Posts filed under 'LGBT'

Meet the Publisher: Feminist Press’ Lauren Rosemary Hook on Feminist Writing in Translation

Now that Trump is president, people are like, “of course we need a feminist press.” But five years ago people were really questioning why.

Since 1970, Feminist Press has made it its mission to publish marginalized voices and authors writing about issues of equality and gender identity. From the start, founder Florence Howe focused on publishing works in translation from around the world alongside feminist classics by local writers. Almost fifty years later, the press’s catalogue continues to reflect these priorities. Senior editor Lauren Rosemary Hook spoke to Sarah Moses, Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Argentina, about the press’s approach to publishing in the current political climate, acquiring works from different countries, and titles in translation that readers can be on the lookout for.

Sarah Moses: How did Feminist Press get started?

Lauren Rosemary Hook: We were founded in 1970 by an English professor named Florence Howe. It was very much a reaction to the few women’s studies courses that were popping up at the time. I feel like that’s something we take for granted—women’s and gender studies—now that programs are available at every university. But I can count on only one hand how many there were across the country then, so it was a very tight-knit group. There was a lot of talk about how there weren’t many texts available by women—besides Emily Dickinson—especially in literature, and Florence was a part of this dialogue. A lot of feminist professors and activists at the time met up and Florence went away on vacation and came back and she had all these checks in her mailbox made out to the Feminist Press, and she was like, “I’m doing this?” It’s a really fascinating story.

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Where is Hausa Queer Writing?

Find out how censorship, religion and conservatism affect the representation of queer lives and relationships in Hausa writing.

Queer culture around the world is inflected and influenced by local conditions and cultural nuances. In this essay, Sada Malumfashi takes us on a journey to investigate representations of queerness in Hausa literature.

Literature strives to depict a true picture—it is the mirror of society. While novel writing in Northern Nigeria is a fairly new innovation that began in the 20th century; queer relationships, however, have been a part and parcel of society for a much longer period. Same-sex practices have been an inherent part of African history, developing in a whole different way than in the Western context.

A queer section of the Hausa society that actually has had dominance in the literary field, without any cause for rancour, are the Yan Daudu—Feminine Men. These men comprise a bulk of the Hausa queer community and a direct translation of them as homosexuals in the western context tends not to give a complete picture. Yan Daudus have always been visible in the social strata, in close proximity to prostitutes, permitting them access to seek men for sex. The existence of Yan Daudu is well acknowledged and this translated to their reflection in almost every work of Hausa literature which cover aspects of prostitution and Bori – the Hausa cult of spirit possession. However, in a conservative culture where who you share your bed with is a private matter, it is no great surprise, then, that queer literature, or queer characters in Hausa literature apart from Yan Daudu, are relatively new.

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Asymptote Podcast: Blackness Revisited

2018 MacArthur Genius John Keene on how translation underlies all artistic pursuit

“All art, all artistic production, entails the base of this word translation, a carrying over…”

In this latest edition of the Asymptote Podcast, we sit down with translator and writer John Keene on the heels of the tremendous news of his MacArthur Genius Award. Author of Annotations and Counternarratives, Keene was longlisted for the 2015 Best Translated Book Award for his translation from the Portuguese of Hilda Hilst’s Letters from a Seducer. But it was his essay Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness which inspired a panel at the most recent AWP Conference as well as our June podcast, so we wanted to get insight straight from the source. Join us as we talk about how translation carries over into a writer’s creative life, how English still holds powerful sway over writers working in other languages, and much much more! Listen to our latest podcast now!

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One Author, Many Selves: Murathan Mungan in conversation with Filip Noubel

On how many pages have I appeared and disappeared?

Murathan Mungan likes to describe himself as a polygamous writer: not only does he write plays performed across Turkey and Europe, including his widely acclaimed trilogy, The Mesopotamian Trilogy; he also writes essays, song lyrics, poetry, and novels that have brought him national recognition as one of the most inventive Turkish authors for the use he makes of the Turkish language. Being himself of mixed origins (Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish and Bosnian), he is very sensitive to the life of underrepresented groups such as women, Kurds, the LGBTQI+ community, and explores taboo themes in his creative writing. I interviewed Mungan in the Czech Republic in the Month of Authors’ Reading Festival where the guest country was Turkey. His latest works include a novel called The Poet’s Novel and a play, The Kitchen. He is currently working on a novel describing the urban aloofness of Berlin.

Filip Noubel (FN): Murathan, you embody a plurality of personal origins, and seem to favor characters from various minorities. Why is diversity essential in your life and in your work? And how is it perceived in Turkey? 

Murathan Mungan (MM): Many people live inside of me. I come from the city of Mardin, in the southeast of Turkey, a city close to Syria and not too far from Iraq. Mardin mirrored the diversity of my own family: my father’s ancestors came to Turkey in the 17th century from Syria, my paternal grandmother’s mother came from the Kurdish regions; my mother’s side is from Sarajevo, which is in Bosnia today. Though I was born in Istanbul, I grew up in Mardin and within a mix of cultures and religions, mingling with people who are Turks and Kurds, but also Assyrians, Alawites, Yezidis, and Armenians.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news focuses on Latin America.

It was a busy week for literature in Latin America. Festivals, conventions, and prize ceremonies brought writers and translators together, and our team members are soothing our fomo with their reporting. Find the latest news about world literature on the Asymptote blog every Friday!

Lara Norgaard, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Brazil:

The hottest summer I ever saw was the winter I spent in Rio de Janeiro. That is likely what writers and readers say as they flock to the tropical state for major literary festivals this July and August.

Brazil’s most important literary event of the year, the Paraty International Literary Festival (Flip), took place from July 25–29 in Paraty, Rio de Janeiro. The festival organizer, Joselia Aguiar, explains in an interview that this year’s edition focused on interiors—“love, death, desire, God, transcendence.” Aguair also sought to include other artistic genres at the event, inviting guests such as actor Fernanda Montenegro. Also in Paraty and simultaneous to Flip, a group of publishers hosted book releases and even more literary programming in an event called Casa Paratodxs.

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Asymptote Podcast: Translating Blackness

Listen in on a conversation with the eloquent Lawrence Schimel on translating blackness, female authors, and more!

In this episode of the Asymptote Podcast, we explore the identities of translators and authors via an interview with translator Lawrence Schimel whose groundbreaking translation from the Spanish of Trifonia Melibea Obono’s La Bastarda was recently reviewed on the Asymptote blog. (Obono is the first female author from Equatorial Guinea to be translated into English.) Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James, returning from her sabbatical, sits down with Schimel in Madrid to discuss the challenges of translating this novel in the light of John Keene’s essay, “Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness.” We also delve into Schimel’s work at the helm of A Midsummer Night’s Press, the challenge of getting more female authors translated into English, and how to advocate for a more inclusive global literature.

Produced by:
Layla Benitez-James Featuring: Lawrence Schimel Music: Studio Mali – Wake Up – “It’s Africa Calling” by IntraHealth International. Creative Commons licenses can be found at http://freemusicarchive.org/. Some changes were made to these tracks. Photograph: Nieves Guerra

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

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

We wrap up an exciting week for the Asymptote team—and for the book club in particular—with our weekly roundup of world literature. This week, Barbara Halla gives us the latest on authors and festivals in Albania and Kosovo, including Ismail Kadare, who was featured in the Winter 2018 issue. Cassie Lawrence explores the latest in British publishing, including an exciting diversity endeavor from Jacaranda Books. Finally, Kate Garrett shares the latest literary award winners in Australia. Enjoy a reading-filled weekend!

Barbara Halla, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Albania and Kosovo

Kadare might have been snubbed for the Nobel Prize once more last year, but 2018 is going well for him already. We are barely two months in and Kadare is collecting prizes. In January, he won the Italian Nonino International Prize, whose previous winners include Claude Lévi-Strauss and V. S. Naipaul. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development launched its first literary prize as well, with Kadare’s The Traitor’s Niche making the inaugural shortlist. As if this weren’t enough, the English-speaking public will receive two new books by Kadare, both published in early 2018. A Girl in Exile (translated by John Hodgson) is both an adaptation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and a nostalgic look at Tirana during Communism. Restless Books, on the other hand, is issuing for the first time in English a collection of Kadare’s essays aptly titled Essays on World Literature: Aeschylus, Dante, and Shakespeare, translated by Ani Kokobobo. For those interested, an excerpt can be read in Asymptote’s latest issue.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary news from Egypt, Bangladesh, the ALTA conference and on the recent Nobel Prize list.

Welcome to this edition of Asymptote’s weekly update, a hop, step, and jump tour de force bringing you the latest from three continents of literature in translation. To kick off, our Egyptian Editor-at-Large Omar El Adi sends us his bulletin, including news on literary prizes and an upcoming event in London. We then zoom in on Bangladesh, where Editor-at-Large for India Naheed Patel reports on recent festivals and the passing of Bangla authors. Also, US-based Assistant Editor Julia Leverone visited the ALTA conference so you didn’t have to. And finally Assistant Managing Editor Janani Ganesan gives us the round-up from the literary world on the Nobel Prize in Literature being awarded to Bob Dylan. 

Editor-at Large Omar El Adi has the latest literary news from Egypt:

The inaugural annual lecture of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation will be given by Palestinian author Anton Shammas at the British Library in London on 14 October. The jury for this year’s prize includes last year’s winning translator Paul Starkey, professor of Arabic Zahia Smail Salhi, writer and journalist Lucy Popescu, and literary consultant and publisher Bill Swainson. Paul Starkey’s 2015 win came for his translation of Youssef Rakha’s The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars (2014). An excerpt of Rakha’s third book Paulo (forthcoming in English) was featured in the Spring 2016 issue of Asymptote. The winner of the prize will be announced this December.

In Alexandria, Tara Al-Bahr, an interactive online platform, is launching its second print edition with original essays as well as translations into Arabic on the topics of cultural and artistic practices and urban change in contemporary Alexandria. Tara Al-Bahr launched in May this year, and its second printed edition came out on Thursday, 6 October.

The Facebook group Alexandria Scholars is commencing a series of talks, titled “The City Dialogue Series”, with the support of the Swedish Institute in Alexandria, and curated by the sociologist Amro Ali. The first lecture, “Alexandria and the search for meaning”, was on 10 October and explored solutions to the city’s problems “through the terrain of historical, urban, and philosophical analysis”. Future events involving writers, academics, political figures, and researchers have already been planned for November and December.

In publishing news, Mohamed Rabie’s Otared (2016) was released in English translation in September by AUC Press. The novel was shortlisted for the International Prize in Arabic Fiction in 2016 and is set in a dystopian post-revolutionary Egypt. An excerpt is available here.

Halal If You Hear Me, a forthcoming anthology of writings by Muslims who are queer, women, gender nonconforming or transgender, is calling for submissions. Editors Fatimah Asghar and Safia Elhillo are looking for submissions of up to five poems or two essays, including a cover letter with contact info and a short bio. Those interested should email halalifyouhearme@gmail.com before 1 December, 2016.

Editor-at-Large for India Naheed Patel shares some stories from the neighbouring Bangladesh:

Next month sees Bangladesh’s capital revving up for the annual Dhaka Literary Festival, which runs from November 17-19.  The festival has been held at the historic Bangla Academy since 2012, and is directed and produced by Sadaf Saaz, Ahsan Akbar, and K. Anis Ahmed. In the face of numerous recent Freedom of Expression violations in Bangladesh, the festival marks a resurgence of Bangladeshi literary culture, reaching across a number of different disciplines and genres: from fiction and literary non-fiction to history, politics and society; from poetry and translations to science, mathematics, philosophy and religion. The festival has more than 20,000 attendees and past contributors include Vikram Seth, Tariq Ali, Rosie Boycott, William Dalrymple, Ahdaf Soueif, Shashi Tharoor, Jung Chang, and Pankaj Mishra as well famous writers of Bangla literature like Hasan Azizul Huq, Selina Hossain, Debesh Roy, and Nirmalendu Goon.

In August and September Bangladesh mourned the passing of two prominent Bangla poets. Author, poet, and playwright Syed Shamsul Haq died at the age of 81 in Dhaka on September 27, 2016, and renowned Bangladeshi poet Shaheed Quaderi passed away in New York at the age of 74 on August 28, 2016. Haq was given the Bangla Academy Award in 1966 and the Ekushey Padak, the highest national award of Bangladesh, in 1984. He was also honored with a Swadhinata Padak in 2000 for his contribution to Bangla Literature. Payer Awaj Paoa Jay’ [We Hear the Footsteps] and Nuruldiner Sara Jibon [The Entire Life of Nuruldin], his most popular plays, are considered to be cornerstones of Bangladeshi theatre. Shaheed Quaderi received the Ekushey Padak in the category of Language and Literature in 2011 and was previously awarded the Bangla Academy Award in 1973. Prominent Bengali scholars such as Kabir Chowdhury, Kaiser Haq, and Farida Majid have translated his poems into English.

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Nicholas Wong talks love, the body, desire, and post-colonialism

No one can ever demolish heteronormativity, but there’s no need to reaffirm and reinforce it.

At the 28th Lambda Literary Awards earlier this year, Nicholas Wong walked away with a top-place finish in the Gay Poetry category of this important international LGBT literary prize. Born and educated in Hong Kong, Wong chose to write poetry in English—a second language he would rather consider “alternative native.” The innovative space between linguistic familiarity and alienation is Wong’s poetic playground, and the award-winning collection Crevasse, slim as it is, touches upon a wide range of topics from love, the body, and desire to post-colonialism, identity, and the social implications of writing about selfhood. Asymptote’s Hong Kong Editor-at-Large, Charlie Ng, conversed with the poet over email about themes in Crevasse, the significance of the Hong Kong context, translation, what’s next, and more.

Charlie Ng (CN): Crevasse begins with a quotation from Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. The philosopher sees the body as expression and vice versa; together they form the horizon connecting the self to the world. Your poetry explores much about embodiment and language.

(For example: 

“Use a pen to write on the body,/then use the body to unbind/the heart. Roll the heart over a few pages of grammar”—“Trio With Hsia Yü”

 “The porn star died the day the Yew dropped,/lots of iku/kimochi/kinky chin chin and noun-and-verb confusion between his legs.”—“Star Gazing”

“Body as a verb     in/-transitive in/transit     from one/arm to an/other”—“Light Deposit”) 

How do you understand the relationship between language and the body? How would you describe the interplay of the two in your poetry?

Nicholas Wong (NW): Some poems in Crevasse are concerned with what the body (hence desire and sexuality) means to me both as a gay man and a gay poet. Hasn’t the body become a new language for most gay men? Look at the boom of gym culture, especially in Asia, in the past few years. A new sense of the aesthetics of the body and the way it is presented has been taking shape on different social apps. And if we do speak more with the body (parts) than we do verbally, how are we going to translate this transition into creative language? What does the body require to be “embodied?” The body is always the most immediate plane of loneliness—at least this was what I believed in when I was putting poems together for Crevasse. Among the examples you cited, I particularly like the poem “Star Gazing,” which was written to pay tribute to the late Japanese porn star Masaki Goh. I wanted to know how old he was when he passed, but the Internet had no information about it. It was very sad. His body has been fantasized, filmed and desired, but there was no official source that confirmed its origin. This trouble always opens up a creative realm. 

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Arab Literature, In Review: “The Bride of Amman” by Fadi Zaghmout

Sawad Hussain reviews a Jordanian LGBT runaway bestseller, finally available in English translation

Fadi Zaghmout’s The Bride of Amman (translated into English by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp) is a bold, charged novel detailing the struggle Jordanians face in abiding societal strictures on sexual orientation and gender identity. The taboo topics explored in the novel–including homosexuality, sexual abuse within tight-knit families, sexual harassment in the workplace, extramarital liaisons and interreligious marriage–have rendered the novel quite controversial in the Arab world, with readers either wildly celebrating or denigrating the novel for its “unrealistic” portrayals of Jordanian society.

If we are talking strictly about content, then I belong to the former category. The uninhibited manner in which Zaghmout addresses such realities as living as a homosexual man in a modern, predominantly Muslim community is fresh, engaging, and educational (even for someone who considers herself well-versed in LGBT literature).

It is easy for an author to fall into didactic narration when dealing with such topics. But The Bride of Amman escapes this trap: here is a novel I would encourage both old and young to read simply for its piercing insight into the life of an Arab man—who happens to be both homosexual and a practicing Muslim. This is a story told with such probity that it could be anyone’s. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Beyond the Point” by Caio Fernando Abreu

Distinct and powerful short fiction from Brazil, translated by Elisa Wouk Almino

It rained, rained, rained and I went on inside the rain to meet him, without an umbrella or anything, I always lost them all at the bars, I only carried a bottle of cheap cognac pressed against the chest, it seems insincere said this way, but it was how I went through the rain, a bottle of cognac in hand and a bundle of wet cigarettes in my pocket. There was one point when I could have taken a taxi, but it wasn’t very far, and if I took a taxi I wouldn’t be able to buy cigarettes or cognac, and I thought firmly that it would be better to arrive wet from the rain, because that way we would drink the cognac, it was cold, not that cold, it was more the humidity entering through the fabric of clothes, through the thin, worn soles of shoes, and we’d smoke drink without limits, there’d be music, always those hoarse voices, that moaning sax and his eye set upon me, warm shower distending my muscles. But it still rained, my eyes stinging from the cold, my nose began to run, I would clean it with the backs of my hands and the liquid from my nose would harden instantly over the hairs, I’d tuck my reddened hands into the depths of my pockets and I would keep going, keep going and jumping the puddles of water with frozen legs. So frozen were my legs and arms and face that I thought of opening the bottle to take a sip, but I didn’t want to arrive at his house half-drunk, with bad breath, I didn’t want him thinking I had been drinking, and I had, every day a good pretext, and I also went on thinking that he’d think I had no money, arriving by foot in all that rain, and I had none, my stomach hurting with hunger, and I didn’t want him thinking I had been walking like an insomniac, and I had, purple bags under my eyes, I would have to be careful with my lower lip when smiling, if I smiled, and I almost certainly would, when I met him, so that he wouldn’t see the broken tooth and think I had been slacking, not seeing a dentist, and I had, and everything I was doing and being I didn’t want him to see or know, but after thinking this it brought me grief because I went on realizing realizing, inside the rain, that maybe I didn’t want him to know that I was me, and I was. Something confusing started to happen inside my head, this idea of I not wanting him to know that I was me, drenched in all that rain that fell, fell, fell and I had the urge to return to some place dry and warm, if there was such a place, and I didn’t remember any, or to stop forever right there on that gray corner that I attempted to cross without being able to, the cars throwing water and mud at me as they passed, but I couldn’t, or I could but shouldn’t, or I could but didn’t want to or no longer knew how one stops or goes back, I had to continue going to meet him, who would open the door for me, the moaning sax in the background and who knows a fireplace, pine nuts, warm wine with cloves and cinnamon, those winter things, and even more, I needed to avert my desire to go back or stay in place, for there is a point, I discovered, in which you lose control of your own legs, it’s not really like that, a torturous discovery that the cold and the rain wouldn’t let me chew properly, I merely began to know that there is a point, and I, divided, wanting to see what was after the point and also the pleasure of him waiting for me warm and ready.

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Interview with Luis Negrón

"I wanted a book that showed how people find happiness, even if society at large thinks that in their life there is no space for it."

Reading Luis Negrón’s award-winning debut short story collection, Mundo Cruel, one is struck by the author’s daring, his at-times startling insights, and his blistering sense of humor. It is a remarkable collection, and the first translated work to win a Lambda Literary Award for gay general fiction. In his interview with Asymptote blog, Negrón talks about melodrama and monsters in fiction, homophobia in present-day Puerto Rico, and his experience with acclaimed translator Suzanne Jill Levine.

Eva Richter: Your epigraph is a quote from Manuel Puig’s “A Melodramatic Destiny.” “So then, a melodrama is a drama made by someone who doesn’t know the difference, Miss?” / “Not exactly, but in a certain way it is a second-rate product.” How does the notion of melodrama as a second-rate or even naive drama play into your short stories? 

Luis Negrón: There are two ways to answer this question. One, the most obvious one, is by explaining melodrama itself: it is a drama where destiny cannot be escaped. I played with and tried to transform this notion of melodrama in my texts, but not only with the structure of them, but with their aura, the environment of the melodrama, its false and perhaps fake way of suffering. It is also important to put the stories in context. In Latin America, melodrama is king. Our music is melodramatic; our politics are melodramatic, our sports, our way or conceiving love, romantic love, all kinds of love, are pure melodrama. It is our way of dealing with most situations. This is more the case in the working class population, where access to different forms of dealing with feelings are not at hand or are simply unknown. For this reason, melodrama is abundant in the book: it shows how my characters construct whole gammas of feelings, and how they make decisions or just follow the paths dictated by their destiny.

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Interview with Suzanne Jill Levine

"A greater problem is that there are fewer and fewer readers interested in serious or innovative literary works."

Luis Negrón’s short story collection Mundo Cruelrecently translated into English by Suzanne Jill Levine, has met the acclaim it well deserves. The first translated work to win a Lambda Literary Award for gay general fiction, Negrón’s debut book is an exceptional merging of absurdist humor (one story chronicles a man’s desperate attempts to have his dead dog stuffed), naturalism (the characters’ voices instantly take shape, come to life), and melodrama. In an interview with translator Suzanne Jill Levine, winner of PEN USA’s Translation Award, Levine discusses what drew her to Negrón’s work, and her career as a writer, translator, and educator.

 

Eva Richter: How did you first learn about Luis Negrón’s work, and how did you come to translate him?  

Suzanne Jill Levine: Out of the blue I received an email from a young editor at Seven Stories Press, Gabriel Espinal, asking me to consider translating Mundo Cruel. The stories and the author, Luis—who is now a dear friend—were totally unknown. At first glance through the book, I was skeptical. Then Gabe invited me to visit him in NYC to talk about it. I was touched by his enthusiasm, the story of how he discovered Luis, and I felt admiration for the work of Seven Stories Press, and so I agreed to do a sample.

As I began translating, I found myself smiling and even laughing as I went along. A miracle: I had discovered a new writer who had a sly sense of humor, and who was dealing with such a destitute, sometimes sordid microcosm, which in his hands became a rich kasbah of living speech, ordinary yet extraordinary characters, depicted with pathos, wit and penetrating wisdom. I was sold.

ER: Mundo Cruel recently won the 26th Lambda Literary Award for gay fiction. Could you speak a little about contemporary LGBT literature in English translation? 

SJL: I cannot comment authoritatively on this, though I presume that LBGT literature receives more recognition now than when I began translating in the 1970s. Translations in general have a double challenge in an English-speaking world—or should I say marketplace—where publishing literature even written originally in English is getting more and more difficult. I wasn’t aware, either, that Lambda had never in its history awarded a [fiction] translation, though I was struck by the fact that mine was the only translation considered this year. Maybe Lambda should add a category for works in translation? Anyway, in the context of Latin American literature, I was among the first to seek out and translate gay writers Severo Sarduy and Manuel Puig, subversively marginal among the Boom writers such as Garcia Marquez—and can only hope that this helped paved the way for others. Puig, from Argentina, was an important pioneer and spokesman for Latin America in this respect.

ER: What were some challenges you faced when translating Mundo Cruel? There are two short stories told by narrators speaking on the phone, using slang, colloquialisms, which I thought specifically must have been demanding. 

SJL: The challenges are precisely what make translation worth doing, but yes, the language in these stories is often a very private language, spoken by a particular group in a particular barrio of San Juan. All the stories are “spoken” with the author as eavesdropper, but there is actually only one in which the narrator is speaking on the phone and it is hysterical because the reader hears only one side of the conversation, a device Manuel Puig used in Betrayed by Rita Hayworth.  The main character, the speaker, is gossiping about “La Edwin,” for example: “The thing is that La Edwin fell for this little ‘Che Guevara’ and she’s got it bad… but when it comes to you-know-what the big machetero can’t even use his machete in the name of the Cuban Revolution… No, girl. That’s not the problem. It’s that the guy was and is straight.” Etc. The best way to explain to you is to show you, right? I also recommend that you read my book The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction, in which I recreate the process of translating slang, puns, and other “impossibles.” In a sense your question is like asking how a musician performs a piece of music; it’s a matter of ear.

ER: Did Luis Negrón engage in the translation process?

SJL: Luis, whose English is great, was a wonderful collaborator and the perfect source, of course, for any questions I had about gay slang, meaning, register, tone: we basically hunkered down for three days in a friend’s apartment in NYC and went through the manuscript. I also went over the text with another Puerto Rican writer and colleague in Santa Barbara, Leo Cabranes-Grant. 

ER: A number of contributors to Asymptote blog have discussed Americans’ “lack of interest” [Nicolás Kanellos] in Spanish-language literature. Javier Molea, of McNally Jackson, said, “With few exceptions, there is no connection between the Spanish literary world and the English one. Any literary event in Spanish is allocated to the community events section of the newspaper, while a literary event in English is highlighted in the culture section.” As an acclaimed translator of Manuel Puig, Jose Donoso, and now Luis Negrón, what are your thoughts on this topic? 

 SJL: I think that what Javier is trying to say is that writers play a more important role in Spain and Latin American countries than they do in the United States (I hesitate to speak for Canada and the UK). A literary event in Bogotá will probably bring in a larger audience than in lower Manhattan. A greater problem is that there are fewer and fewer readers interested in serious or innovative literary works. Here and there a significant writer receives recognition, but more often, from what I’ve observed, there seem to be certain fashionable writers who come to represent their culture or nation in the global marketplace, mainly because of a generally superficial knowledge we have of literature as well as of other cultures and countries. Tim Parks has written on this topic, and I think he is completely accurate.

ER: Regarding the diminished appreciation of serious or innovative literature, why do you think that is? How has it affected your work?  

SJL: In part I am speaking as an educator regarding this sense of a diminishing literary readership. My friends in publishing have plenty to say about this problem as well. In the past 30 odd years in academe I have watched the Humanities lose ground to the Social Sciences, but even more so, I have watched generations of students turn from the written word to the video/digital world: they are becoming increasingly illiterate, either uninterested or unable to read.

Obviously there are elite groups that continue to cultivate the study and appreciation of literature, and of course many will say that literature is evolving into other equally creative forms—and no doubt some of this is true.

How does the diminishing interest in literature affect me? There are fewer books I want to translate and fewer opportunities for publishers to translate the works of writers I like.

This being said, I am working more with poetry—and have discovered wonderful new poets from Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua—and also on my own creative non-fiction. After all, translation is a rite of passage, as someone once said. In 2012 I came out with my first poetry chapbook (Reckoning: Finishing Line Press), which brings together poems I’ve written with poems I have translated—and the translations seem almost more autobiographical than the originals…

ER: Do you have a translation philosophy that guides your work? How did it serve you (or not) in your translation of Mundo Cruel? 

SJL: The Subversive Scribe speaks about translation as creation or “transcreation.” A writer, a translator succeeds in creating when s/he finds a voice: I would say that this happened in the translation of Mundo Cruel, but only you, the reader, can tell me if this is true.

***

Suzanne Jill Levine’s acclaimed translations, which include books by Guillermo Cabrera Infante (Three Trapped Tigers) and Manuel Puig (Betrayed by Rita Hayworth), have helped introduce the world to some of the icons of contemporary Latin American literature. She is also an editor of Penguin Classics’ essays and poetry of Jorge Luis Borges and the author of The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction. She is the winner of PEN USA’s Translation Award 2012 for her translation of Jose Donoso’s The Lizard’s Tale.