Spotlight on Asymptote’s Partner: Hong Kong’s Fleurs des Lettres

Testimonials from Asymptote's global literary partnership in Hong Kong, with journal "Fleurs des Lettres"

One thing that Asymptote certainly delivers is fresh literature. That is, we don’t just sit back and wait for submissions to ping! in our inbox, and make do with whatever we get. In fact, submissions—which we do take seriously, with five dedicated slushpile readers sifting through works that come in over the transom throughout the year—probably make up less than 20% of our published content, if we go by wordcount. Some sections, such as Drama, Interviews, Visual, Criticism, Writers on Writers are heavily commissioned/solicited sections. These need very resourceful/persistent section editors, who can convert the most tenuous of leads into actual contributions. An entire blog post or probably even a book could be written about how we wooed author X or publisher Y or translator Z or guest artist A to come on board.

Even with very resourceful section editors, however, given our mission of diversity, no one editor can cover his or her section for too long and still do his or her job well. That’s where our supporting cast comes in:  we have a jet-setting commissioning editor who is able to network on our behalf at writers’ festivals, we have contributing editors to pitch and contribute content, and as mentioned previously, we have an assistant editor researching hitherto unpublished languages, as well as editors-at-large with their fingers on the pulse of their regions’  literary scenes. Today we’ll talk about one facet of editorial work undertaken by editors-at-large that few of our readers may be privy to: journal partnerships.

It makes sense to partner with journals because as the first gatekeepers of literature everywhere, journals publish the freshest and most cutting-edge literature being produced in its region. As for how the partnership works: we take an article or a set of articles from a foreign language (i.e. non English-language) print journal and translate it into English to present in our quarterly issues. In return, the foreign language print journal then takes an article that we have published and commissions a translation of that article to be presented in its pages. All rights are cleared with the author of the article before proceeding. This is a model that stimulates the transmission of literature (in both languages) and benefits magazines, readers, authors, and translators alike.

A list of our journal partners to date can be found on our map here—two more slated for 2015 are Steaua in Romania and Writer in Thailand—but today we’ll only feature testimonials that shed light on one journal partner, the very stylish 《字花》from Hong Kong (also Fleurs des Lettres).

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Louise Law Lok Man (editor, Fleurs des Lettres)There has always been a demand from Hong Kong readers for the latest international literature. Our partnership with Asymptote came at the right time, when there were fewer and fewer channels for international literature in the local media. We have received positive feedback for this partnership—and our readers find reading our selected articles from Asymptote very refreshing.

Charlie Ng Chak Kwan (Asymptote editor-at-large, Hong Kong)Fleurs des Lettres is probably the most popular Chinese literary magazine in Hong Kong, with very strong local connections. Case in point: Fleurs des Lettres once organised a tram reading group sponsored by Hong Kong Tramways where participants got to read literature in a tram tour.

Asymptote’s partnership with Fleurs des Lettres began in 2013. Louise and I were excited at the prospect of stimulating literary exchange as well as the valuable opportunity to offer the world a glimpse of a heretofore-unseen Hong Kong, beyond the Hong Kong mythologised in the West.

The first article Asymptote acquired from Fleurs des Lettres was Lee Wai-Yi’s “Lai Yuen,” (published in our October 2013 issue)—a story with strong local flavor. The titular amusement park in Lee’s story, now demolished, is a site of collective memory. Through the story, the author problematizes the question of shared identity formation.

Articles from Asymptote that Fleurs des Lettres have published in Chinese translation include: Dominic Pettman‘s “In Divisible Cities,” (from our April 2011 issue; actual layout of the magazine featuring the original English set next to the Chinese translation pictured below), notable for its creative spatial writing, Tom Whalen’s “Another Love Story and Other Reviews” (from our April 2012 issue), a tour de force of experimental literature and a feat to translate in and of itself, and Daniel Aristi’s “Chinafrica,” (from our April 2014 issue), a truly 21st century story depicting the increasing Chinese economic dominance in Africa through a romantic relationship. The Fleurs des Lettres issues that you see above are the ones which have introduced work that first appeared in Asymptote to Chinese readers in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the Chinese-speaking world.

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Daniel Aristi (author of “CHINAFRICA”): Rejection e-mails from literary magazines consistently feature the word “unfortunately”—coupled with some variation of “this is not for us.” In fact, I now call rejections “unfortunatelies,” which sounds much better to me, as this term camouflages a very conscious refusal by an Editor with the random caprices of (mis)fortune.

More than a year ago, Asymptote sent an ‘unfortunately’ my way. In this particular case, it was a five-page story that got shot down – I tend to write mostly short poetry, so five pages of fiction was a new discipline for me altogether (and I had poured my soul on this one). Oh well.

Twelve months later, I received a most unexpected e-mail by the people in Asymptote: “we did not forget about your story and we believe that the new issue is well suited to accommodate it; can you revise and resend?” I was over the moon. I revised and resent—and got published, with superb watercolors illustrating my piece.

An editor who keeps your piece in mind for a year? Outstanding. And it gets better: five months ago, I was contacted by Asymptote again to ask for my permission to have my story translated and published in one of their associated magazines in Hong Kong, Fleurs des Lettres. I was elated. Two weeks ago, a hard copy of the magazine was delivered to my home, free of charge, along with a nice set of bookmarks and a postcard.

My point is: while the literary excellence the folks at Asymptote display is beyond doubt, the journal’s human dimension deserves praise as well. Taking time and going the extra mile to establish a connection with the writer is a wonderful feature of theirs in times when automated one-liners in your inbox are commonplace. Keep it up.

In November 2014, Fleurs des Lettres and Asymptote co-organized a bilingual reading followed by a panel discussion for our first-ever appearance in Hong Kong, at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. Read more about it here.

Just EIGHT DAYS remain to the end of Asymptote‘s fundraising campaign! So far 147 of you have chipped in $10,473 (Thank you!). Factoring in the USD2,000 that our tireless Chinese social media team just raised via a Chinese version of our fundraiser, we have only about $12,500 to go! Help us continue to operate beyond January 2015. Donate to Asymptote today!