibus Reading Tour, a tour involving 100 writers from 37 countries, starting at the Arctic Circle and ending at the Mediterranean Sea. On his way back, MARGENTO stopped by Bookfest (Bucharest’s International Book Fair) where he contributed to the launch of frACTalia, a Romanian-international consortium of literary journals, publishing companies, and online intermedial archives.

Social Media Manager Sohini Basak has poems published in two anthologies: three poems in 40 Under 40: an anthology of Post-Globalisation Poetry (Mumbai, Poetrywala) edited by Nabina Das and Semeen Ali; and a poem inspired by Han Kang’s The Vegetarian in Urban Myth and Legends (Birmingham, Emma Press) edited by Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright.

Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek’s new collection of poetry, Giving Ground, was launched in Oxford, and reviewed in the Oxonian ReviewHe is one of four winners of this year’s inaugural New Poets’ Prize, and has an interview and a new poem about ’Brexit’ in The Missing Slate.

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What’s New with the Asymptote team

This month, catch Asymptote's editor-in-chief at the London Book Fair and at SUTD's Translation Symposium!

Senior Editor (Chinese) Chenxin Jiang spoke on the panel “I’m Not Dead Yet: Translating Living Authors” with Jason Grunebaum, Anna Rosenwong, and Cole Swensen, at AWP in Los Angeles. An excerpt of her translation of Ji Xianlin’s The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution was featured in The Atlantic.

Assistant Editor K. T. Billey‘s translations of Icelandic poet Bragi Ólafsson have been published in Circumference. Her poetry collection “Vulgar Mechanics” is a finalist for Lincoln Center Fordham’s Poets Out Loud publication prize. Her poem “Self-Portrait, Skull & Ornament” has been shortlisted for Arc Magazine‘s Poem of the Year—vote on the Reader’s Choice Awards here! Her poetry will also be featured in the inaugural Brooklyn Poet’s Anthology forthcoming from Brooklyn Arts Press in 2017.

From 30 December to 4 April, Editor-at-Large for Slovakia Julia Sherwood accompanied Polish writer Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki on a US reading tour with his novella Lullaby for a Hanged Man (translated by Julia and Peter Sherwood and published by Calypso Editions in December 2015). The tour included events at the Word bookstore in Brooklyn, Boston University and UNC Chapel Hill. Next week, on April 12, Julia will be speaking at the London Book Fair on a panel entitled “Non-native Translation: Is It Time to Rethink Where Good Translations Come From?”

Also participating in a London Book Fair panel is Editor-in-Chief Lee Yew Leong, who will talk about “Discovering Stories in Turkey, Asia and Africa” on April 13, and then about “The Politics of Translation” at Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Translation Symposium on April  21.

Romania & Moldova Editor-at-Large MARGENTO saw to the publication in Romanian translation of Ryan Mihaly’s interview with Richard Zenith from our October 2015 issue in Asymptote’s new Romanian partner journal, Observator Cultural.  Also in Romania, after an informal interview with MARGENTO, poet and editor Violeta Savu published in the literary magazine Ateneu a presentation of Asymptote covering the Romanian writers featured so far in our journal and also reviewing our latest issue, a contribution also made available online on the writer’s blog.

New Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek’s third collection of poetry, Giving Ground, was launched in Singapore by Ethos Books. His review of Seamus Heaney’s new translation of Aeneid VI was published in the Oxford Culture Review, and three of his poems were featured in Coldnoon, the international journal of travel writing.

Last month, Indonesia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao published an essay on Eka Kurniawan’s novels Man Tiger and Beauty is a Wound in the Sydney Review of Books .

Where Are We Going, Where Have We Been?

With 6 hours remaining, we're closing in on the gap with less than $1,000 to go!

In true Asymptote fashion, the script for the following video was written in Berlin and edited and polished in Taipei, Singapore, New York, London, and many other cities. The talking heads were recorded in Ithaca and then edited together in Virginia, all the while being sent all over the globe in various stages of completion so other team members could chime in with their two cents—we could think of no better way to not only explain why we we do what we do, but also to showcase how.

Presenting world literature to a wide audience all over the world is our main goal, but our main strength is our team, which works tirelessly behind the scenes all over the world to showcase that otherwise obscured poet or this overlooked writer in the best possible light and style. Please help us — all 70 of us — keep Asymptote alive beyond January 2015 and for many more years to come by donating to our Indiegogo campaign here.

—Lee Yew Leong, on behalf of the entire Asymptote team