Summer 2018: Dear Reader, From Our Lives We Write to You in Your Life

Happy International Translation Day—Enter Our Raffle To Win $200 In Prizes!

This September, we interrupted our usual blog programming to celebrate Asymptote’s 30 issues since our debut in January 2011 and draw awareness to National Translation Month while we are at it!  Whether you discovered Asymptote early on or just recently, we invite you to join us as we retrace the steps that brought us here. Beginning with the inaugural Winter 2011 issue, we will work our way chronologically through the archive, weighing in both as editors, shedding new light on how our editions are assembled, and as readers, drawing connections within each issue. Finally, don’t forget that you too can play a part in catalysing the transmission of world literature: share this #30issues30days showcase (and the actual issues themselves) far and wide! 

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Revisit every issue before reading about our 30th issue below:

Spring 2018 brings the fifth Special Feature in a row I edited since our Travel Ban Feature. By now, I am badly in need of a break. Thankfully, Aditi takes over; I present a strong Summer lineup of fiction by emerging authors and established writers alike, drawn from the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, and Europe—all united by one common theme: insomniac (because unraveling) protagonists.

Due to the fact that we collaborate virtually, Asymptote section editors work to their own schedules and assemble their lineups independently of others. This fact might surprise many, since most our articles’ countries of origin do not overlap and our pieces resonate across sections as if curated by some invisible hand. To wit: Brazilian artist Tomaz Viana’s “King of Insomnia” echoes both the sleepwalking figures in the fiction section and Cristina Rivera Garza‘s essay on clay immigrants, which, along with Mildred K Barya’s first-person account of refugeehood in the same nonfiction lineup, speaks to the same urgent, present-day issue of human displacement that Mounira Al Solh’s important work addresses.


In my editor’s note, a collaboration with Communications Manager Alexander Dickow that sometimes takes as long as three weeks to crystallize, we surface the river of connections running underneath the pieces, i.e., we sell the issue as a set greater than the sum of its parts.

Wouldn’t releasing one new article every two days instead make more sense? someone once suggested to me. Perhaps that would be the strategic thing to do—and we would have no problem transitioning to such a schedule, since we are already publishing 45 articles every 90 days—but to what end?

As I pointed out before, an abundant table of contents such as the one that greets readers coming to our landing page for the first time better fulfills world literature’s promise of adventure: there’s the frisson of juxtaposition, for one. By letting pieces from different countries speak to one another, we also lay bare their universality at the same time as we advance our intercultural mission. Finally, there’s no denying that bigger issues are simply more effective vehicles of inclusivity with their greater bandwidth to accommodate underrepresented voices alongside bigger names. By dint of publication, I am inviting authors from underrepresented regions and languages to sit at the same table as their more dominant counterparts in the world literature canon. I am insisting: they belong.  




When I first hit on the idea to revisit one Asymptote issue every day of September to commemorate our milestone 30th edition, it felt all the more compelling for being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’d never be able to publish such a showcase again. (Sure, I suppose we could revisit 31 issues in December 2018, but 31 is arguably less significant a milestone and December, unlike September, is not the month designated to celebrate translation.) The fact that this milestone occurred in July—exactly 44 days before September, giving us just enough time to get article plugs of all 43 pieces in the Summer 2018 issue out of the way—I interpreted as one more star joining other stars already lined up for the showcase to happen. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea.

Executing this showcase, however, proved anything but easy—not unlike the magazine itself, I had to find a way to will it into existence. The tepid response to my initial call for participants was ultimately unsurprising, August/September being a particularly busy time of the year for most. In the end, after circulating an electronic sign-up sheet within the team and reaching out to a few team members, I had only altogether 24 issues spoken for, leaving me six introductions to write, along with daily prefaces recounting the circumstances surrounding the production of 24 issues—on top of everything else I juggle for the magazine.  

These prefaces took longer than expected to compose. Out of a scrupulous desire to leave no stone uncovered in my summaries, I would fact-check a detail only to lose myself in rabbit holes of preserved digital conversations (future literary historians may appreciate that there is an electronic record of virtually every Asymptote correspondence, since, having no secretary in the same room to take notes at meetings, I insist on typed chats so that there is something to review afterwards). There was also the considerable emotional labor of reliving past stress; at different points in the showcase, Senior Editor Sam Carter (who indispensably helped with the editing of all the pieces except his own, which I edited) and Australia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao have had to counsel restraint—advice I greatly appreciated.

On occasion, I have found that the best way to present what lay behind the scenes was simply to let past correspondence speak for itself, such as in December 2014 when I prepared the team for the possibility that the magazine might fold—a low moment—or in January 2016 when I successfully rallied the support of our team members around a Banned Countries Special Feature to answer Trump’s executive order—a high.

Although arduous, the process would be worth it if the showcase succeeded in capturing both the lows as well as the highs of our past. By it, I hope to show how uniquely equipped we are as a team to advocate for a more inclusive world literature, and how much we have already accomplished on so little through meticulous organization as much as raw grit. I want readers of Asymptote to understand what running a translation journal—without any ongoing institutional support—has entailed, why it is so important for the magazine to keep going, and, if it were to fold one day, that it will not be from lack of will.

“Dear friend, from my life I write to you in your life,” opens one of Katherine Mansfield’s letters. What a long way it is from one life to another, yet why write if not from that distance, remarks Yiyun Li, who cried when she first came across this line. Through Asymptote’s thirty issues, we are proud to have featured writing from more than 120 countries and 100 languages, bridging the distance between upwards of 1,000 authors and many times more readers through the direct efforts of the translators and editors who have embraced our mission.

On International Translation Day, a day whose meaning we hope you’ll extend to those who work hard behind the scenes of a translation magazine, we humbly ask for your support. Today, or any time this coming week, take a moment to fill out this Google Form to pledge a contribution, sign up for a Book Club membership, or share a lead, so that we can keep going (we promise to follow up within two working days). If you prefer to sign up directly to be a Masthead Member or a Sustaining Member, we’d be just as grateful for the gesture of support.

If you can’t afford a donation, join us in commemorating our milestone all the same by entering our raffle through the same Google Form: Stand to walk away with $200 in prizes by voting for your favorite issue and tagging us on social media.

On behalf of all of us at Asymptote, I wish you Happy International Translation Day! Thank you so much for completing this showcase with your readership. Here’s to the next 30 issues.

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief, Asymptote