Posts by Lee Yew Leong

Summer 2012: A Funny Thing Happened On My Way To Editing a Journal of World Literature

I had no interest in replacing a perfectly serviceable translation with a bad one.

“World literature” often gets a lot of attention in the months leading up to each year’s Nobel Prize announcement, but what do we really mean by it? Is it simply all the literatures of the world? Is it a status that applies to texts that circulate in a certain way? As the editor-in-chief of an international journal, I see “world literature” as a shifting aggregate of the literatures that have been translated into any given language. It’s clear to me, writing from Taipei, that an English “world literature” is vastly different from a Chinese one. Upon his passing in June 2012, for example, I discovered that Ray Bradbury had never been translated into Chinese — an omission made more perverse by the fact that translations make up an impressive 50% of all books published in Taiwan, compared to the woeful 3% in the United States. And if Taiwanese readers had been denied the genius of so well-loved an author, one can only imagine what American readers are missing out on.

This asymmetry was what motivated me in May 2012 to initiate a translation project that would introduce to Anglophone readers the newest crop of Chinese writers—a “20 Under 40,” if you will, of the Chinese-speaking world. Such a feature, modeled after Granta’s “Best British Novelists,” consisting of 20 medium-length essays introducing 20 of the most promising authors not only from China — but also from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia — had just been published that month by the leading Taiwanese journal Unitas and I thought Asymptote would be uniquely positioned to showcase it in English. Leveraging a connection, I made a few enquiries; the response from Unitas was positive. Tapping volunteer translators from the And Other Stories Chinese Reading Group and, crucially, proceeding with Unitas’ assurance that we would have free rein in editing the texts, my team and I decided to commit to turning the translation project around in five months: the first ten essays would appear in our Summer 2012 issue, followed by the other ten in the Fall 2012 issue. READ MORE…

Winter 2012: A Giant Nipple on the Cover

Six months in its making, a showcase of contemporary Taiwanese art and letters sans pareil

“When I’m having trouble writing something, I often close the document and compose the passage as email. I imagine I can feel the tug at the other end of the wire, and this creates in me a needed urgency. The letter always arrives at its destination.”

—David Shields, excerpted in our Winter 2012 issue

Dear indignant scholar concerned that Taiwanese literature is always overlooked in favor of Mainland Chinese authors (e.g. when Mo Yan took the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012),

This issue, spotlighting Taiwanese Fiction, is for you. Six months in its making, it is a showcase of contemporary Taiwanese art and letters sans pareil. In addition to fiction, there is nonfiction by Jing Xianghai that I rolled up my sleeves to translate five days before the issue launch. There is Antonio Chen’s roundup of Taiwanese novels in 2011 (for which I had to painstakingly format and upload image files for 26 book covers). There is even a fabulous piece of noise art accompanying poetry by Hsia Yü, the most acclaimed Taiwanese poet of her generation. Famously reclusive, Hsia Yü had only ever agreed to two interviews in a career that spanned thirty years, and we would go on to publish her third interview, conducted in Chinese and translated into English, in our Spring 2012 issue.

READ MORE…

Revisiting the Winter 2011 Issue: Asymptote’s Origin Story

On the occasion of our milestone 30th edition, some reflections on form—#30issues30days

This September, we interrupt 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. There’s also another reason to stay tuned: we will shortly be launching a giveaway contest with a top prize of USD200 that involves casting votes for your favorite issues. 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

 

“Congratulations on taking on the formidable task of launching a journal dedicated to translation. You’re a brave man!” said the translator of Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera to me in December 2010. So I can’t say I wasn’t forewarned.

The idea for Asymptote had come out of a meeting at Singapore’s National Arts Council in June 2010. How to turn Singapore into a hub for literary translation? was the topic du jour. I mooted the idea of a platform that would identify and showcase talent in translation. Several seemed enthusiastic, but in the end, no one lifted a finger. Supposedly the go-to person for literary translation in Singapore, D., who was one of ten people at the meeting, did not deign to reply to the two emails I sent him.

The original team I assembled around July 2010 was lackluster, lackadaisical. Admittedly, I didn’t know these Singaporean team members very well, nor it seemed they me. Having just returned from eight years of overseas study (I owe much to my teachers Robert Coover, Mary Gaitskill, Dale Peck, and Michael Hofmann, but it was the lovely Sidney Wade who turned me on to literary translation), I was trying to connect with the local literary scene. Although the dispatches written by our current Singaporean editor-at-large might suggest otherwise, there really was not much of a scene back then, around a decade ago. The main players were aloof. Although I contributed to nine consecutive issues of the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore—Singapore’s only literary journal back then—no one seemed to have read my work.

READ MORE…

We’re Giving Away $3,000 to Six Top Emerging Translators!

Submit to our contest for emerging translators today!

With just two months left to the deadline of Close Approximations, our annual international translation contest, there’s still time to polish up your translations (especially of female authors, since we’ve just entered Women in Translation Month) and submit to our contest!

Awarding a total of $3,000 in prizes to six winners this time are Edward Gauvin (Fiction) and Eugene Ostashevsky (Poetry). Entrants have until October 1 to submit their work for a chance of winning up to 1,000USD, in addition to publication in our Winter 2019 issue, joining a roster of translators we have published that includes J.M. Coetzee, Lydia Davis, Michael Hofmann, and Jennifer Croft. We are encouraging early submissions by taking 15% off the entry fee for contest submissions on or before September 1.

To further pique your interest about the contest, here’s more about our wonderful judges and what they think of translation.

READ MORE…

What’s New with the Crew? A Monthly Update

The Asymptote staff have been keeping busy!

Fresh from working on the fabulous Summer 2018 issue of Asymptote, our team members have been busy with their own creative endeavors. Read on to find out what we have been writing, doing, and learning!

Contributing Editor Aamer Hussein recently judged the McKitterick Prize. The prize, which honors the first novel by a writer over the age of forty, went to Nigerian writer Anietie Isong for his debut novel, Radio Sunrise.

Communications Manager Alexander Dickow has had quite a summer: other than publishing poetry in Place de La Sorbonne, he also recently wrote for Paragraph and Plume (which also ran his translations of Max Jacob’s poetry). His work also appeared in La Revue des Sciences Humaines, Littérature, and larevue*.

READ MORE…

Section Editors’ Highlights: Summer 2018

Our Section Editors pick their favorite pieces from the Summer 2018 issue!

The brand new Summer 2018 edition of Asymptote is almost one week old and we are still enjoying the diverse offerings from 31 countries gathered therein. Today, our section editors share highlights from their respective sections: 

2501 Migrants by Alejandro Santiago” is a powerful meditation on the US-Mexico border, compellingly written by Cristina Rivera Garza, and beautifully translated by Sarah Booker. Rivera Garza writes gracefully about sculptures made by Oaxacan artist Alejandro Santiago and his team. Each of these clay vessels contains the spirit of a migrant who, having tried their luck at crossing the border, now stands in mute testimony to the absences and deaths that striate both America and Mexico. In this essay, Rivera Garza explores the multi-faceted meanings of these sculptures and uses them to explore the intricacies of the border-condition—the nostalgia of those who leave Mexico, and the melancholy of those who remain. At this juncture in American history, I can think of no more valuable essay to read today than this one.

—Joshua Craze, Nonfiction Editor

The King of Insomnia, who first appeared as graffiti on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, has now become a central character in the fictional world of the Insomnia people, a creation of artist Tomaz Viana—known as Toz. Life-size three-dimensional Insomnia figures, with a history and traditions drawn from Brazilian and African sources, inhabited the Chácara do Cée Museum and its grounds in 2017. Lara Norgaard, Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large in Brazil, introduces the imaginary culture of Insomnia and interviews the artist who discusses his influences, including the Afro-Brazilian religion candomblé, and explains the evolution of these “fictional people with connections to the night, to the big city, but also to the jungle and the forest.”

—Eva Heisler, Visual Editor

READ MORE…

Uncover New Worlds, Join Asymptote Today!

Apply by June 18th to join our dynamic crew!

Old maps often feature cherubs blowing gusts of wind, baroque allegorical figures—or sea monsters lurking in unknown waters. But for the reader of world literature, there are no known lands, for even the familiar deserves to be explored with fresh eyes—including sea monsters! Now you too can join Asymptote’s intrepid explorers: just apply to our mid-year recruitment drive! From Assistant Blog Editor (yes, of this Blog no less!) and Copy Editor to Social Media Manager and Graphic Designer, check out all available volunteer positions here, and then be sure to submit an application by June 18th! Summer internships are available for most positions as well.

Don’t wait! Apply to join the Asymptote team today!

Announcing Our First Book Club Selection

The Lime Tree is the latest novel by the prolific Argentine writer César Aira to be translated into English.

We are delighted to reveal that the inaugural title for the Asymptote Book Club, as chosen by our editorial team, is César Aira’s The Lime Tree. Aira has previously been a Man Booker International finalist, and translator Chris Andrews received the Valle-Inclán Prize for his English version of Bolaño’s Distant Star. The Lime Tree is published by not-for-profit translation champions & Other Stories.

On January 2, 2018, we will be launching our members-only online discussion space where subscribers can talk about César Aira’s The Lime Tree. An interview with translator Chris Andrews will also be posted on the Asymptote blog shortly thereafter. In the meantime, we invite you to tweet about your first reactions on social media using the hashtag #AsymptoteBookClub!

For more on the newly launched Asymptote Book Club, or to start your subscription in January 2018, see details here. We’re already preparing the next exciting title, so don’t delay!

READ MORE…

The Asymptote Book Club: An Update!

Our Editor-in-Chief takes some questions about the Book Club!

What an overwhelming ten days since the launch of the Asymptote Book Club! We received queries from as far afield as Australia and Canada—so much interest from Canada, in fact, that we decided to open our book club to Canadians four days ago. But why a book club in the first place? some asked. Well, in a nutshell: the idea was to take the important work we have done with our award-winning, free online journal and our Translation Tuesday showcases at the Guardian—that is to say, showcasing the best new writing from around the world, and giving it a physical presence outside of the virtual arena. We also wanted to celebrate (as well as support) the independent publishers who work hard behind the scenes to make world literature possible.

555

What sets your book club apart from others?

Curation is a big part of what makes the book club special. We have a large team of editors based in six continents to research and pick the best titles available from a wide variety of publishers. Subscribers will receive a brand-new (just published or, in many cases, not even in the bookshops yet), surprise work of fiction delivered to their door each month. This is another thing that distinguishes us from a few other book clubs before us: we choose from new releases only—nothing from a backlist that readers may already have on their bookshelves.

Subscriptions are for three or 12 months (for as little as USD15 a month, shipping included!) and, depending on the package the subscriber picks, they may receive additional perks in the form of Asymptote merchandise and ebooks (see below), but the real focus here is on creating a serious book club for a dedicated reading public. Many subscription services focus as much on the gifts as the books themselves, but we do not see ourselves as experts in tea or socks, so we’re concentrating rather on ensuring our readers get their hands on the most amazing literature we can source, applying the same curatorial instincts that won us a London Book Fair Award in 2015. READ MORE…

The Asymptote Book Club Is Here!

The best of global literature, delivered to you monthly!

Today, we interrupt our regular programming to bring you some exciting news about a groundbreaking initiative we are launching at Asymptote!

We’re thrilled to announce the launch of our latest project: the Asymptote Book Club—a new way for you and your loved ones to dip into the wealth of world literature! For as little as USD15 each month, receive a new fiction title hot off the presses of the very best independent publishers in the UK and the US, specially curated by the Asymptote team and delivered to your door.

When you sign up for the Book Club, you’re supporting not only Asymptote but also independent publishers by helping them continue to publish the best stories from international authors. Subscribe by December 9th to receive our very first title, shipping in December 2017! We also offer gift subscriptions and group discounts, so think about giving those you love a whole new world of reading this holiday season!

GivingTuesdayblog

As borders of the heart and of the polity continue to thicken and petrify throughout the globe, Asymptote’s cross-cultural mission becomes ever more urgent. 2017 has been an incredible year for us. With readers like you standing behind us, we put together a showcase of Banned Countries’ Literature to fight Trump’s #MuslimBan, gave USD3,000 to six emerging translators through yet another edition of our translation contest, and published 17 Translation Tuesdays at The Guardian. This year has also seen 47 Weekly Dispatches reported from six continents, along with countless reviews and interviews published at the blog. While institutional funding continues to elude us (and we continue to be ineligible for the grants that like organizations in the US or the UK receive), we’ve certainly worked hard to keep bringing you podcasts and educational guides, in addition to massive quarterly issues featuring new writing from upwards of 25 countries per issue.

What better way to end this turbulent year than by pledging your support for free speech, fine literature and meaningful cross-cultural dialogue? If you believe in the importance of our mission, we humbly ask you to pitch in with a one-time contribution or by becoming either an honorary member or a sustaining member. There is still so much more for world literature that we can do with your help. Support Asymptote today!

Apply to Be Princeton’s Latest Translator-in-Residence!

Deadline: 30 November, 2017

Applications are invited for up to one semester in spring of 2018 for a position as Translator in Residence at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS). Candidates should be established translators into English with a project currently in progress that would benefit from the support offered by Princeton. Applications will be reviewed starting on December 1, 2017, notification will likely occur by December 15, 2017.

The successful candidate will contribute to the teaching of theory and practice of translation. Responsibilities will include participation in the courses offered by the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication and the Program in Creative Writing and mentoring undergraduate student translators.

Candidates should be established translators into English with a project currently in progress that would benefit from the support offered by Princeton.  The person appointed will reside in or near Princeton for the duration of their appointment and will have office space on campus.

 Be advised that you will be contacted only if there is further interest in your application. The candidate dashboard will not display status updates for this requisition.

What are you waiting for? Apply today!

logo4

Princeton University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law. EEO IS THE LAW.

This is a sponsored post. 

The Asymptote Blog Wants You!

We're looking for someone to join our blog team! Could it be you?

The Asymptote blog is the journal‘s hyper on-the-pulse younger brother:

Showcasing new translations and daily writings on world literature and culture, it is on the constant look out for voice, probing analysis, and topicality in our postings. We have published pieces on topics ranging from pop music and children’s books to political calls-to-action. Apart from essays, we run dispatches from international literary events, interviews, weekly new translations, book reviews, and more. All that we do we do to connect writers from all over the world to readers like you.

If you have what it takes to bring us to the next level, and would like to be a part of an exciting, dynamic blog team (working with our wider volunteer team, whose members are based across six continents), check out our final recruitment call of the year! Although the call’s stated deadline is 11 Sep 2017, we will extend it by one week to 18 Sep 2017 just for our blog readers.

So don’t wait, send in your application today! We look forward to hearing from you.

333

 

Section Editors’ Highlights: Summer 2017

From an essay investigating a literary hoax to new art responding to Trump's xenophobia, our editors share their favorites from the new issue!

Asymptote’s glorious Summer issue is chockablock with gems. Some of our section editors share their highlights:

“To assert that Tove Jansson’s invention of the Moomin world may be partially rooted in ancient lore is, for this writer, to fear performing an act of sacrilege,” confesses Stephanie Sauer in her essay on renowned Finnish author-artist, Tove Jansson. This confession is the crux of Sauer’s questionings. Journey with Sauer from the moment the Moomins were conceived, to its unlikely, subversive evolution. Hold tighter still as she dives into Jansson’s personal life, her questions of war, artistry, womanhood, and sexuality, and the fearless, unconventional course she cut through history.

—Ah-reum Han, Writers on Writers Editor

This issue features excerpts from two plays that deal with aspects of “disappearance” and surveillance. In Blanca Doménech’s The Sickness of Stone, translated from the Spanish by William Gregory, we take a look at a cold, dark world where random pieces of text read from discarded books become a kind of key to unlocking society’s ills or sickness. Gregory’s eloquent, tart translation finds the humor, bite and despair in this fascinating play.

In Hanit Guli’s Orshinatranslated from the Hebrew by Yaron Regev, a father must decide how he will disappear from his family’s life and what he will or will not tell them. An odd, compassionate family drama, Regev’s translation of Guli’s one-act is evocative and clear.

—Caridad Svich, Drama Editor

READ MORE…

Translator Profile: Katia Grubisic on Contemporary Canadian Literature

They push at these familial forces, the draw of the origin story, and the magic and tragedy as they try on and define new selves...

In this email interview conducted by Editor-in-Chief Lee Yew Leong, award-winning poet and translator Katia Grubisic took time out of her busy schedule to discuss the state of Canadian literature (in English and in French) as well as the challenges she faced translating David Clerson’s lyrical novel, Brothers (recently featured in our Translation Tuesday showcase at The Guardian), including “the ‘bitch’ problem.”

Lee Yew Leong (LYL): David Clerson’s haunting novel Brothers, in your outstanding translation, would not be out of place in the fiction section of our Winter 2017 edition, not only because of the seaward-facing figures connecting many of the pieces but also because of the strong animal motifs. Among the other elements that make up this story’s poetic permutation: brothers and fathers, dreams, the very act of story-telling. As the translator—and therefore arguably the closest reader of the novel—what do you think David Clerson is trying to say with Brothers, and how do you think these elements come together to fit the overall arc?

Katia Grubisic (KG): Thank you for your kind words.

Yes, the novel’s sea-journey theme, the search for the father, the pretty far-out cynanthropy, the origin story, the twin motif—it almost feels mythological, and David’s baroque style in this book lends it a kind of timeless timbre.

As the translator, I may, in fact, be the worst placed to comment on what it’s about, second perhaps only to the author himself! What drew me to the narrative was first the landscape, the way the sea and the briny hills become almost their own character, anchoring and tormenting the brothers (who try to escape their identity as determined by the place they’re from), and drawing them to their inevitable return. Brothers explores how who we are and who we become is shaped by those who make us, including in this case, literally the knife-wielding though well-intentioned mother, who wants to give her firstborn son a companion as a buffer against the cruel world. The brothers are shaped also by their absent “dog of a father,” or rather—and this is telling—by the often conflicting stories told about him. Yet they push at these familial forces, the draw of the origin story, and the magic and tragedy as they try on and define new selves, and their own universe, has such compelling pathos. You don’t want to be them, but you can’t look away.

LYL: The novel at once reminds me of The Return, a film by Andrey Zvyagintsev about two brothers waiting for their father’s return, and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, which not only involves an odyssey on a boat, but also similarly injects a magical realism into the story-telling. What other literary ‘predecessors’ might I, as a non-Canadian, have missed? 

KG: I don’t know that Brothers’ ancestry is nationally bound. When I first read the book, it reminded me of Agota Kristof’s Le Grand cahier—the brothers, the old mother, the violence. Pas du tout, David told me; in an interview, he said he had been reading a lot of Cormac McCarthy at the time! He wrote it too at the height of the Printemps érable student and popular uprising in 2012, which subtly tinged the narrative. Though I agree that both The Return and Life of Pi could be seen as kin, in terms of devices and preoccupations.

The wonderful thing about fiction is that it can belong to whichever reader happens to crack the spine. The region David evokes spoke to me so vividly of the Baie des Chaleurs shores in eastern Quebec and northern New Brunswick, but when I asked him about it, he conceded that many had pegged his setting as the Gaspésie region, but spoke instead of the imprint left by work he had read in his youth, including Golding and Stevenson, and even of a dream he once had, in which he saw himself fishing a dead dog out of a lagoon.

READ MORE…