Showing posts with label thoughts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label thoughts. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Award lists are important, but framing is important too

Over the past few weeks, I have had decidedly mixed reactions to the release of the Man Booker International Prize shortlist. The award - which has gone to women in translation twice in its history (as well as once to an English-language woman writer back when it was given to writers alone and twice in the parallel history of the International Foreign Fiction Prize) - suddenly emerged with a shortlist that was, to quote the Guardian and the NYT and just about every media outlet, "dominated" by women.

For the first time in history, the prize was not in its usual gender breakdown of 4 men and 2 women or 5 men, 1 woman. These are not just ratios of recent years, these are consistent numbers across the years (for the IFFP, at least). Women were consistently minorities, consistently outnumbered 5:1. They almost never took home the prize. And suddenly this year, the ratio flipped. Now it's 5 women writers and 1 man.

A shortlist "dominated" by women.

On the one hand, I am delighted by this shift. It's not about "beating men", rather it's a wonderful indicator that the women in translation project is working. The prize judges specifically cite the importance of diversity in their shortlist, in a way that makes it obvious that they are aware of what it means to have women in translation at the forefront. Prizes mean visibility, visibility means more sales, more sales means more readers, and ultimately more readers means that publishers may realize that it's in their financial interest (as well as their moral one...) to publish more books by diverse women in translation.

On the other hand... Framing is important, and the current framing of this shortlist as one "dominated by women" undercuts all of the hard work that has gone into this effort. It also undersells the list. It was deemed unremarkable for years that the IFFP had similarly ratio-ed shortlists, but with men "dominating"; men writer dominance was never commented on. The degree to which men writers have dominated literary discourse for decades despite stunning output by women writers is only discussed in the context of feminist perspectives. This creates the impression that women succeed only when there is a feminist agenda working in their favor. But the unremarked upon mostly-men shortlists? Those are simply as a result of the quality of the text, right?

It's important to recognize this shortlist. It's important to specifically recognize the degree to which it's still a rarity, that this is a shortlist that goes against market trends. Most important of all, recognize the women writers themselves, who are getting their moment in the spotlight, something that is still all too rare for women writers in translation.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

I am an uneducated feminist | Thoughts on Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex

I don't think I quite expected to be confronted by my ignorance to such a stark degree while reading The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir's classic of feminist literature. I am currently reading the version translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, slowly immersing myself in this book I had heard so much about in references, but had never actually read myself. I kept telling myself there would be no reason for me to actually read this "original", second-wave text; after all, I have read so much literature from future generations of the feminist movement. Right?

I'm not a new feminist, nor do I consider myself to be a young feminist. I have followed feminist discourse since my early teen years and I have even actively engaged in it through the women in translation project. Feminism is a key part of my identity and I have long made sure that I read plenty of essays and discussions about feminism. I have often found myself enlightened by online feminists, but almost as often exasperated or frustrated. At times, I've even been angry with mainstream, popular feminist writers and their writing. But I certainly never considered myself uneducated, nor did I think that they were uneducated.

It's hard to come away from reading The Second Sex and not wonder if perhaps many more of us are ignorant than I previously believed: ignorant of the history of feminism, of the literature, and of our own inflated sense of self-importance.

Early in The Second Sex, de Beauvoir writes about the ways in which being a woman is not the only determining factor in political views or approach: "women as a sex lack solidarity: they are linked to their classes first; bourgeois and proletarian interests do not intersect". The use of the word "intersect" immediately caught my attention. While the translation is modern, it seemed unlikely that the choice of this word was necessarily modern. In essence, it struck me that I was reading a clear reference to intersectional feminism, years before it was canonized as a term by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. de Beauvoir actually has several discussions that are surprisingly parallel to modern intersectional theory, specifically in reference to the complex status that racial/ethnic minorities have in society (i.e. black people in the US, Jewish people in Europe).

I was surprised by these references, though I'm not sure why. Crenshaw is certainly the figure in truly establishing intersectionalism as a concept within the feminist movement, and her status as such should not be diminished. Rather, I use this example to point toward my own recurring ignorance of how prevalent certain ideas have been in feminist discourse long before they appeared on the internet in filtered, shallow versions. Furthermore, my own interest in this specific example emphasized that while I've seen Crenshaw - like de Beauvoir - referenced time and time again in online pieces or essay collections, I had never actually read any of her works or writing on the topic. It suddenly occurred to me that I had been reading watered down versions or reworkings of feminist theory, rather than the original.

There are a lot of things in The Second Sex that are outdated (and not just funny things, like references to Queen Elizabeth... singular, since in 1949 there had only been one). It's understandable that certain norms and psychological understandings would have changed over 70 years. The clearest example of de Beauvoir being a product of her time probably comes from her now-conservative interpretations of gender/gender roles and sexuality. Specifically, her writing would place her on the border of the modern definition of "transphobic", with a sort of closed-mindedness to the fluidity of gender identity that most modern feminists of her ilk have forsaken. The adherence to Freudian psychology similarly feels rather old, and certainly some of the studies are no longer relevant or have been disproven since de Beauvoir's time. She also has a bizarre tendency to over-cite male authors writing about women, as though these are more accurate than women's own accounts. These all make some degree of sense when taken as a product of de Beauvoir's time (and if we view her work as truly revolutionary), though it is still worth pointing out. Even as de Beauvoir goes out of her way to emphasize extremely progressive-for-her-times interpretations of gender roles or sexuality, there are still gaps or interpretations that have simply proven to be false. These, if anything, emphasize the ways in which feminist discourse has changed... and the ways in which it hasn't.

Because ultimately The Second Sex remains shockingly relevant to the modern reader. More than that, it often reads like a more critical, in-depth version of a feminist blog. Topic after topic strike me as those which I still see being discussed today, even if the specific references and studies cited have changed (thankfully). Which makes me wonder... why are there so many feminist blogs of this sort, if it's already been written and analyzed? Some parts even left me embarrassed that I've tried to write about the same topics myself, yet it now becomes obvious that I was missing so much necessary context and history.

What strikes me while reading The Second Sex is that many pop-feminists are just as uneducated as I am. The uncomfortable truth is, for all my "feminist stripes", I've actually never engaged with the canon before this. Yes, I've read plenty of the fictional feminist canon (e.g. The Handmaid's Tale, The Bell Jar), and I've even read Bad Feminist (though some of you may recall what my opinion on the book was...), but I've actually read very little of the canon. Most of what I read of feminist literature is actually regurgitated online pop-feminism, and while this has benefits of a sort, I was thoroughly misled to believe that it was ever enough.

What do I mean by this? Take discussions of "intersectionality". Most online posts that discuss the importance of intersectionality (and I include my own blog here!) do so from a vague, hand-wavy perspective. We can all cite Crenshaw as the originator of the idea because just about every blog post has ever referenced her (almost furiously), but we rarely discuss what it actually means. I've seen countless arguments that center around the idea that intersectionality (or, indeed, intersections) can only refer to the intersection between race and another marginalization: namely, that since it was initially used to describe the intersection between race (specifically, being black) and gender (female). This is an odd claim when it is evident that the concept of intersectionality existed long before the phrase became popularized by Crenshaw. Again, this is not to take away from the importance of Crenshaw's writing (especially since her work focused on the black experience specifically, which is still too often ignored!), but it does remind me how easy it is to reference existing work that you (I) have never actually read or studied and moreover to reference it without any of the work that actually went into the original research/theory.

This is far from the only example. In her chapter on motherhood, de Beauvoir dedicates a great deal of time and words to describing the hypocrisy of contemporary abortion policy. It is almost identical to something that we might read today, with the only major difference being that abortion is somewhat more freely available today (somewhat). Yet her descriptions of the limitations placed on it and the moralistic arguments against it could just as easily have been posted to The Guardian last week. I've always felt vaguely uncomfortable with the way that many feminist columns or blog posts feel similar to each other; many popular feminist writers will want to place their own stamp on a certain topic and will write about it, even when it has been explored by other writers. This is not inherently wrong (since personal experience can obviously shape interpretation, and more feminist writing means more exposure to feminist thought!), but it leaves me feeling as though many writers are only constantly rehashing existing ideas rather than exploring new concepts. The Second Sex has made me feel that even more strongly, with the sense that when we have these discussions, we're forgetting for how many years feminists have already been writing about these same concepts (and often with far more depth).

I'm not quite done with The Second Sex yet and I still hope to write a review of it more fully. This, after all, is not a review. I'm not even sure it's a fair assessment of modern feminism, rather than disappointment in my own ignorance. To be perfectly honest, I'm suddenly wondering whether I even have the stripes to be able to comment on pop-feminism - is that even a thing? Have I simply misunderstood what most of the feminist writers I've been reading for years have been trying to tell me?

Here's the bottom line: I like how extensive The Second Sex is, but it's not the compiled nature of the book that makes it important. If a feminist were to focus an entire book on a topic that de Beauvoir covers in only one chapter, it would not make it a lesser work simply because it is shorter/covers fewer topics. Rather, it occurs to me that it's the pseudo-academic style that de Beauvoir utilizes that has been missing from most of the works I've read. While I often disagree with the literal sources that de Beauvoir cites (and occasionally thinks she cherry-picks anecdotes without acknowledging contradictory experience), she is still casting a wide net. She references literature, memoirs, and scientific studies. de Beauvoir is not simply reworking existing ideas through the lens of their existing context, she is compiling a comprehensive study of a wide range of topics as though from scratch. (And do I really know whether this was from scratch? Clearly many of these topics had already been widely discussed...)

It took me a long time to read The Second Sex in large part because I mistakenly assumed that I didn't need to read it. There are few topics that de Beauvoir has covered so far with which I have not already been familiar. Most of the ideas that she cites that I didn't know are ones that are clearly outdated. But that just isn't what makes the book important. At the end of the day, this is a bit like the sciences: I might read a review of a topic in order to generally learn about it and the most recent updates in the field, but if I really care about it, I'm going to have to read the source papers that the review cites.

It's time for me to read the sources.

Friday, August 31, 2018

WITMonth Day 31 | Where do we go from here?

I always have mixed feelings about the end of WITMonth. Part of me is thrilled that another successful WITMonth has come and gone, with readers actively engaged, excited, and taking part in the women in translation project, seeking out new books, and learning more. Part of me is melancholic, remembering that despite the world of good that may come out of WITMonth (and I do believe that every single book read or discussed throughout WITMonth is a wonderful world within itself), it remains a sequestered achievement, with most readers and literary outlets still swayed by existing biases throughout the year. And another part of me is anxious that nothing is going to change, that despite our best efforts and the increased profile of WITMonth (growing from year to year!), things remain static and that women writers from around the world will always fall behind, either in favor of men writers in translation or in favor of English-language women writers.

I've already discussed some of my goals for the women in translation project's future, how much I'd like to see it go beyond a minor niche and become a reasonable part of the larger feminist diversity movement. But that's not the only goal I think we need to have in mind as readers. Recall that WITMonth is our opportunity to broaden our horizons. That means that yes, we should make sure that we're reading books that extend beyond Europe, Eastern Asia, and Argentina. Yes, we should make sure we're reading books by and about queer women (or nonbinary or trans people). Yes, we should include books by and about disabled women. Children's literature. Genre literature. Nonfiction. Feminist texts and science books and history.

It also means honing in on the fact that WITMonth should not be limited to English-language readers and bloggers. Readers should feel at home discussing and promoting women writers from their own languages, as well as translations between different languages. The same way that I discuss Israeli women writers who have yet to be translated, I would love to see readers promoting Sinhalese women writers or Thai women writers or women who write in indigenous languages. I've loved seeing tweets this year in languages I could only partially understand; I would love to see many more such posts and discussions. This isn't - and should not be - an English-limited project.

I've also already talked about how I'd like to see things change. Literary gatekeepers need to step up and take action. Readers need to hold them accountable. These are all perfectly doable and they should not be limited to August. WITMonth? More like WITallthetime!

As for myself...

Five WITMonths. Five years of hosting this wonderful project. I'm not quite ready to give it up yet, but I do have to admit that it's grown well beyond me at this point. At the very least, I am confident that WITMonth will take place (and successfully!) even if I do not post daily next year. And I may take a few steps back. You - all of you - have made WITMonth happen in the most incredible and beautiful way. We are building a movement here that is growing by the day. Bookstores, libraries, publishers, reviewers, and readers - together, we are all making it easier to find and read books by women writers in translation.

August may be over, but WITMonth never really is. Not for me, anyways.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

WITMonth Day 29 | Going mainstream

I often worry about WITMonth being too niche. It feels like something that shouldn't be particularly complicated, yet it's so foreign to so many readers that there clearly is something about reading women in translation that hasn't quite broken into the mainstream. Literature in translation at large remains this odd sort of genre (even though it isn't a genre!), only occasionally breaking into the mainstream.

I've had a lot of goals for WITMonth over the years. Most of them have even come to pass, with things like the new releases database, recommendation lists, library and bookstore recommendation tables, and more growing out of this once smaller venture. There have also been new things, like this year's WITreadathon on BookTube, which has been an absolute delight to follow (where I've been able) and which I'd love to see happen more in the future as well.

But I think I'm left with only one more real goal, and it's a fairly straight-forward (if not simple) one: I want to see WITMonth go mainstream.

Does that make me sound like a sell-out? Or like I'm aiming too high? Because truthfully, I recognize that going mainstream is a lofty goal. After all, this is a project that focuses on books that aren't typically in the public's eye. Most literature in translation remains published by independent publishers (heck, even AmazonCrossing isn't exactly mainstream), with little widespread publicity or hype like most Anglo titles. (I say most, because of course there are huge problems within the English-language literary community as well when it comes to marginalization, but this is not my personal focus, important as it may be!) To then select from within this small category of books even fewer books that just so happen to be by women/trans/nonbinary authors is almost laughably specific. How could this ever become a commonplace movement?

I believe that it's possible, though. I really do. I've seen WITMonth grow from ten bloggers cheerfully doing their thing to a worldwide movement across multiple platforms with hundreds of participants and active involvement on the part of publishers, translators, booksellers, and libraries. WITMonth has not, it's true, been extensively covered in most of the mainstream media book pages, but it has been mentioned in a few over the years. There are no universally beloved celebrities touting the importance of reading women in translation, yes, but there are passionate readers around the world (literally!) who are encountering this project for the first time every day. And most readers eagerly embrace this project, recognizing their own prior biases and seeking a way to rectify them. Readers want to encounter new worlds, from new perspectives.

My recurring theme this WITMonth has been about action, whether when addressing publisher imbalances or our own reading biases. And before that, I also talked a lot about why I felt that what was missing from WITMonth was the larger feminist movement. In my mind, these two themes are how WITMonth can go from being a niche, popular blog-movement to a worldwide phenomenon, recognizing the need to promote women writers from around the entire globe. It's time for literary-minded feminists to fight for internationalism as a part of intersectionality, it's time for gatekeepers to acknowledge their importance and help open the gates, and it's time for readers to make clear that things cannot stay static forever.

There's nothing niche about the concept of women writers in translation, after all, and there shouldn't be anything niche about recognizing the need to promote those writers within a system that periodically disadvantages them. There is no reason that every reader wouldn't be able to find excellent books by women in translation, from all over the world (remember all those "10 Recommended" lists this month?), which means there is no reason that every reader in the world won't be able to take part in - and fall in love with - WITMonth.

Let's go mainstream, folks.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

#WITMonth Day 19 | I'm tired | Thoughts

This will be an atypical blog post (certainly for WITMonth), or perhaps a blog post more akin with what a personal blog would normally look like.

As the title says, I'm tired.

In a few days, I'll be posting Part 3 of the 2018 WITMonth stats. In this post, I'll be detailing 5-year trends, looking at women in translation statistics from 2013 through 2017. This will be a long post (possibly split into two; we'll see once it's finished), with my attempt at looking at the problem more broadly and not within the limited confines of a single year. In the context of preparing this post, I have also contacted a few key publishers (mostly those that Twitter users predominantly associated with literature in translation, when I posed the question a few weeks ago) to ask for statements about women in translation and these publishers' track records.

But you have to understand something before I post these stats, and it's this: I'm tired. I'm tired of seeing that base 30-31% translation rate for women. I'm tired of having to explain why promoting individual titles does not make up for a global lack. I'm tired of having to explain to publishers that each book they publish is a choice, and that they can, simply, choose to publish men and women in equal amounts (and trans and genderqueer and nonbinary authors as well). I'm tired of having to justify why it's important to publish women writers - and women writers from around the entire world - when it should be obvious.

Most of all, I'm tired of making excuses. And I will be stopping, as of today. I will no longer be excusing away certain publishers that consistently behave in a certain way. I will no longer be excusing away inexcusable gender gaps. I will no longer be accepting nonresponses or justifications; I will be demanding more. I'm tired, and I'm tired of feeling like this incredible project and the community that you have all built isn't doing enough. Because remember this: WITMonth 2014, the first WITMonth, had maybe 10-15 participants. The entirety of it, every. single. post. can be seen in this list. Today, I'm lucky if that's the amount of posts I see in a day. We have grown so, so much and we have done so, so much and we deserve more than this.

I mentioned in this year's first stats post that I felt like the work I do is useless. After all, I've been doing it for years and nothing has changed and the important gatekeepers have simply not budged. But many of you responded very strongly to those lines, messaging me and commenting that the stats were not meaningless, that they were necessary, that they were having real-world consequences that I couldn't yet see. You all have no idea how much hope and comfort those comments and messages gave me, and I am truly grateful to each and every one of you for your participation in WITMonth.

Now it's time for us to act. Enough is enough.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

WITMonth Day 16 | ...languages other than English | Thoughts

One of the common misconceptions during WITMonth is its English-language exclusivity. This is an understandable mistake: Everything on this blog is in English, as are most of the books that I discuss. The statistics I present are all about translations into English, the publishers I promote/discuss/criticize are for the most part working in English, and it's difficult for me to share content from languages that I don't know how to read or understand.

But as I've said before, WITMonth is not actually limited to English. On the contrary, I would very much like to see people having the conversation about publishing, promoting, and supporting women writers in just about every language and country on Earth; I don't think it would be out of place anywhere.

There is a single exception, though, and that's when people use WITMonth to promote books by women written in English and translated into other languages.

This is a bit like the translations versus translators issue (also in the fact that I won't police how people interpret WITMonth, no matter how frustrating I find it). At its base, I'm not against promoting women who write in English. There is a reason the #readwomen movement exists - women writers have notoriously been sidelined by critics, awards, and prestige. This is a phenomenon that crosses borders and languages, apparently.

That being said, women who write in English do not have a problem when it comes to translations. In general, English-language books are among the most translated in the world, even when they don't really deserve it (see this old post). Translations from English dominate SFF and YA book markets almost entirely, and aren't lacking in other genres. And I have seen little evidence to suggest that English-language women writers are translated into other languages less frequently than men; my gut feeling tells me the numbers are about equal, though I obviously cannot commit to this statement without actual data.

There's a reason WITMonth exists. That reason is that hardly any books by women who write in languages other than English get translated into other languages. Evidence suggests that they are also underrepresented in their own literary cultures, often ignored in favor of men writers. The purpose of WITMonth is to promote women writers from exactly those parts of the world that don't typically get attention, whether in English or not. Promoting Margaret Atwood translated into German... just doesn't do that. Yes, Margaret Atwood has faced barriers because she is a woman, but she has never faced barriers for not writing in the marketable, "universal" language of English, or being a woman in a country in which writing is considered immodest, or being a woman in a country that has a small literary tradition that rarely gets attention beyond its borders and only has a few million potential readers, or... the list can go on. It's really not the same thing.

It's true, WITMonth doesn't cover everyone. Nor will it ever be a perfect encapsulation of intersectionality or literature at large; WITMonth excludes many underrepresented women who write in English, after all. It's not meant to be perfect, though. For me, very simply, WITMonth is just about promoting women who write in languages other than English. Giving this attention to women writers who already have a huge movement behind them ends up, in my view, erasing those writers that do need the extra space. Women who write in English have a unique set of opportunities; let's save our August energy for those who don't.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

WITMonth Day 11 | Notes on stats posts

Some thoughts:

I'm currently working on a stats post summarizing five years of data, trying to understand whether there have been any meaningful improvements over the years that WITMonth has been running and if not, in what way and why not. In the context of this effort, I would like to draw attention to a few points:

1. Several publishers are what I have referred to in previous years as "repeat offenders". As I analyze the data more carefully, it occurs to me that this title is not sufficient enough, and I am currently in the process of contacting major publishers of literature in translation who I believe have a poor track record when it comes publishing women writers in translation (in numbers, not quality of course). I think it's time to have a serious conversation about why publication rates are remaining largely stagnant, and to see how things can improve in the future.

2. The Three Percent database on which I base some of my analyses is wonderful, but it does not cover all grounds. Remember that this is a database focused on first-time US translations of fiction and poetry, excluding nonfiction, YA, kidlit, and plays. For this reason, my publishing statistics are inherently Anglo-centric. That being said, I am also trying to collect data from prominent non-US publishers of literature in translation as well, in the hopes of having some complementary data. I also typically skim the websites of major publishers myself, in order to make sure that the statistics that I publish are accurate. I'm always grateful to receive any corrections to my assessments, but please bear in mind that I publish nothing without having also double checked that the gist of it is correct.

3. Usually, the Three Percent database actually overestimates the degree to which women writers are translated into English, due to its specific limitations. Among academic publishers in particular there are dozens of retranslated "classics" published every year (almost exclusively by men), as well as nonfiction titles which are also overwhelmingly by men. I don't have the time to create my own translation data in order to properly assess all of the data, but please remember this point when looking at that 30% rate. Based on my anecdotal assessment, the real number is probably closer to 25%.

There's a lot more coming this WITMonth, and a lot more work that will need to be done throughout the year. Hold on tight...

Monday, August 6, 2018

WITMonth Day 6 | Writers, not translators | Thoughts

One of my WITMonth rules of conduct is that I don't police how other readers interpret the month, but I also won't change my understanding of what WITMonth stands for. This means that I'll often find readers/publishers/whatever sharing books in the tag that I feel have absolutely nothing to do with the actual message of WITMonth or the women in translation project at large. For instance, readers who share books by Anglo women writers translated in a wide range of languages - not really what I'm fighting for.

But the most common misunderstanding about WITMonth centers around the ambiguity of the phrase "women in translation". After all, "women in STEM" means women who partake in STEM subjects. Therefore, shouldn't "women in translation" refer to women who translate? And so, many translators and publishers in particular understand this to be an equal part of the women in translation project.

Now to be clear: I am obviously not against the promotion of women translators. I'm pretty much pro-translators under any circumstances! But the simple fact is that women translators make up just around half of all translations into English in the US. While that is far from the "overwhelming majority of translators" that many (sexist) readers have attempted to tout in an effort to discredit the women in translation movement (also as though women translators must only translate books by women, and vice versa!), it is still hardly an imbalance. And when compared to the huge imbalance when it comes to actually translating women writers, I simply do not find myself as emotionally invested.

There are two additional layers to this that I want to address.

The first is the question of a gender gap when it comes to translating women writers. A cursory glance at the data regarding translator gender shows that women translators are more likely to translate women writers than men; this ultimately isn't so surprising, but it does not bode well in terms of reaching gender parity. Translations shouldn't have to depend on the translator gender, nor should the task of translating women writers fall entirely to women translators, as though women alone are capable of relating to (and thus working on) books by women writers. If we do not expect the same standard for men writers (and we do not), then we shouldn't have to for women either.

The second issue is more complicated and more critical in my mind (in both meanings of the word). One of my greatest frustrations - and sensations of failure regarding the women in translation project - is the fact that too many people use WITMonth to promote women translating men writers. And this is entirely too common, particularly among publishers who have very few women writers in their catalogs. I have seen multiple cases of publishers sharing "Happy #WITMonth!" style posts with photos of their women-translated texts, when literally all six of the books in the photo were written by men. It did not even seem to occur to the publishers that there might be something wrong with the photo, so entrenched is the understanding that women writers in translation are not the "norm".

I've seen this countless times over the past few years: The moment I am not explicit about seeking books by women writers in translation (or even if I am!), people immediately recommend books by men writers and only books by men writers. The default remains staunchly male (and typically European and white, unless otherwise stated). It is disheartening, to say the least. That people co-opt the "women in translation" movement to apply it to translators and thus get away with not actually promoting a single woman writer in translation feels like a double slap to the face.

As I said earlier: I won't police how people interpret and celebrate WITMonth. I have no problem with the promotion of women translators. But I do have a problem with the use of WITMonth to promote men authors under the cover of supporting women translators, who are not exactly underrepresented (though there is another conversation in here that I am unqualified to have). And I further have a problem equating the two matters, as though women translators and women writers face the same struggles and discrimination (both face struggles; they are not the same). In my mind, WITMonth will continue to remain focused on women writers in translation. It's okay if WITMonth means something else to other people, but let's not forget where the imbalance truly is: Women writers remain sidelined and in the extreme minority when it comes to translations into English (and other languages). This is what I would like to focus on.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

WITMonth Day 4 | The other translation gap (into English)

Today's post comes courtesy of Twitter user @asyndetic! I asked on Twitter if there were any topics that anyone wanted covered for WITMonth:

And to be honest, it's a great question, one that I've only ever briefly touched upon in the years that WITMonth has been running. The reason I've never been able to answer it is that... I don't have any solid, evidence-based explanations. As a scientist, I find it difficult to make claims without having the data to back me up. Here, in a field in which I only have anecdotal evidence, can I really claim to be accurately representing reality?

But... this isn't biochemistry. Let's discuss the anecdotal evidence, shall we?

If I'm going to be honest, I observed this phenomenon years ago, long before I ever started thinking about women in translation. It all began with one of the first books I read translated into Hebrew, Philippe Claudel's Brodeck (a man in translation, of course). I adored the book, and almost the instant I finished reading it, I rushed to Amazon to write my review. Except... the book was preorder only. I was surprised - after all, Israel always gets everything just a little bit delayed, if at all (see: movies, music, fashion...). The same thing happened with the next book I read, which was only translated a year or so later. I quickly realized that while most books translated into Hebrew were from English (and often within months of publication in the US), many of those from languages other than English actually weren't available in English at all. Many remain untranslated into English to this day.

Here's the thing: Just about every language other than English that I've ever looked into has significantly higher rates of publishing translations than English does. Now, a lot of that stems from translations from English (just take a quick look at the Instagram WITMonth feed, which is full of German readers promoting books by Anglo women... more on that later this month), but it's not exclusive. Bilingual (or even monolingual, non-English speaking) readers have been telling me for years the same thing I have always felt: When you grow up surrounded by translations, there's just nothing weird about it. In fact, monolingual English speakers often ask me how I "got into" translations, and the honest answer is that I didn't. I read in English growing up, and I read in Hebrew growing up. I always knew that there were other books out there that weren't available in English. I always knew there were more options that weren't necessarily available in one language or the other.

That old adage of "3% of books published per year are translations"? That "3%" is an absurdly low ratio. Literature in translation remains a niche, dismissed "genre", almost. Most readers don't even consider whether they are reading literature in translation, even if they are the most socially aware readers ever. Just look at how stagnant my efforts are to get more feminist readers to take part in the women in translation project. Look at how diversity efforts are almost always focused on Anglo writers, to the point where many readers don't even realize how many books in translation already exist.

So to the initial question: How is that English falls behind? I think it's a two-part answer.

ONE: I think that in general, the English-language publishing and reading worlds remained closed off to literature in translation. While a handful of books and authors are "permitted" to break into the mainstream every year, this remains a niche field with a niche readership. There is limited awareness at large.

TWO: Women writers remain less trusted than men writers when it comes to "risk". Not many men authors have reached the automatic translation state either, to be clear; there are perhaps a handful of men writers like Haruki Murakami or Amos Oz who are translated the moment they publish a new book. But women writers seem to have to prove themselves far more for translations. In a world in which too few books are translated into English in the first place, it often seems to take longer for women writers to get translated or recognized.

This is all anecdotal, of course. Even speculative. It's very difficult to gauge how and why exactly English falls behind so egregiously when it comes to translating women writers; it's harder still to understand how it does so even as other languages succeed. Yet it's important to remember that other languages have other struggles, too. The minimal data I have collected from Hebrew, French, and German (most of it anecdotal or partial) shows that in translations from languages other than English, women writers from around the world still fare extremely poorly, even as global translation rates themselves are relatively higher. It is worth remembering that many countries and languages have their own biases against women writers, whether translated from English, translated from other languages, or native-written, as well as deeply entrenched sexism when it comes to women's literature at all. It is also worth remembering that many languages have significant translation gaps between each other, simply for lack of adequate translators (e.g. Hebrew and Korean!). These are all topics that I will someday, hopefully, explore more quantitatively and fully.

But for now, one thing is clear: Just as there is a translation gap between women and men into English, there is a global gap when it comes to actually publishing more literature in translation. As we work to make room for more women in translation in our cultural consciousness, it is worth remembering just how big a fight this really is.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

WIT, the feminist movement, and awareness

In the four years I've worked on the women in translation project, I'll admit that my goals, aspirations, and thoughts have evolved somewhat. In 2014, the day before the inaugural WITMonth began, I posted an essay about women in literature in general. The fight, as I saw it then, was about convincing readers of translated literature that women writers were worthy of the same space and recognition as men.

Four years later, I can tentatively state that I believe that the message has gotten across. The literature in translation community is quite small, and though many editors and publishers still haven't made any significant strides to correct their sexist approaches and biases, enough have. And more importantly, readers have clearly embraced the movement to promote more women writers in translation, with WITMonth growing from year to year. While the ratios have yet to change in any significant way, there is a clear effort on the part of many newer, younger publishers to produce only balanced catalogs. I am confident that we will begin to see the statistical progress in the next few years.

And so the goalposts have moved, just a bit. If four years ago I hoped that someone - anyone! - would just become aware of the problem, I have recently realized that this problem is actually far deeper than just the literature in translation community. In places where I would expect some awareness or acknowledgement of the lack of women writers in translation, of the marginalization that women creating works (or writing feminist criticism) in languages other than English face on a larger scale, I find a tremendous, very obvious gap.

My gut has been telling me for several years that the problem of women in translation belongs, in large part, to the global lack of literature in translation available in the English-speaking world. Most countries in the world import a lot of literature (much of it from English, though this is a different matter worth discussing another time), with translations subsequently normalized. English is perhaps not unique in its assumption of lingual-cultural dominance, but it certainly ends up getting away with it on a far greater scale than most other languages. The reasons for this are vast and complicated and I will not get into them at this time. However, one thing remains certain: most native English speakers, across the board, struggle to engage with art that is not originally in English, whether it is music, film, television, or books.

It's only in recent years that I've discovered that this almost willful ignorance extends to circles I naively imagined to be more aware. Intellectuals and academics aren't more prone to reading literature in translation; on the contrary, I have found many to often use that (often irrelevant) line about how "something gets lost in translation". Among feminists - even self-identified intersectional feminists - the awareness gap seems even wider.

More problematic still is the fact that many of these so-called intersectional feminists (and can feminism really be intersectional without being international...?) will even maintain that Anglo-American cultural norms are default. I have (on multiple occasions) had to argue with "intersectional" feminists that applying USian cultural norms on another culture is not only inaccurate, it may at times be entirely contrary. Not every conversation will sound the same way in a different culture. Not every feminist act will apply to every culture. And many acts that Anglo-American feminists might scoff at as "not really feminist" may actually be remarkably radical and/or outright rebellious for another culture.

Of course this ignorance applies to literature as well. As much as certain feminists do make a point to read literature in translation, you'd be hard-pressed to find most prominent feminist critics discussing and giving weight to exactly the women who most need a space in which to be heard. When I asked feminist-identifying folk on Twitter whether they read literature in translation, a surprisingly high number of respondents said they wish they read more women in translation, but felt as though they were never exposed to those books or struggled to find them in libraries/bookstores. Several noted that with so much literary hype surrounding new Anglo releases, it was hard to make time for women in translation, who are rarely hyped to the same degree (with the rare exception, as with men in translation).

It ends up being frustrating on two fronts. The first is the feeling that I have to fight for intersectionality to include internationalism, even though this is a fundamental tenant of the concept. With literature playing such an important role in terms of introducing readers to new concepts, the oversight here feels particularly egregious. I shouldn't have to explain to readers who fight for "diversity in YA" that USian kids also need to be introduced to kids from other countries, whose culture is different from theirs (and written to match that culture, and not an Anglo-American readership). I shouldn't have to explain to feminist critics that queer feminist theory is markedly different in languages that have inherently gendered words. This should be obvious.

The second front is the sense that would-be readers - those who aren't averse to anything in translation because "something gets lost in translation" - are missing out on so many opportunities to read brilliant women who are translated because these books are never promoted to remotely the same degree as lesser books in English. (For the record, I have found this to be true also in Hebrew, where translations from English almost always win out over translations from any other language. Hype is inevitable.) Most books by women in translation are published either by smaller presses or AmazonCrossing (which, due to a lot of reasons, doesn't always end up with the best translations or do a lot of self-promotion, even if some of their books are excellent; on the other hand, they also publish a lot of genre lit, so that's something!). These books are, for various reasons, not getting into the hands of readers. They are getting lost, and readers are losing.

There's a lot that we can do to improve the situation. For me, it comes back to that original WITMonth goal: raise awareness. But it is no longer my goal to raise awareness within a closed community of those who already read literature in translation in a targeted, directed way. I now want to reach all readers and raise awareness of individual books, getting them into the hands of as many prospective readers as possible (see: #WITreviews). I now want to raise awareness among intersectional feminists, to see them embrace internationalism in the way that anti-racism has become a core tenant of the movement. I now want to raise awareness among feminist critics and academics, particularly in light of how many fascinating-seeming feminist theory papers I have stumbled across in my searches that have never been translated into English.

None of this is easy. It wasn't easy getting WITMonth off the ground, either. But I firmly believe that in a few years from now, I will be able to look back and say that I have achieved my perhaps-too-ambitious goals. Certainly, I will be able to look back with a sense of pride that I have tried.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

WITMonth Day 31 | Final 2017 thoughts (part 2)

And here it is... August 31st, come so soon. Didn't WITMonth just start the other day?

Yesterday, I posted about some personal goals. Today, I want to talk about the growth, expansion, and changes WITMonth has undergone since 2014. Four WITMonths have now come and gone. What's changed?

Every year, I gush about how much this project has grown. This has not changed; on the contrary, every year sees more readers made aware, more involved bookstores and libraries, more publshers, more organized events, and more awareness at every level of the literary world. To be perfectly honest, the project feels like it moves further and further away from me with every passing year. But it gains its own life. Does WITMonth still need me? Am I still its mother?

This has led me to some important conclusions this year: WITMonth needs a clearer infrastructure. My new @read_wit Twitter account helped in some regards, focusing explicitly on women in translation (and saving poor readers the discomfort of wading through my personal nonsense). My new @readwit Instagram account seeks to do for Instagram what we already did for Twitter - create a movement that reaches more than just the handful of readers who already know of the project.

But I have other ideas too. I received several queries for organized lists of WITMonth events, alas this does not currently exist in full form (womenintranslation.com began the effort, but there is more work to be done). There is still no comfortable place for a new reader to go to learn all they might want about WITMonth. There are still no convenient handouts or ready-to-print posters. There is still so much more we could be doing.

And this is the joy in WITMonth's growth. That while I know it is unlikely all of these things will be ready for next year, much will... and new things I can't yet envision. Here's to WITMonth 2018, and all the work ahead.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

WITMonth Day 30 | Final 2017 thoughts (part 1)

WITMonth is almost over, which means it's time to wrap things up and reach some conclusions. Or something. I'll talk about some big picture implications tomorrow, but let's talk today about the most important person in the room... me.

This year, I set myself a few rather varied WITMonth goals. One was to read more; I've had a generally poor reading year and hoped to have time to read more books. Alas, in this most basic goal I failed. Life has, simply put, gotten in the way. I read a few books during August, but not nearly as many as previous years.

In other goals, however, I succeeded fairly well. I had hoped to post daily Instagram pictures; I did. I had hoped to post daily on this blog, including reviews every other day; I did. I had hoped to write about the women in translation Reading the World project and begin posting my lists; I did.

In these regards, from a personal perspective, it's hard to view my WITMonth as anything but a rousing success. Sure, I didn't do everything I wanted to... but isn't that what the rest of the year is for?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

WITMonth Day 26 | Thoughts on literary magazines

Today, I finally got around to reading PEN America's Glossolalia Vol. 2, Women Writing Brazil. It's the first time I've ever read a literary magazine or chapbook, at least all the way through. Honestly, I liked it a lot. It had a lot of the strong sides of an anthology, but felt looser and more flexible - stories alongside nonfiction alongside poetry. Even a small glimpse of a photography portfolio. It's a good collection, overall, and I can genuinely recommend it.

But this isn't a review of that book. Instead, I want to (briefly) talk about how literary magazines end up filling in a lot of the blanks that standard, full-length-book publishing often misses. I've talked about anthologies (manthologies!) before, where I've found the general lack of women writers in "generic" anthologies to be lacking (like in publishing at large). The situation seems a little clearer with literary magazines, in which the turnover is higher, faster, and presumably more responsive to the times. Why shouldn't literary magazines be the first to take a step forward?

Sources like VIDA indicate that the situation isn't so great in most magazines. Indeed, I imagine if I were to go through the prominent literary magazines that focus on international literature, I would find a mixed bag. But. I also know that there's a lot of good being done. Like Women Writing Brazil. Like Words Without Borders, which breaks boundaries in all directions. Others I'm probably not aware of.

I don't read many magazines, though I'm thinking I should. There's clearly a lot that I'm missing.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

WITMonth Day 24 | An unhappy observation

One of the primary reasons WITMonth exists is in order to give voice to women writers in translation who are too often sidelined. WITMonth is in direct response to the stunningly low rate of translations of works by women. It is in direct response to the dismal rate of review of books by women in translation. It is in direct response to the global dismissal of works by women who write in languages other than English.

I don't expect everyone to know about WITMonth. I don't expect everyone who does know about WITMonth to necessarily only read/talk about women in translation during August. But I frequently find myself a little... shall we say miffed? Miffed at the way in which anything that is not directly related to women in translation during WITMonth is often intentionally overwhelmingly skewed towards being about men.

Take, for example, publishers who choose to interpret WITMonth as a means to promote their women translators. While that's not what WITMonth was intended to do, I recognize that the more the project spreads, the less control I can have of what it means to others. That's fine! But I'm repeatedly amused - and then rather annoyed - by publishers who will highlight a certain translator only with books by men. Behold this wonderful translator! Behold four or five or six books that she has translated! Oh, yeah, I suppose they're all by men, but who cares!

If I sound cynical, it's because I've seen this a few times in the WITMonth tag. I do not share these posts, on principle.

Again: I'm not going to tell people how to recognize WITMonth (I can really only speak for myself...). But I do find it frustrating that the default - the moment people aren't explicitly talking about women in translation - is men. A list of new releases in translation for August? 80% men. A list of "10 Best Translated Fiction" from the past year? Only one woman writer. And so on and so on.

The problem isn't that men writers are getting attention. I don't expect August to be a full month devoid of men. I don't believe in that, frankly, and have myself read men in translation during previous WITMonths. I also recognize that women writers are getting so much more attention in August than they would be otherwise, and that is absolutely amazing. The problem is that otherwise, women are always in the background. At the very least, can't we just have August be even? Can't we have just one month in which women represent - and I know this is wacky, but give me a chance here - half of the books that we talk about?

Hmm, maybe that's just too much to ask...

Sunday, August 20, 2017

WITMonth Day 20 | The importance of nonfiction

I've always loved nonfiction, though it's been sidelined in my reading for several years. As a kid, I used to devour heavy historical tomes or manuscripts. I loved reading political commentary, biographies, essays, and scientific texts. I used to read a lot more nonfiction than I do today (excluding the mass of scientific papers I read for work, which would add up to more than all literature I currently read if counted...).

Certainly, I can't say I've read all that much work by women in translation.

Now as an important disclaimer, I'll note that I've read very little nonfiction by men in translation either. But I can't pretend that I'm not painfully aware of how little nonfictional works by women in translation are translated. One need only glance over university press catalogs such as Columbia University Press (in which only one of seven recently released titles in translation is by a woman) or Harvard University Press (in which two out of fifteen titles in the Spring/Summer 2017 catalog were by women writers) to realize that an even more extreme gap between men and women in translation exists in the academic world of nonfiction texts than in fiction (and I'll note that the single title by a woman in translation from CUP is actually a novel; books by men are divided).

I've previously talked about why I find university presses to be important gatekeepers, but those stats specifically referred to fiction. When it comes to nonfiction, with an even wider gap, I find myself increasingly frustrated. Translated nonfiction is already such a minor subset. It can span basically whatever topics and fields you want, since nobody really has any expectation that you translate certain books above others (because let's be real - nonfiction published by university presses has a very specific target audience in mind). There is no real motivation to publish a new-new-new-new translation of those most masculine Greek classics, nor to specifically publish that one guy's treatise on European fascism. Yet somehow the strong bias in favor of men writers exists.

Nonfiction is important. Academic texts are important. Not simply as just "another" parameter, but also because nonfiction covers a huge spectrum of the human experience. Take, for example, the three nonfiction titles by women in translation I have read thus far in 2017: Scholastique Mukasonga's powerful memoir Cockroaches, Ece Temelkuran's thoughtful and politically sharp Turkey: The Insane and the Melancholy, and Ève Curie's unique biography of her mother Marie. Each book covers a different piece of the nonfiction spectrum, though all three are certainly more on the literary side of things (than the academic). And I'm still in the midst of reading Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl, an utterly unique oral history of that horrific event.

Yet alongside these titles, I've come across so many books in the past year by early feminist scholars that have never been translated. Books by queer Latin American feminist analyzing their identities. Books by historians, scientists, researchers, and academics. Books that crop up when you sift through Wikipedia, author by author, but have yet to find a home in English (or many other languages, for that matter). Instead, nonfiction in translation (itself too tiny a field) remains steadfastly male, and predominantly European. This should change.

Friday, August 18, 2017

WITMonth Day 18 | Politics

I've been thinking about politics lately.

This shouldn't be especially surprising; the global political climate is tense and I've always been fascinated by politics. The difference is that lately I've been thinking about the politics of identity, the politics of defined identities, and questions regarding the political nature of any works by marginalized artists. These topics aren't new, and others far wiser than me have already explored them far better than I'll ever be able to.

Nonetheless, I found myself thinking about these topics in the context of women in translation, spinning off from the thought that I formalized aloud (for the first time, for the record) in my talk with Aviya Kushner at The Forward, wondering about the politics of authors translated into English based on my experiences with Israeli writers. As a bilingual reader, I am very well aware of the biases that make their way into translations, the narratives that get pushed through mere framing. These don't have to be inherently negative nor that there is something wrong in highlighting authors who represent certain views, but there are specific biases that are useful in creating a specific narrative. In this case, there is significantly more interest in "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" as a constructed concept than there is in dozens of other diverse, populated countries (I won't get into the why of this right now...). A narrative is formed.

When it comes to Israel (my personal, familiar case study), my observation has long been that when men write about families touched by political circumstances, their books get labeled as political (see: David Grossman's intimate-yet-political To the End of the Land). When women write about similar themes, their books are viewed through a purely domestic lens. Thus Israeli women have, for example, written many books that subtly and quietly examine the ethnic and racial dynamics in Israel without getting the same attention and fame that the loudly POLITICAL (TM) Grossman or Amos Oz might get. Lea Aini may write about the effects of war, yet her novels remain untranslated. Or Ronit Matalon, who writes about the dynamics between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, whose novel The Sound of Our Steps was translated into English a full seven years after its much-acclaimed publication in Israel. (A notable exception is Dorit Rabinyan, whose novel All the Rivers was swiftly translated after a widely publicized controversy regarding its non-inclusion in the Israeli high-school curriculum.)

This, of course, is all just one country, but it makes me wonder about the rest of the world. Certainly, I have noticed that there are certain political biases in many of the books I read in translation. Indeed, one need only look at the odd prevalence of books by women who are breaking free of oppressive and sexist "other" societies. Or even the way almost all women writers need to have the disclaimer regarding their gender: "Best Latin American woman writer!" Again, this does not mean that these political biases are inherently bad - most of them are pretty great, to be honest! I'm totally fine with a bias in favor of feminist literature, for instance. Bias doesn't mean bad.

But we need to recognize the politics at play. We need to recognize the way that these political biases - a bias towards what we deem to be explicitly political texts - is erasing a lot of radical, powerful writing, particularly by women. Women writing under oppressive conditions - regardless how they address those conditions - are being political. Translating these women is inherently political. Even women from "Western" backgrounds, writing simple historical romances are engaging in a political act. Women's existence in public spaces is still insecure, and should not be taken for granted.

As always, we must try to be aware of our biases. If we're favoring men writers because of how we wish to frame certain political narratives (Israel is only one example of many, obviously), we need to recognize that bias in interpreting politics. If we're romanticizing a certain "type" of woman over another because it fits with a savior-like mentality, we need to recognize that bias too. There may always remain some degree of bias, but we should at least recognize it for what it is.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

WITMonth Day 12 | How they fight

I originally had a very different post in mind for today, but the news coming out of the US right now (along with months of news coming from there, the UK, across Europe, India, and so on) has me thinking about the way in which women writers from around the world have long fought against oppressive, racist, or fascist regimes.

I'm not just thinking about the actual writers themselves (though obviously they deserve attention and credit). I'm also left wondering what it means for women - particularly women from marginalized backgrounds - to use their voices to fight against oppression. I'm left wondering about those women writers who are willing to face the very public threats that come with being a woman in a public space, alongside their political views. I'm left wondering about those ways in which simply being a woman writer in certain spheres is a form of fighting in and of itself, and how we often fail to give women the credit they deserve for this.

I'm thinking of Elsa Morante, whose History looks at fascism directly in the eye and shows readers the reality of its effects. I'm thinking of Mahasweta Devi, who addressed political problems both within her fiction and without. I'm thinking of those who did not survive fascism, like Anne Frank or Chana Senesh, whose writing is entirely colored by their experiences. I'm thinking of writers like Herta Müller, or Mercè Rodoreda or Anna Seghers.

I'm thinking about the new generation of writers who are being forged right now, in the face of resurgent movements and existing hate. I'm thinking about young women from the around the world, whose words are fighting. And I'm left asking: will we get to hear their voices?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

WITMonth Day 10 | Intersections

I've found myself thinking about intersections quite a bit today. Not that I don't try to contemplate intersections in general - it's definitely a topic that comes up frequently - but today it seemed especially prominent, as more and more friends and family members began asking me about this women in translation project that they hadn't really known until now. Suddenly, people who until now had only a vague sense of what this project meant to me began wondering: What about other languages? Are there differences between countries? Is there a difference with regards to self-published literature?

At this point in the conversation, I almost always have to bring up intersectionalism as a concept. Curiously, I've found that those unfamiliar with the concept (or not explicitly in its feminist context) accept it much more simply when they themselves are challenging it. It's the easiest thing in the world to just say, "Yes, there is more than one problem". Because there is.

While WITMonth explicitly focuses on women (and trans and nonbinary) writers in translation, yes. But longtime readers of this blog will recall that I have tried to have as broad of a WITMonth since its inception, even though I don't always succeed. And regardless my reading, I have always hoped that WITMonth recognize the other ways in which women writers in translation may belong to marginalized groups.

This is why I look at classic literature. At queer literature. Why I've pointed out the overall imbalances in publishing between books from Western Europe and the rest of the world. Women in translation are not a homologous monolith, each with exactly the same sort of bias against her. Within translated literature (and within the WIT project) exist several other intersections, like sexuality, ability, country of origin, writing language, and so on.

I know I say this all the time (and I'm becoming a bit of a broken record on the matter...), but it's important that we remember this point. It's important that we challenge our reading at every step of the way, because the point isn't just to check off the "women in translation" box on our "diversity" cards (eurgh). As I've argued before, the point is to experience the world as it truly is. That entails reading women of all backgrounds, and recognizing the intersecting identities that many women hold.

We cannot ignore that literature in translation has a demographic/continental bias. We cannot ignore that literature in translation overall favors certain languages over others. We cannot ignore that literature in translation rarely explores the working class experience. We cannot ignore the fact that each and every one of these factors plays a role when it comes to the books we see published overall, and doubly so for women writers. Yes, WITMonth will remain focused on women, but that doesn't mean we can't recognize some other problems along the way. Especially since they are equally solvable.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

WITMonth Day 6 | Rethink your PC

There's a common trope response against anyone arguing for inclusiveness: "this PC [politically correct] nonsense!" Or variations on a theme. People who - typically, but not always -  belong to the non-oppressed/over-represented group rush to tell those who do belong to (or champion voices within) an oppressed or under-represented group.

This has happened, of course, with WITMonth as well. Most egregiously, however, it happened on a totally harmless tweet: a totally lovely collection of photos that people have shared on social media detailing their favorite women in translation. The response - dismissing the collection of critically-and-reader acclaimed books as mere "twaddle" - demands to know why The Poetry Translation Centre isn't focused on "simply promoting good literature, rather than PC quota-like obsessions regardless of merit".

Ah yes. "Good literature". "Merit".

I've written extensively about the ways in which women's writing is dismissed and ignored. More importantly, Joanna Russ has written a brilliant book about it, too. The terms "good literature" and "merit" are heavily influenced by inherently gendered concepts, twisted by the bias we all have. No reader can disconnect their perception of works by women writers and their admiration for works by men, when almost all of the literature children read in schools (and in university) is by men, while women's writing is often limited to specific units or "women's studies" courses. And of course, this is not merely true for books by women writers, rather it represents a disturbingly pervasive fact when it comes to representation of writers from marginalized backgrounds (and especially those who represent an intersection of several marginalized identities).

Here's the cold, uncomfortable truth: Having WITMonth isn't about being "PC". It's not about reading women for the sake of women, to mark a checkbox and feel progressive. It's because we want the best literature, and you simply aren't going to get it if all you're reading is the same men again and again, and only ever from English. If we truly went by merit, I honestly do not believe we would ever have such a severe imbalance between men and women, nor between English-language authors and those in translation, nor between white authors and non-white authors, nor between straight authors and queer authors, nor between able-bodied authors and disabled authors. Excellent writers exist in all stripes and come from all backgrounds. We must always remember that, as well as recognize the additional hurdles writers from marginalized backgrounds must overcome in order to have the privilege of being heard.

Reading only English-language, white, straight men? Now that's just trying to be politically correct. The rest - WITMonth included - is just reality.

Friday, August 4, 2017

WITMonth Day 4 | Visibility and women in translation

One of my original goals for WITMonth was introducing more readers (and industry folk) to the very problem of women in translation. As more and more readers, reviewers, media outlets, translators, publishers, bookstores, and libraries join in the efforts, we're getting that done. Every tweet, every review, every post that references WITMonth means one more person learning about the cause.

This is huge, because WITMonth largely began as an obscure, minor blogging event. And while most readers still probably don't know that only ~30% of books translated into English are by women writers (and some probably don't care all that much...), more and more are discovering this - and their own reading biases - daily. And they are working to fix it.

But this post isn't just about how it's great to see more readers becoming exposed to the issue. It's more about visibility at large, and how impossible it is for any movement to advance without those who ensure that people can even be exposed to the issue. I've long hoped for greater bookstore/library involvement in WITMonth, out of a belief that the overwhelming majority of readers are introduced to books not necessarily through Twitter, but through literal visibility.

Readers - particularly younger readers - walk into the bookstore or library, and typically gravitate towards the books that are clearly labeled. This is how I do most of my bookshopping/library-hunting: I first check to see what's exposed on the display tables, then I look for the little bookseller recommendation tabs, and then aimlessly browse. The uncomfortable truth is that there are far too many books in the world for every reader to be exposed to every single one. Most of us need some sort of guidance - whether capitalistic/publisher-guided or genuine/word-of-mouth - to find good books.

WITMonth 2017 has seen a notable rise in bookstore and library involvement. This is wonderful. Even as most bookstores highlight a select collection of books that are probably familiar to hardcore readers of translated literature, they are opening the door for countless readers who haven't heard of the cause and didn't necessarily know about the publishing imbalance. Furthermore, a significant portion of literature in translation (and especially women in translation) is published by independent or lesser-known publishers. By placing these books front and center, bookstores and libraries are able to introduce readers to an entire world of literature that they might never have considered previously.