Posts filed under 'Publishing'

In Conversation: Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky on Words for War

There’s a way in which great poetry goes beyond the specifics of language, time, and place, illuminating patterns.

Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky are award-winning poets from opposite ends of Ukraine, writing in Ukrainian and Russian, respectively. They work together as translators from Russian and Ukrainian to English, having lived in the US for over a decade. When Crimea, where Max is from, was annexed by Russia, and the war started in Eastern Ukraine in 2014, the geographic and linguistic differences they embody became markers of a conflict they were detached from, yet that was intimately close. The war gave Ukrainian poetry an impetus they could not ignore as translators, prompting them to assemble a collection that documents the war in its multiplicity, from various positions, modes of involvement, across languages. Words for War (Academic Studies Press, 2017), the resulting anthology, replants poetic testimonies of the war away from the local ground—there, the war loses some of its singularity—at once a document of this particular conflict and poems that speak of loss, pain and anger across borders. Today, Asymptote‘s Editor-at-Large for Hungary, Diána Vonnák, discusses this groundbreaking project with Oksana and Max.

Diána Vonnák (DV): When I read the title of your collection, Wilfred Owen came to my mind as one of those poets who became iconic for English war poetry. He wrote this in 1918, just before he died: “This book is not about heroes. English Poetry is not yet fit to speak of them. Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War. Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War.” These claims are strong and for me they resonated with what you wrote in the preface: “Like broken furniture and mutilated bodies, these poems are traces of what had happened, as well as evidence that it did really happen.” What do you think about the relationship between poetry and war, the aesthetic and the political?

Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky (OM/MR): Words for War is a provocative title. It’s also a difficult title to pull off, in that it can appear glib, easily interpreted in a hortative aspect: “Let’s get ready for war, sing some war songs, and say some war words!” For better or for worse, it’s not that kind of book. Our starting point was a series of observations: there’s a war in Ukraine, and people there think about it and talk about it. Politicians and administrators make speeches about it. Journalists and reporters cover it. It fills news channels and newspapers. Youtube users upload amateur videos from cities affected by war, and your own Facebook friends take different sides. In the streets, you see people in military uniforms; and you see civilians reacting to them, expressing a range of responses from gratitude to overt hostility. You see young men with missing limbs, with deformed faces. And then there are the endless witness reports. Because many people have been to war, and still more have been to the war zone, and they have stories to tell, and stories they prefer to be silent about. In short, war is ever-present, and it uses up a lot of words.

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Jill Schoolman Honored at the Glamorous WWB Gala

Young people are being told that America comes first. I think we are here tonight because we believe otherwise and because we read otherwise.

The annual Words Without Borders gala celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature on November 1, named for the first chair of the board, Jim Ottaway. This year, the award honored Jill Schoolman, publisher of Archipelago Books. Archipelago has been a stalwart of the small but dedicated cohort of advocates for international literature in the U.S. since Jill founded the house in 2003—the same year Words Without Borders was created. In her humble, sincere acceptance speech, she told the room full of publishers, writers, translators, educators, and philanthropists, “I’ve felt a special kinship with WWB from the beginning. We created ourselves around the same time for many of the same reasons… Books that Archipelago publishes allow us to lose ourselves in other cultures and explore other worlds. It is our extraordinary translators who guide us through those worlds. We are extremely lucky to be working with such talented translators who are able to make books come alive for us, in both language and spirit. This wonderful award also belongs to them, too.”

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Editors in Slovak Publishing Houses: An Endangered Species?

It cannot be repeated often enough that the editor’s work on a book is as important as the work of those responsible for its physical production.

No longer plagued by censors and paper shortages since the end of communism, the publishing industry in former Czechoslovakia has faced other kinds of constraints that it shares with much of the commercially-driven world in which we live. Literary scholar and critic Ivana Taranenková shares with Asymptote’s Slovak editor-at-large Julia Sherwood the findings of a survey comparing editorial practices in Czech and Slovak publishing houses before and after 1989. The survey was carried out by the web journal Platform for Literature and Research, which Taranenková runs together with her colleagues Radoslav Passia and Vladimír Barborík.

Recent publications of new literary works by Slovak authors as well as works in translation have exposed a trend that is trivial yet irksome. While the number of published books continues to grow and their visual quality is improving, pundits have increasingly noted the declining standard of manuscript editing. This is a problem not just for literary reviewers, but also for those who judge literary awards when they assess each year’s literary output.

Editorial standards are often so dismal that these poorly edited manuscripts can no longer be seen as just isolated instances of incompetence or failure on the part of individual editors (as some reviewers have suggested), but rather as a systemic issue. Other than in some major publishing houses, the profession of editor appears to be waning, a victim of the drive for “increased efficiency” in publishing, and a growing reliance on outsourcing that requires a smaller investment of time and money per book, ultimately resulting in dilettantism. The same also applies to emerging independent publishers.

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The Good Bad Translator: Celina Wieniewska And Her Bruno Schulz

"Wieniewska was correct in her intuition about ‘how much Schulz' the reader was prepared to handle."

Bruno Schulz (1892-1942) is one of the relatively few Polish authors of fiction who enjoy international recognition. Originally published in the 1930s, since the early 1960s the Polish-Jewish writer and visual artist’s oneiric short stories have been translated and retranslated into almost forty languages, despite their seemingly untranslatable style: an exquisitely rich poetic prose, comprised of meandering syntax and multi-tiered metaphors. In English-speaking countries, Schulz’s name was made in the late 1970s, when his Street of Crocodiles, first published in English in 1963 in both the UK and the US (the British edition was titled Cinnamon Shops, following closely the original Polish Sklepy cynamonowe), was reissued in Philip Roth’s influential Penguin series Writers from the Other Europe (1977), alongside Milan Kundera and other authors from behind the Iron Curtain whom the West had yet to discover. Schulz’s second story collection, Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass (Polish: Sanatorium pod Klepsydrą), followed shortly (1978), and ever since then both volumes have been regularly republished and reprinted, as well as in series such as Picador Classics (1988), Penguin 20th Century Classics (1992), and Penguin Classics (2008).

This summer, the Northwestern University Press announced that “an authoritative new translation of the complete fiction of Bruno Schulz” by Madeline Levine, Professor Emerita of Slavic Literatures at the University of North Carolina, is forthcoming in March 2018. Commissioned by the Polish Book Institute and publicized already since 2012, this retranslation has been impatiently awaited, especially by Schulz scholars dissatisfied with the old translation by Celina Wieniewska. Indeed, it’s great that Levine’s version is finally going to see the light of day—it is certainly going to yet strengthen Schulz’s already strong position. Unfortunately, the preferred (and easiest) way of promoting retranslations is to criticize and ridicule previous translations and, more often than not, translators. Even though the retranslator herself has spoken of her predecessor with much respect, showing understanding of Wieniewska’s goals, strategies, and the historical context in which she was working, I doubt that journalists, critics, and bloggers are going to show as much consideration.

In an attempt to counter this trend, I would like to present an overview of the life and work of Celina Wieniewska, since I believe that rather than being representative of a certain kind of invisibility as a translator (her name brought up only in connection with her ‘faults’), she deserves attention as the co-author of Schulz’s international success. Much like Edwin and Willa Muir, whose translations of Kafka have been criticised as dated and error-ridden, but proved successful in their day, Wieniewska’s version was instrumental in introducing Schulz’s writing to English-speaking readers around the world. Before Levine’s retranslation takes over, let’s take a moment to celebrate her predecessor, who was a truly extraordinary figure and has been undeservedly forgotten.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

No matter where you are, we've got you covered.

Since 2013 we’ve been bringing you the latest news in the literary world, and we’re not about to stop anytime soon! This week our Executive Assistant, Cassie Lawrence, showcases the latest exciting books being published and prizes being awarded in the UK; our new Editor-at-Large from Brazil, Lara Norgaard, focuses on racial and gender diversity in festivals across the country, as well as newly published work that had been previously lost; finally, our Editor-at-Large for Taiwan, Vivian Szu-Chin Chih, fills us in on the latest prizes as well as film festivals happening right now! 

Cassie Lawrence, Executive Assistant at Asymptote, reports from the UK: 

An unpublished manuscript from the late author Maurice Sendak (known for Where the Wild Things Are) has been discovered. The manuscript is complete with illustrations and is said to date from twenty years ago, according to Publishers Weekly. A publisher for the new title has not yet been announced.

June 20-23 saw twenty British writers and over fifty literature professionals from around the world gather in Norwich as part of the International Literature Showcase. An online platform that allows the showcasing and collaboration of international literature organisations, the live event included panel discussions and readings from Elif Shafak, Graeme Macrae Burnet, David Szalay, and more.

Good news for libraries finally! Following the cuts that have taken place across the country in recent years, The Bookseller brings news that 14 libraries across Lancashire are set to reopen later this year and early next year. These will be partly run by community groups, but with the majority still being run by the council.
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Ask a Translator with Daniel Hahn

I’d much rather they stuck J.K. Rowling’s name on my book than insisting on mine. We might even sell a few copies.

Our resident translation expert Daniel Hahn is back with a response to the hotly debated issue of how and where to credit translators’ work. This question comes from Michelle Loh in Singapore.  

Why aren’t translators’ names on most book covers? Are you for or against this practice of keeping translators’ names hidden?

Some people believe that readers are scared of translations. They assume—whether rightly or wrongly—that a reader is more likely to pick up a book whose front jacket reads

Title of Great Novel!

by

Name-Of-Awesome-Novelist

than a book whose front jacket reads

Title of Great Novel!

by

Name-Of-Awesome-Novelist, but actually not really because I’m afraid it’s been translated by Unrecognisable-Translator-Person so it’s probably quite obscure and kind of foreign and anyway you know what translations are like (LOL!) and tbqh you can’t even really be sure of what you’re getting…

(I paraphrase, slightly.)

Their argument, then, is that translations are hard enough to sell as it is without your having to remind people that the book is a translation before they’ve even picked it up. There are plenty of publishers I like very much who make this argument, and I do understand. I do think it underestimates our readers, but where most publishers are concerned I really don’t see this as a lack of respect for the translator’s work.

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Weekly News Roundup, 3 June 2016: Superstar Contributorstars

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote!

All translation is approximate, but we don’t always like to think so. “Approximate Translation” is a performance that grapples with intelligibility, performing sections of Ouyang Jianghe’s poem Between Chinese and English. And speaking of canny approximation, the Los Angeles Review of Books‘ “Multilingual Wordsmiths” series continues with Ann Goldstein, past journal interviewee and translator of Italian fever-phenom Elena Ferrante. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 13 May 2016: My Niece, Johanna Bach

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy lucky Friday, Asymptote friends! If you’re feeling unlucky, Google might suggest otherwise. But translators (and their authors, if they aren’t Anglophone) are certainly feeling lucky—or at least relieved, as the Guardian dropped the spectacular news this week that translated titles sell better than their untranslated counterparts. And publishing in translation has grown overall—while the rest of the literary industry struggles (perhaps it’s all this IKEA writing)… READ MORE…

Ask a Translator with Daniel Hahn

...Get a contract. Make sure it’s unambiguous. Make sure it’s comprehensive. Make sure you understand it.

Our literary translator on the street, award-winning writer and editor Daniel Hahn, is back with another installment of “Ask a Translator,” the monthly column responding to readers’ deepest questions about the day-to-day practice of literary translation. This time around, Asymptote reader Marius Surleac asked the following:​

Have you experienced troubles with any publisher and if so, what’s your advice for a novice?

Have I ever experienced any troubles with a publisher? Yes!

(Finally, a nice, easy one to answer.)

Because honestly, I’ve published close to fifty books so far, with publishers of all kinds, in various countries, so it would be surprising if every experience had been equally, perfectly smooth. Yes, of course there’s trouble, sometimes. And that trouble, naturally, can take several forms.

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Publisher Profile: New Directions

"This is going to sound really Pollyanna, but things have gotten better recently."

Frances Riddle: Can you tell us a little bit about how New Directions got started?

Barbara Epler: We were started by James Laughlin in 1936 and he had gone to study with Ezra Pound; he was bored at Harvard and went to study with Gertrude Stein first and then with Ezra. And J.L. always wanted to be a writer. And Pound, seeing a rich kid, probably had an idea, and he said “No, you’ll never be a very good poet, why don’t you do something useful and go home, finish Harvard so that your parents will give you money, and start a publishing company.” Or assassinate the reviewer he hated at the Saturday Review of Literature. But do something useful. So J.L. came back and when he was still in college started New Directions. J.L. passed away in 1997 but he created a trust so that we could not be bought or sold but we have to stay the same size. He didn’t believe in the capital growth thing which I think is correct—that’ll kill a literary company. And we have to publish books of the same quality. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 18th September 2015: National Book and We’re Awarded!

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Yay, it’s Friday! It’s a good Friday at that—this week marked the announcements for the American Literary Translators Association’s Lucien Stryk Prize shortlist. The Prize goes to literary translation from Asian languages, and with the exception of the Kalidasa, every single one of its nominees—both author and translator—have appeared on Asymptote‘s digital pages. We’re pretty chuffed about that—go ahead and check out the list or our archives, for what’s sure to be a star-studded reading experience (we recommend looking at Kim Hyesoon’s much-buzzed-about Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream to get you started).

This week was full of awards in general—the S.E.A. Write, or South East Asian Writers Award similarly announced its shortlist. Meanwhile, in other—Anglophone, more-or-less boring—prizes: the National Book Award announced its poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and young adult longlisted nominees—check them out! But we can’t say we aren’t a little baffled at what didn’t make the list (#Argonauts, anyone?).  And in light of the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara, the London Review of Books offers a strongly-worded dissenting opinion.

Meanwhile, over at the Poetry Foundation, Robert Fernandez and Blake Bronson-Barrett describe what it’s like translating French surrealist Mallarmé (don’t you love this shop talk?). And just when it’s announced that another Seamus Heaney translation is slated to appear posthumously, the Irish poet’s last words are revealed to the public. And if we’re interested in peeking in/behind the writer’s veil, read Iranian writer, artist, and activist Shahirar Mandanipour’s interview with Little Village. 

We reported last week on the terrible, repugnant Yi-Fen Chou debacle. This week, actual Asian poets continue to respond—and offer their work. Meanwhile, the New Republic suggests that cheating might be the only way to get published (say it isn’t so! It isn’t so at Asymptote). And it might be interesting to read Sherman Alexie’s private email to the group of poets accepted for Best American publication  (“I’m sorry for this pseudonym bullshit,” he says).

What’s New in Translation? September 2015

So many translations hit the shelves this month—here's what you need to know, from Asymptote's own.

Mercè Rodoreda, Death in Spring (Open Letter, September 2015). Tr. from the Catalan by Martha Tennant—Review by Ellen Jones, Criticism Editor

Death_in_Spring-front_large

Martha Tennant’s translation of Death in Spring, the (posthumously published) final novel by Mercè Rodoreda, is republished in paperback this month by Open Letter, having been long out of print. Written while in exile from Franco’s Spain during the Civil War, the novel is considered Rodoreda’s most accomplished work, and can be read as an allegory of a repressive regime.

Told through the eyes of a nameless boy who seems perpetually on the cusp of manhood, the novel recounts the cruel, bewildering traditions of a village community constantly under threat of being washed away by the river that runs underneath it. The villagers’ brutalism is bizarre and often casual—they pour cement down people’s throats as they lie dying to prevent their souls from escaping, then bury them in hollowed out trees. A thief is imprisoned in a tiny cage until he begins to behave like an animal; children are locked in cupboards until they half-suffocate; and every year a young man is forced to swim underneath the village and endure inevitable mutilation or death.

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Defying Sameness: A Conversation With Danny Lawless of Plume

An in-depth look at Plume Poetry and Plume Anthology with Danny Lawless, editor-in-chief.

Alex Cigale: “Le jardin reste ouvert pour ceux qui l’ont aimé.” Plume’s motto is the concluding line of Jacques Prévert’s “Vainement.” Could you connect for us Plume’s literary influences with the spot you see Plume inhabiting on the poetry journal literary map?

Danny Lawless: Michaux, Prevert, Follain, Parra, Ponge. These, and so many others, are transformational apparitions from a world beyond my provincial one, growing up in Louisville, Kentucky.

There was Breton, of course, the most famous name, whose poetry I now think did not prosper in the shade of his political and artistic manifestos that descended into fiats and excommunications. But one proceeds by allusion, right? A sort of overhearing. So in the course of taking in all of Breton—I was persistent—I made the acquaintance of Desnos, Reverdy, Char.

The book that all but exploded in my hands was Benedikt’s The Poetry of Surrealism: An Anthology. And so I read these people for years and years—over four decades, and when it was time to begin work on what would become Plume, there was no question regarding what its “aesthetic” would be. And, I suppose, making Plume was an act of conservation, for these poets had fallen out of fashion, if they were ever in it, in the United States.

I wanted to introduce these voices to other readers, to connect with those who knew and loved them as I did. I thought if future contributors had read as I had (and I discovered many had), then we would be of like minds, sharing certain affinities and antipathies—that their work would be what I liked and admired, and that publishing it would be a pleasure. READ MORE…

34 Animal Farms: Literary Translation and Copyright in Iran

Our Editor-at-Large Poupeh Missaghi on the peculiarity of copyright and translation in Iran

It’s safe to say that the Iranian book market has a strong interest in translation: it’s easy to find several translations of the same book in a single bookstore. Several reasons fuel this phenomenon, but the most important is rather banal: Iran’s glaring disregard for copyright laws—both internationally and domestically—mean that these kinds of retranslations run rampant.

Most literary publishers enter the translation and publication processes without securing the rights to the original foreign book. Or they can simply translate/publish a title already in print or well into the process of translation/publication by another publishing house.

Iran is not a signatory to the Copyright Treaty of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), though it joined WIPO in 2001. Neither does Iran take part in international conventions on the protection of literary and artistic works. Not legally bound in the way that organizations in other countries—such as many European countries and the United States—are, Iran’s public and/or private literary/artistic organizations do not often behave ethically toward their foreign counterparts. READ MORE…