Spring 2017: Fighting the Muslim Ban

We literature people must do all we can to agitate for open borders.

What follows is some lightly edited magazine correspondence leading up to the Spring 2017 edition:

January 29

Subject: A thought on what we might do as a magazine

Hello team,

I’m sure many of you are unhappy about Trump’s outrageous ban on refugees and residents from seven Muslim countries; it woke up the activist in me (and also literally kept me awake, which is why I’m writing this at 7 a.m. on a Sunday). Since we happen to have a slot open anyway, I’d like to dedicate our Spring 2017 Special Feature to authors from these countries—Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen—and perhaps we could increase the percentage of work originating from these countries in our regular sections as well—that is, if the section editors are willing and able.

To spread the word, we could tap our network of volunteer translators and commission translations into other languages as we’ve done many times before… Publishing the work in our weekly showcase at The Guardian could also get them more attention… as a matter of fact, thanks to Tomás, our editor-at-large for Chile, we have already lined up a Syrian-born poet next Tuesday.

We’d have to fundraise for this Feature to happen—and I’ll need help. To that end, I’ve added two more questions to the internal questionnaire due this coming Wednesday.

Now, I hope to set up the crowdfunding page as soon as possible, so if you feel very strongly that you’d like to be part of this effort, please email me offlist and let me know how you might contribute. For those of you who just joined, you can find an example of a previous crowdfunding effort undertaken by the magazine here (it’s usually very stressful). If support is not forthcoming, I don’t think I will go through with this Feature, as I’m already carrying a lot of magazine work and probably can’t take on the fundraising alone (which is what I did last year for our fifth anniversary events).


January 31

An open letter to readers of Translation Tuesday at The Guardian:

Shaken by the developments coming out of America in the past few days, we at Asymptote have been working around the clock to try to fundraise for a Special Feature spotlighting new writing from the seven banned countries in our next issue, in an attempt to offer a high-profile platform for those newly affected by the fallout of those developments. If you are an author who identifies as being from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen (or someone who translates such authors)—and would like to submit work for consideration, please get in touch at editors@asymptotejournal.com.



February 2

On a Google Survey Form distributed via social media

We at Asymptote want to respond to the #MuslimBan by presenting a huuge showcase of great writing and art from the seven banned nations.

Johnny Depp was reported to have spent three million dollars firing Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes out of a canon; our endeavour is modest by comparison: we are aiming to raise at least $20,000 for this urgent showcase of marginalised voices to happen both in our Spring 2017 edition and at The Guardian. The more we raise the more we can do: e.g. a printed anthology of the work, a large-scale free event featuring these authors. Help us show them that we care!

Tick any that apply:

  • I would be willing to help spread word of your fundraiser, via social media or otherwise.
  • I will be willing to pledge some seed money toward your fundraiser (please state amount under “Other” below and know that any amount is welcome)!
  • I have some fundraising leads I’d be happy to share with you.
  • I would be willing to contribute a blurb about the importance of this Feature, to help you with fundraising.
  • I would be willing to contribute a video segment about the importance of this Feature, to help you with fundraising.
  • I would be willing to volunteer some perks to help with fundraising. (please specify what they are under “Other” below.)
  • I am based in New York and I would be willing to help with organizing an event / fundraiser.
  • I have leads to the literary scene(s) in Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen that I would be happy to share with you.

Thank you so much for your pledge of support! We’ll write back to you within a day to follow up. If you can’t wait for our campaign to go live next week, consider becoming a sustaining member in the meantime to support our free website run by volunteers.



February 8

Subject: Thank you for standing with Asymptote against the Muslim Ban

Dear Supporter,

As Asymptote’s editor-in-chief, I want to thank you for throwing in your support for my proposed special feature on literature from the seven banned countries. It wouldn’t be fair for me to ask you pitch in without knowing the terms of the fundraising, so I’ve prepared a little primer, in the attached Word Document.

I will drop you a note again on Thursday, at least 24 hours before our Indiegogo campaign goes live at about 9:30am, Eastern Time, this coming Friday, 10 February, so that you can help spread the word and follow up on your generous pledged contribution of [$x].

Writers and literature lovers are (to differing extents) marginalised in every society, and one of the reasons for which I founded Asymptote was to unite them the world over for causes such as this. Your stepping forward already means a lot to me. If together we succeed in pulling this off, I’d be so thrilled.

Please have a great weekend! I’ll be in touch very soon!



February 9

Subject: Asymptote Memo: 12 hours left to the announcement of our fundraiser!

Dear friends and supporters of Asymptote’s fundraiser for Literature from the 7 Banned Countries,

The appeals court just ruled against reinstating Trump’s ban (yay!), but Trump has pledged to take the fight all the way up to the Supreme Court. It’s not time to let our guard down yet; and, as George Szirtes kindly offered in this blurb:

Asymptote’s excellent idea of publishing and spreading translations of works from writers in all the seven countries President Trump intends to ban will be the answer of eloquence to brutality, the answer of measure to crude rhetoric, the answer of real experience to alternative facts.

and, as Yann Martel says:

The best weapon against fear and hatred is knowledge, and the best knowledge is literary knowledge, that is, knowledge from the heart refined by the mind. Asymptote’s showcase of writers from the seven countries picked on by President Trump will be the best inoculation against his distorted and distorting thinking. May the project take wings and be read around the world.

After today, I will be providing an update on the campaign every day (or every other day, depending on how we are doing) at the same time—9:40am, Eastern Standard Time; there will be at least three or four daily tweets about the campaign. if you would like to continue to support the campaign, feel free to share those posts or tweets as well!

Thank you all again for lending our project wings with your wonderful support. What we are trying to do is very hard, but you’ve convinced me of the necessity and urgency of this project by your very act of stepping forward. If you all follow through, the battle is half-won!


February 10



February 21

Social Media Blast


Good news for all authors and translators of Iranian, Iraqi, Libyan, Somali, Sudanese, Syrian and Yemeni literature: http://asypmtotejournal.com/submit

Though we haven’t quite finished crowdfunding at igg.me/at/againstmuslimban we’ve decided there’s already enough for a mini-special feature at The Guardian and in our Spring 2017 edition after all. The deadline for this paid opportunity is March 15. Spread the word!



February 22

Subject: IndieGoGo Update

Dear supporters,

I have some exciting news: After our first round of crowdfunding, we have decided that there’s enough to go ahead with our call for submissions for the Special Feature: http://asymptotejournal.com/submit

With 154 retweets of our Twitter announcement (and counting), it appears we have broken our record for single most retweeted news ever; that’s how much love there is out there for this project!

In the meantime, keep talking up our project. We rely greatly on word-of-mouth to reach as many people as possible. Also, in case you’d like to help us out on social media, I should let you know: when Trump issues a new travel ban later this week, we’re prepared to organize another wave of promotion on social media—join in on Facebook and Twitter, so that we’ll hit our target.



March 16

To: Marcia Lynx Qualey

Subject: Wondering if you’d be up for an interview at Asymptote?

Dear Marcia,

Congratulations on your well-deserved [London Book Fair] win. You must have known, I hope, that I was secretly rooting for you. Only those without the backing of institutions know how hard it can be.

I’m sure you must still be overwhelmed by all the congratulations coming in from all corners of the globe and I would hate to add to that, but would you be up for being interviewed in our Spring 2017 quarterly issue?

I just had a word with my Interviews editor and he’s enthusiastic. I’d like us to broaden our conversation to include publishers of world literature, literary editors, and bloggers like yourself—to give our readers a better understanding of all the different roles we play on this stage. You’d offer a great perspective, I’m sure, and if anything, this will encourage even more readers to go to your site.

Logistics-wise, there’s about a month between now and April 17, our release date—I hope that there’ll be sufficient time for two or three volleys of questions (we conduct our interviews mostly via email). Let me know!


March 17

Dear all,

Hope you are well! Extreme times call for extreme measures—or, in this case, less frequent updates as I’ve had to do an incredible amount of work.

(On top of it all, my mother has been hospitalised following a fall, and I’m working on this very email from the hospital, in her ward.)

One of my interviews has just gone up at the Chicago Review of Books; I’m quite happy with it, but, sadly, although the interviewer himself was moved to donate USD5 to our campaign, publication of this interview itself did not result in a single contribution to the fundraiser otherwise. This means I should probably stop soliciting and giving interviews, as they simply don’t justify the time put into them.



March 27

Subject: Your translations of Negar Emrani’s poetry in the Spring Asymptote

Dear Kaveh,

I really loved your translations of Negar Emrani’s poems and would like to take the following three for the Special Feature on Banned Literature (at least two of them will be published online, we may save the third one for the print anthology):


Somewhere Between the World and the Mirror

A Prophet

What happens now? On my end, I’ll be passing these poems to my senior executive assistant who will be uploading the work, and seven pairs of eyes will comb through the work (mostly for stylistic inconsistencies, and to adhere to house style)—any typo or infelicity that neither of us managed to spot will also be caught during this process. In the first week of April, you’ll get a galley and a list of light edits (if any) for you to approve before it goes live on April 17.

Now, to complete the dossier, I was hoping you would be able to provide:

Updated bios of yourself and the author, written in third person, beginning with the name (maximum of 150 words).

  1. A translator’s note either providing further context to the work or describing the challenges of translating this specific text.
  2. An MP3 recording of a 2 or 3 minute reading of a short passage from the original Arabic (maybe even the author herself could read it?). Let me know if you need any advice about recording an MP3.
  3. Your Paypal email address (remuneration will come through within a week of your completing this dossier)
  4. Signed agreements—from both you and the author (see below)

Although we are not sure if the print anthology will be going ahead yet, I think it’d be good to allow for such a possibility, and for that reason, we’ll require the attached two contracts to be signed and returned to us (it’s fine by me if you scan the signed agreement and attach the scan of it in an email).

Would a week from now (say, until 3 Apr) be a reasonable date for you to send all the above to me?

Let me know! I look forward to hearing back from you.



April 7

Subject: Asymptote Update of 7 Apr 2017: Spring 2017 Issue

Dear Asymptote team,

Due to several contingencies (not least the fact that our editorial schedule was rejiggered to make room for the travel ban feature), some articles are still being finalised for the Spring 2017 edition. Take a look at the draft URL here to sneak a peek at the progress made by our section editors and by our valiant proofreading team, comprising Nozomi, Anna, Jessie, Ah-reum, Sarah Moses, Ellen Elias-Bursac, and led by Laura. Kudos to Lori too for her great supervision, and to Nozomi for being such a soldier with uploading the articles/edits so promptly, and with such care.

As of now, the only article that’s still being put together from scratch is our interview with Marcia Lynx Qualey (winner of this year’s London Book Fair Award for International Literary Translation Initiative—which we thought would make for good topical content).

Fundraising Drive

As of today, we have a total of 98 backers contributing USD13,547 to our IndieGoGo campaign. Though we have five days left, I am torn about intensifying efforts to canvass support for the final leg of the campaign, given that interest has waned considerably. Perhaps I should just reconcile myself with the fact that the #MuslimBan has by now been buried under the relentless news cycle (since version 2.0 of the ban is still being suspended indefinitely); it might be better to conserve our social media fundraising firepower.



Apr 18

Subject: Spring 2017: Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, Hermann Burger, Jen Bervin, and Luigi Amara



I’m thrilled to announce our brand-new Spring 2017 edition, People from the In-Between, with a selection of dazzling work created in response to Trump’s travel ban of Jan 27. Leading off this timely showcase is Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, giving us a specially commissioned essay at once heartfelt and thought-provoking. In Somali poet Mohamed Abd-Alhai’s liminal meditations on migration and loss, and in a moving, multifaceted refugee narrative by Vittorini Prize-winner Ubah Cristina Ali Farah, the sea looms large as both passage and grave. And across vast distances, we encounter startling flash fiction parables by Osama Alomar, alongside heartbreaking poems of war from young Syrian poet and journalist Omar Youssef Souleimane.

Souleimane’s work finds a moving counterpart in poems by Tristan Tzara, one of the founders of Dadaism, mourning the devastation of the Spanish Civil War. Elsewhere in the same section, Assamese poet Sananta Tanty writes of identity as a violent clash between language and bodies. On a lighter note, find Luigi Amara’s whimsical allusion to the wig as emblem of the human condition, a subtly humorous story by Hermann Burger set entirely in the dining car of a train, and a fascinating interview with Jen Bervin on Su Hui’s ‘Xuanji Tu’, a reversible poem with 7,958 possible readings.

Our kaleidoscopic issue featuring work from thirty countries sees many caught not only in between countries but in between languages too. “Thos Zimigrins from Bakinthir” are brilliantly rendered in Mohamed Kacimi‘s multilingual portrait, while, afflicted not so much by homesickness as by the love of foreign languages, the narrator of Aleksandra Lun‘s aptly named The Palimpsests roam(s) from one language to the next like dogs with cataracts.” This in-betweennessSusanna Basso reminds us, also describes the translator’s process—in her wonderful essay, the translator is recast as amanuensis waiting “somewhere between the lines of the original and the future of the translation.”

After perusing this wealth of poetry and prose, enjoy a full-screen immersive slideshow of Iranian cartoonist Kambiz Derambakhsh‘s latest work (pictured above), combining fine art and journalism in his language-free Literary Series, a study in visual brevity.

Spread the word of our new issue by downloading and distributing our gorgeous Spring 2017 flyer in your university department, local café, or favorite bookstore. For the next two weeks, our Facebook and Twitter feeds will go into hyperdrive as we push our fabulous content out into the world. Each like, share, or retweet will help us reach new readers! If you’re inclined to tweet, here’s a suggestion:

OUT NOW! @asymptotejrnl’s Spring 2017 edition, feat. new work from 30 countries, incl. those affected by #Muslimban http://asymptotejournal.com/apr-2017

Before we leave you, here’s a preview of Luigi Amara’s A Harebrained History of the Wig, taken from the new issue:

For all that it reveals of our propensity for duplicity and simulation, for the way in which it crystalizes—in a tangled mesh that somehow seems to be both ready to pounce and caress—the deviation and concerted exuberance of that world within the world we have agreed to call “second nature”—but could also be termed “theater”—for all those reasons, I would choose the wig as our sidereal representative, as a cosmic calling card. I like to imagine the wig that crosses the indifference of space and, after many years, arrives in another galaxy; I like to imagine the amazement of that extraterrestrial being holding in its hands, in its perhaps smooth, horrified extremities, that light, crouching mat of hair that, while perhaps indecipherable, speaks of a hirsute, stylized world where nothing is what it seems…

We literature people must do all we can to agitate for open borders,” said Marcia Lynx Qualey, winner of this year’s London Book Fair Award for International Literary Translation Initiative, in our exclusive interview. If you believe in this statement as much as we do, I urge you to join Asymptote as a sustaining member. For as little as $5 a month, your support will make it possible for us to continue expanding our reach through events,educational guidespodcastsblog postsnewsletter dispatches, and more. As thanks for pledging one year’s support, we’ll even throw in a bonus gift of a free e-book anthology of our travel ban feature (including additional work not published on our website). Don’t wait: Join the Asymptote family today!

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief


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