Meeting Our Readers in the Flesh! (Part I/II)

With 18 hours remaining and a mere $2,843 left to raise before we reach our goal, Ellen Jones gives us a dispatch from our recent anniversary event in London

Being an online journal, we at Asymptote rarely get to meet our readers, or even our colleagues. Living in a large city like London makes it slightly easier—I’m lucky to have four or five other contributors and editors currently based here, all of whom have wide networks within magazine publishing, translation and the wider literary world. But nevertheless, the opportunity to have so many Asymptote enthusiasts in one room is a rare privilege.

Our reasons for hosting anniversary events each year are the same reasons why we continue to publish the magazine for free every quarter: our aim is to spur the transmission of literature to and from all corners of the world; to counter a lack of diversity in literature, and promote a global conversation.

This year’s London event went a long way to help us achieve those aims. For the second year running, the Free Word Centre in Farringdon generously hosted our celebration, and we were pleased to see a full house despite the cold weather. Stefan Tobler, translator from Portuguese and German as well as Founder of And Other Stories—a young publishing house with a majority of translated titles—kindly agreed to chair the evening’s discussion. He was joined by Adam Thirlwell, twice one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists; Daniel Hahn, a writer, editor and translator (from Portuguese, Spanish and French) with over forty books to his name; and Deborah Smith, translator from Korean, who is setting up a non-profit publishing company to promote titles originally written in Asian and African languages.

The model for the evening’s discussion was that each speaker would “praise” a favourite translated book, reading from it and explaining their admiration. These books were not the speakers’ own, nor were they even from a language they could read. This, I believe, is Asymptote’s forte: encouraging people to think and talk about books they would probably never have come across before.

Adam Thirlwell chose Daniel Sada’s Almost Never, translated from Spanish by Katherine Silver, and Deborah Smith praised Jason Grunebaum’s translation of Uday Prakash’s The Girl With The Golden Parasol, “the first translation from Hindi into English in a generation.” Stefan Tobler chose Inger Christensen’s slim book of poems, Alphabet, translated from Danish by Susana Nied, and, finally, Daniel Hahn chose his fellow panellist Deborah’s translation of The Vegetarian, originally written in Korean by Han Kang, who was herself present on the night. This range of writing from Latin America, Europe, and Asia is representative of Asymptote’s publishing efforts as a whole. Our hope was that the event would encourage British readers to expand their knowledge of non-British writing, and give them the courage to pick up a book deriving from a minority language and culture. The speakers’ enthusiasm and admiration for these four translated volumes went, I hope, a long way to achieving that aim.

The event was also, of course, an opportunity to introduce Asymptote’s work to people who may never have read it, to alert people of our not-for-profit status and encourage them to support us. Unfortunately, publishing the very best in international literature is not without cost, and our resources are finite. As well as securing new readers, providing a forum for discussion, and promoting translations from minority languages, events such as this one help raise money to keep the magazine afloat. The money from ticket sales will go towards funding a new edition of “Close Approximations,” our contest for emerging translators that last year awarded $3,000 in prize money, as well as developing an educational arm, and will allow us to continue translating and publishing quality literature from all around the world.

If you would like to support Asymptote’s mission, please donate to our Indiegogo campaign—but hurry! Our campaign closes in less than 20 hours!

Photos from our London event are available to view here.

Listen to a recording of the event below:


Ellen Jones, our Criticism Editor, studied English literature and Spanish as an undergraduate and has just completed a Masters in English language at Oxford. Her interests span the written representation and codification of “non-standard” varieties of English, translation, code-switching, and literary multilingualism. She is currently researching a Ph.D. at Queen Mary University of London.