Posts by Tiffany Tsao

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your weekly literary news from around the world.

This week, we remember a prolific Catalan novelist and celebrate the achievements—including prizes, publications and a Ph.D.—of Indigenous writers from Mexico, Colombia and Australia.

Tiffany Tsao, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Australia

In October, Australian literary magazine The Lifted Brow announced that their fortieth issue would be produced entirely by a First Nations collective of writers, artists, editors, academics, and activists. The cover and contributors for the issue, which was titled Blak Brow, were revealed in late November. The issue launched on Wednesday, December 12th, at the Footscray Community Arts Centre in Melbourne, and is also now available to be ordered.

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Reflections from Ubud Writers and Readers Festival

As Asymptote's partnership with this year's UWRF winds down, join our Editors-at-Large as they reflect on all that happened in Ubud.

On the night of October 28, the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) wrapped up after four consecutive jam-packed days. Mornings, afternoons, and evenings were filled with stimulating conversations and lively panel discussions, film screenings and book launches, poetry slams and musical performances, all set in the culturally fertile town of Ubud in Bali, Indonesia. Australia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao and Indonesia Editor-at-Large Norman Erikson Pasaribu were invited to speak in their capacities as writers. In this retrospective dispatch, each of them reflects candidly on their experiences at this year’s UWRF.

One Brain, Multiple Selves (Tiffany Tsao)

There was so much about participating in UWRF that was wonderful and exhilarating, but as I (Tiffany) write this, I’m realizing how exhausted I am! It’s mostly a good exhaustion—the kind that one experiences after being exposed to so many interesting ideas, books, and people. My head and heart are still abuzz, and the festival concluded several days ago!

There’s certainly some physical exhaustion thrown into the mix as well: I brought along my 10-month-old son, Azure. The festival was immensely supportive and bought him an infant plane ticket and made sure there was a crib in the room. Plus, my heroic father flew from Jakarta to babysit while I was busy participating in events and meeting people. Unfortunately, Azure slept fitfully during the nights before deciding at around 5:00 am each morning that it was time to rise and shine, which meant that I gained a new appreciation and appetite for coffee. Glorious, glorious coffee.

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Translation Tuesday: Funeral Home by Ratih Kumala (UWRF Feature)

I don’t know where she got the news, but suddenly here she is, standing outside the hospital room.

Welcome to the sixth installment of A World with a Thousand Doors—a multi-part showcase of hitherto untranslated contemporary Indonesian writing. Curated by Norman Erikson Pasaribu and Tiffany Tsao, this series is a joint initiative between Asymptote and the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. This week, Ratih Kumala, author of Cigarette Girl, spins a story in two voices—one belonging to a grieving widow and the other to her late husband’s grieving mistress. New to this series? Then do read installments one, two, three, four, and five. Stay tuned for more.

The first thought that entered my head when my husband gave up what remained of his ghost was how that woman might actually have felt more grief than me, his wife. At that moment, the clock hands shifted. It was three in the morning. My daughter sobbed, crying out for her Papa, her heartrending shrieks echoing down the hospital corridor. I wept quietly, while my son went very mute and cold.

I don’t know where she got the news, but suddenly here she is, standing outside the hospital room. Her face is darkened with grief. She attempts to enter, to approach my husband’s body, but I don’t let her in.

“Please. Have some respect for our family as we mourn,” I hiss. She stops short and looks at me for a while. Then she turns and walks away, probably crying as she goes.

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News from Ubud Writers and Readers Festival

In this post, news hot off the press from Ubud, Indonesia.

Greetings from the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF), which has just concluded its second day. Heres a bit of historical background: founded in response to the 2002 Bali bombings, the festival celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year. Since then, UWRF has successfully surmounted several challenges: In 2015, the local government censored festival discussions of the 1965 mass killings in Indonesia; last year, volcanic activity took a toll on festival participation, with many attendees and speakers canceling their flights. This year, we (Norman Erikson Pasaribu and Tiffany Tsao) were both invited to speak at the festival in our capacity as writers, and we thought we would share some of our impressions so far.

On Wednesday, the festival held a press call immediately before the festival’s official opening gala event. The press call featured festival founders Janet DeNeefe and Ketut Suardana, as well as some of the festival’s speakers, including Hanif Kureishi, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Avianti Armand, and Norman Erikson Pasaribu (hooray!). Ketut Suardana spoke about how they coined this year’s theme, Jagadhita – the world we create, and how we should live life according to dharma (goodness) and strive to attain ultimate happiness. When Norman was asked what he expected his writing to achieve, took the opportunity to observe that perhaps “goodness” and “happiness” shouldn’t be so universalized. Quoting a line from Marianne Katoppo, that “language is where theology begins,” he noted how we rarely refer to either concept in plural form. Such language places limitations on what it means to be happy and good, pressuring queer communities in Indonesia to conform to society and engage in self-erasure. Reni, when asked what advice she had for Indonesian feminists, humbly answered that she isn’t in a position to suggest anything to them without listening to them first since their experiences are very culturally specific and very different from hers as a British-Nigerian woman.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

In these dispatches, we see efforts in world literature to feature underrepresented voices.

World literature will be inclusive only through a continuous effort of organizing against the dominant, listening to the underrepresented, and making space for the unheard to bloom. This week our Editors-at-Large report such efforts from Australia, Hong Kong, and Slovakia. Read on to find out how the voices of women, indigenous and local peoples are being amplified around the world.

Tiffany Tsao, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Australia:

As part of an effort to resist the colonial systems that are the Australian publishing industry, the Australian media and arts industries, and modern Australia itself, the literary quarterly The Lifted Brow made the decision to hand over the entire production of their December issue to an all-First-Nations team of writers, editors, and ancillary staff. “We at TLB are too white, in all senses of that term,” read the magazine’s official statement on the matter. “[I]t’s way past the time that this should’ve changed. Our job and responsibility now is to push back against these oppressive and harmful regimes-within-regimes, not because we can undo the past, but because we can make better the present and the future.”

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Translation Tuesday: “Searching for Herman” by Dee Lestari (UWRF Feature)

Kicking off our Translation Tuesday series showcasing Indonesian writing is Dee Lestari's thrilling short story.

In partnership with the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, we’re very proud to present A World with a Thousand Doors, a series showcasing writing from Indonesia hitherto unpublished in English—including some from authors featured in this year’s festival.

Curating this series had its challenges: it was impossible to do full justice to Indonesia’s diversity through a selection of only eight writers’ works. But each of these pieces excites us and we hope with all our hearts that this series will not only highlight just a few of the many talents on today’s Indonesian literary scene for our readers, but also provide a critical intervention in discussions of how to best disseminate Indonesian literature in the world, which tend to advocate reliance on government-sponsored initiatives and large institutions.

Although assistance from these quarters is undoubtedly invaluable, even the most wonderful of writers may fall through the cracks and remain untranslated. The editors of this Translation Tuesday series, Norman Erikson Pasaribu and Tiffany Tsao, sincerely hope that A World with a Thousand Doors will encourage writers and translators of Indonesian literature to consider pairing up directly and submitting widely to literary journals and publishers, of which Asymptote is only one. The ‘thousand doors’ of the series’ title is a metaphor for the immense diversity of Indonesian writing. But it could also stand for the thousand routes that Indonesian-language writers and translators might take to reach the wider world.

Without further ado, it is our pleasure to kick off our series with this short story by beloved author and Ubud Writers and Readers Festival guest Dee Lestari.

There should be a wise saying that goes something like this: Never take two if you only want one. One brings completion—but two, oblivion. It may sound a little strange, but it’s the truth. Such sayings aren’t mere literary cotton candy—all fluff, no stuff. It takes bitter experience to formulate each one. It takes a person to practically perish paddling upstream before they can appreciate the serene swim to shore, as the old adage goes. Or to draw on yet another maxim—it takes someone to fall flat on her face, then have the ladder land on her as well. It takes an entire tureen of milk to prove a drop of ink will spoil the whole lot. In this case, it took a Hera who was searching for a Herman.

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In Conversation: Kim Scott (Ubud Writers and Readers Festival Feature)

Asymptote readers interested in seeing Kim Scott in person at UWRF can save 20% on a 4-day pass by entering 'MPAS' at the online checkout!

In collaboration with this year’s Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, which will be held from 24-28 October, Asymptote is pleased to present this interview with Kim Scott. An Indigenous Australian writer of Wirlomin Noongar descent, Scott has written five novels, two of which—Benang: From the Heart (1999) and That Deadman Dance (2010)—won the prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award. His latest novel, Taboo (2017), was longlisted for the same prize. In addition to writing novels, he worked together with Noongar elder Hazel Brown to create the account Kayang & Me (2013), transcribing their conversations and interspersing her memories and his, her knowledge and his research, to create a family history of the Wirlomin Noongar people.

Scott is also involved in the Wirlomin Noongar Language & Stories Project—an initiative to reclaim Wirlomin stories and dialect for the purposes of fostering and promoting Wirlomin Noongar arts and culture, the wider Noongar community, and the Aboriginal community at large. Asymptote Editor-At-Large for Australia, Tiffany Tsao, had the privilege of interviewing him over the phone in late August 2018. What follows below is an edited transcript of their conversation. We hope you enjoy the first ever Asymptote blog post discussing the Noongar language!

Tiffany Tsao (TT): The power of language comes up often in your work: language’s ability to create and cohere a shared culture and community that will restore to the Indigenous characters of your novels a strong sense of who they are and where they belong. What was the process by which you came to this conviction about the necessity of language in Indigenous Australian identity building?

Kim Scott (KS): Particularly in Taboo it’s informed by the work I do with the Wirlomin Noongar Language & Stories Project. Earlier on, particularly in Benang, I was still working it out. Benang is in some sense an interrogation of the [Australian historical] archives, I suppose—a sort of deconstruction. And there was an awareness of if that’s all that you’re doing, then it’s a very reactive process. So the alternative, to find something deeper, more nurturing, is Indigenous language itself. And in that book, the sounds the narrator makes, which are so distinctly of place—that’s a metaphor in my mind for Indigenous language. That’s what grounds him so to speak, that’s what nourishes him. It’s almost inexplicable in the language of the archives.

There’s also very good research, particularly in Canada I think, that indicates a whole range of indigenous communities’ health and social indicators are much better based on the extent to which they are connected to their ancestral traditions, countries, and language.

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Winter 2017: Intimate Strangers

Who better to bare our intimate, struggling self with than several thousand of our closest friends?

January 2017: I have turned 40. Though I no longer remember when exactly I set down the rule for team members to refrain from sending me email over weekends, it is likely the embargo originated from this time. Entering a new decade is an occasion to take stock, to insist on a proper work-life balance. But 40 has always felt like an especially significant milestone, possibly because, as a teenager, I’d read an essay in which the narrator wonders obsessively if he’d land on the “right side of forty,” the obsession guiding his every life decision. Then his fortieth birthday comes, and with it the realization, like thunder, that he has lived life wrong. I’ve not lived life wrong, but I have certainly lived against the grain. Around this time I notice, for example, that I am spacing out more and more in gatherings with former classmates when talk turns to acquiring a second property. I stumble upon David Williams’s devastating essay in World Literature Today and can’t tear my eyes away from the line: “I couldn’t see it at the time, and I certainly refused to acknowledge it, but when my parents’ overeducated, thirty-something child chooses to sell his labor well below a living wage, they can be forgiven for thinking that their blue-eyed son is engaged in a sophisticated form of self-sabotage.”  Perhaps, this is why our sixth anniversary issue comes with what Australia editor-at-large Tiffany Tsao calls below a “frankly [desperate]” editor’s note; still, as she says, “who better to bare our intimate, struggling self with than several thousand of our closest friends?”

. . . you have spent vast amounts of your life as someone else . . . This phrase hails from Amanda DeMarco’s brilliant rumination on life as a translator, Foreign to Oneself. Published in our Winter 2017 issue, the essay is composed entirely of excerpts from other texts (this particular quote is taken from Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby). As I reread these words while writing this essay, my vision began to get a little blurry. I’m being maudlin, I know. But where else is one entitled to get weepy if not in a retrospective that invites writers to indulge in nostalgia? And the truth of this observation about being a translator sang out all the more because this was also the issue in which my translations of Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s poetry made their debut.

At that point, I was Asymptote’s Indonesia Editor-at-Large (my country of focus is now Australia, where I reside), and a few months earlier, I’d come across some of Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s poetry. Having heard that he’d recently won the Jakarta Arts Council Poetry Manuscript Competition, I reached out to him via Twitter to ask if I could work with him to translate his poems for our poetry editor’s consideration. This issue marked the start of an ongoing and very fruitful translator-writer partnership with Norman, who later came on staff and is our current Indonesia Editor-at-Large. English-language versions of Norman’s other poems were subsequently published in various magazines, and awarded both a prize and a grant from English PEN. The collection from which these poems are excerpted will be published by Tilted Axis Press in March 2019. If it weren’t for Asymptote, I’m not sure if Norman and I would have ever started working together. READ MORE…

Announcing Our Partnership With: Ubud Writers and Readers Festival

Save 20% on passes to Southeast Asia's biggest literary festival with Asymptote!

Asymptote is proud to announce a collaboration with Southeast Asia’s biggest literary festival! Held in Ubud, Bali, the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival will take place this October, featuring exciting and instructive conversations, talks and performances by leaders in world literature. Do read on to find out how you can get a discounted festival pass with Asymptote.

The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) celebrates its fifteenth year as Southeast Asia’s leading festival of words and ideas, from 24-28 October in Ubud, Bali. From humble beginnings, the UWRF has grown into Indonesia’s leading platform for showcasing its writers and artists, and one of the world’s ’20 Best Literary Festivals’ (Penguin Random House).

The five-day program of insightful in-conversations, intimate literary lunches, impassioned debates and powerful performances will feature more than 180 authors, journalists, translators, artists and activists from 30 countries. From Indonesia to Ireland, Sweden to Spain, the Philippines to Pakistan and dozens of countries in between, this year’s UWRF promises a world of stories, ideas, and solutions at a time when amplifying diverse voices and rarely-heard perspectives is more critical than ever.

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What’s New in Translation: July 2018

Looking for your next read? You're in the right place.

For many, summertime offers that rare window of endless, hot days that seem to rule out any sort of physical activity but encourage hours of reading. While these might not be easy beach reads in the traditional sense of online listicles, we are here with a few recommendations of our favorite translations coming out this month! These particular books, from China, France, and Argentina, each explore questions of masculinity, death, and creativity in unexpected ways while also challenging conventional narrative structures. As always, check out the Asymptote Book Club for a specially curated new title each month. 

Ma_Boles_Second_Life-front_large

Ma Bo’le’s Second Life by Xiao Hong, translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt, Open Letter (2018)

Reviewed by Sam Carter, Assistant Managing Editor

The “second life” in the title of this scintillatingly satirical novel alludes to how we live on in fictions as well as to how fictions sometimes take on a life of their own. Partially published in 1941 simply as Ma Bo’le, Xiao Hong’s late work was in the process of being expanded, but the throat infection and botched operation that cut her life short at age thirty left further planned additions unfinished. Fortunately for English-language readers, though, it’s now been capably, inventively, and gracefully completed by Howard Goldblatt in an exemplary instance of a translation demanding—as do all renderings into another language—that we attend to its twinned dimensions of creativity and craft. Previously the translator of two Xiao Hong novels as well as a quasi-autobiographical work, Goldblatt was undoubtedly the perfect person to carry out what he fittingly calls “our collaboration,” which is the result of “four decades in the wonderful company—figuratively, intellectually, literarily, and emotionally—of Xiao Hong.”

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to Albania, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

It is a summery Friday in the Northern Hemisphere and that means sun-filled afternoon beverages and literary updates from around the world! Barbara Halla discusses recent publications from Albania and delves into the political debates with which they engage. Daljinder Johal discusses conversations about libraries and marketing that were held at literary festivals around the United Kingdom. Finally, reporting from Australia, Tiffany Tsao discusses the controversy surrounding a recent literary journal cover and provides information on opportunities for emerging writers.

Barbara Halla, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Albania:

At barely three million people living in Albania, it has become a national sport of sorts to look for traces of Albanians and Albanian influences in other cultures. In this vein, one of the most anticipated books of the season has been Luan Rama’s Mbresa Parisiane (Parisian Impressions). Luan Rama is both a writer and a diplomat. Between 1991 and 1992 he was the Albanian ambassador to France, where has spent most of his life since, writing several titles on Albanian culture and its ties to France. A good portion of this new book veers toward familiar territory, dwelling on the lives of famous authors that made Paris their home. Yet its real appeal is Rama’s research into Albanians who lived in Paris and, more simply, reading the perspective of an Albanian writing about his life in Paris.

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In Conversation: Boey Kim Cheng on his new novel, Gull Between Heaven and Earth

You could say the entire novel is a work of translation...mediating between languages and cultures, memory and imagination...past and present."

Boey Kim Cheng’s reputation as a critically acclaimed writer rests on his work as a poet and essayist. He has authored five poetry collections—Somewhere-Bound (1989); Another Place (1992); Days of No Name (1996); After the Fire (2006); and Clear Brightness (2012)the first two of which won Singapore National Book Development Council awards, and the last of which was selected by The Straits Times as one of the best books of 2012. His collection of essays Between Stations (2009) was shortlisted for the Western Australian Premier’s Prize in nonfiction.

This past October saw the publication of his first foray into novel writing. Set during a turbulent period in Tang-Dynasty-era China, Gull Between Heaven and Earth (Epigram Books, 2017) is a fictionalized biographical account of Du Fu, one of China’s most esteemed classical Chinese poets. The end-result of a ten-year-long, meticulously researched labor of love (the early fruits of which appeared in Asymptote’s inaugural issue), Gull represents the first extensive literary treatment of Du Fu’s life, fictional or otherwise, in any language.

In addition to venturing into the territory of prose fiction to complete the project, the Singaporean-born poet also undertook new translations of Du Fu’s poetry, which appear scattered throughout the novel, gem-like and epiphanic. In this interview with Asymptote Australia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao, Boey recounts what compelled him to see this book to completion, as well as the challenges and joys of translating not only Du Fu’s poems, but his character and life.

Tiffany Tsao: On the one hand, your novel Gull Between Heaven and Earth represents a shift for you. Until now, you’ve been a poet and essayist. On the other hand, there’s considerable continuity between your previous works and this one: Gull is about a poet and his poetic calling; it contains poetry as well as themes of travel and nostalgia, which feature prominently in your past work. What prompted you to switch forms for this project? How have you found the experience of writing fiction in prose compared to writing poetry and nonfiction in prose?

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Dispatch from Boundless 2017: A Festival of Diverse Writers

"We are the Other with a capital 'O'; we are the back corner of the book shop; we are the addition, we are the afterthought."

It is difficult to convey just how excited I was when I learned that a festival devoted to Indigenous and culturally diverse Australian writers would be taking place this year. I immediately blocked off the date in my calendar, eagerly followed announcements of the festival’s lineup and official program, and counted down the days. On the long-awaited morning, I cheerfully thanked my spouse in advance for minding our toddler, clambered into my car, and sped off to the western suburbs of Sydney to have my mind blown by the incredible experience that would be Boundless 2017.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The most important literary news from the US, Australia, and the Czech Republic.

In addition to our usual roundup this week of the latest and most exciting prizes and competitions, our Editor-at-Large in the USA, Madeline Jones, shares some important news about sexual harassment in the nation’s media and publishing industry; Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao draws our attention to the online harassment of an Indigenous poet, just over a week before the start of Australia’s first Indigenous literature festival; Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood fills us in on the most exciting new works being released in Czech Republic, and pens a short obituary for a legendary and fearless translator who rubbed shoulders with some of the mid-century’s greatest authors and defied the Czech Soviet authorities. We hope you find this week’s news informative, and we express our solidarity with all women around the world who are standing up to abuse.

Madeline Jones, Editor-at-Large, reporting from the USA: 

The American publishing and media industries have been rocked by an outpouring of sexual harassment and assault accusations against powerful men who have used their standing and infl-uence—and in some cases millions of dollars—to silence women’s complaints. The New York Times and The New Yorker reported the first stories implicating Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in a number of harassment and assault charges on October 5th, which sparked a revolution. Over fifty women have since come forward with complaints about Weinstein’s behavior, he has been fired from his own company, and Hachette Book Group promptly shut down Weinstein Books. The hashtag #metoo sprung up in the wake of these first accusations, demonstrating the sweeping extent of harassment across all areas of work and life, and a list started circulating among women in journalism and media called “Shitty Media Men” where women shared specific names of male perpetrators who had made unwanted advances or offered quid pro quos and who are still employed at prominent magazines and newspapers.

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