We spoke with Esther Kim, marketing and publicity manager of Tilted Axis, about the press’s recently released chapbook series, Translating Feminisms, which features translated poetry by women writers from across Asia alongside essays exploring how, where, and by whom feminist writing and female bodies are translated.
Words Without Borders (WWB): What was the catalyst for the Translating Feminisms chapbook series?
Tilted Axis (TA): As the story goes: our publisher Deborah Smith attended a lit festival where a Kannada poet spoke about being labeled “feminist” at festivals in India (her home country) and abroad and how the label does and does not translate on the international stage or between languages. As Morgan Giles, translator of Yu Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station, has said: “Being a woman has everything and nothing to do with being a writer.” With this in mind, we launched the Translating Feminisms Kickstarter campaign to raise money to showcase the incredible richness and diversity of womxn’s writing and to celebrate the intimate friendships that develop between translators and poets. With the support of that campaign, we published poetry chapbooks translated from Nepali, Tamil, Vietnamese, and Korean.
WWB: Can you tell us a bit about the authors who are featured in the series? How did you select these particular writers? Are there ways in which their works are in conversation?
TA: Translating Feminisms is comprised of four chapbooks: Night, Moon Fevers, Desires Become Demons, and Against Healing.
Sulochana Manandhar’s Night is translated from Nepali by Muna Gurung and edited by Sophie Collins. Sulochana is a formidable labor activist, writer and mother. Her essay speaks of “housewife poems” and insomnia.
Moon Fevers by Nhã Thuyên is translated from Vietnamese by Kaitlin Rees. This talented poet-translator duo run Ajar, a micropress based in Hanoi, and a poetry festival. Nhã Thuyên’s writing interrogates their bodyfate.
Desires Become Demons features four Tamil poets—Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi, and Sukirtharani—edited and translated by Meena Kandasamy. Meena’s essay discusses caste as a significant barrier to feminism in Tamil Nadu and India.
Against Healing is an anthology, featuring nine Korean poets—Kim Hyesoon (whose full collection has just been released by New Directions!), Choi Young-Mi, Kim Seon-U, Kim Yideum, Kim Seung-Hee, Shin Hyeon-Rim, Choi Seung-Ja, Yi Yeon-Ju, Park Seo-Won—edited and translated by Emily Jungmin Yoon. Her essay splits open the claim that poems are meant to heal. These, she says, are meant to hurt.
How did we select these writers? Our publisher Deborah is a translator herself and meets other talented authors and translators of Asian languages through the international festival circuit. As for how the chapbooks are in conversation, I’ll leave that for readers to decide!
The translators and poets are so close . . . that we could trust our translators to convey the visions of the writers.
WWB: Translating Feminisms aims to “ensure authors have the creative agency to contextualize their own work.” Conveying a work’s context—and a writer’s intent—when bringing literature from one language and culture into another is vital and also challenging. Are there particular steps you took in the design of the series, the selection of the translators, etc., to support the vision of the original work and the writer's agency in sharing that vision?
TA: Yes, Tilted Axis publishes contemporary Asian lit, so the challenge of bringing literature from one language and culture into an Anglo context is real. Still, as you say, it’s vital, and we aim to avoid lazy stereotypes in jacket copy and cover design.
Editorially, the chapbooks include short essays from both translator and poet to contextualize the poetry. The translators and poets are so close that we could trust our translators to convey the visions of the writers and the vibe of the poems. These were sensitively edited by our editor, Saba Ahmed. Visually, as with all Tilted Axis books, the covers were designed by our talented art director, Soraya Gillani Viljoen. (She hand-drew the fonts for a playful DIY zine aesthetic.) Our producer, Simon Collinson, then worked with Footprints Workers Co-op, a Leeds-based printing collective, for the eco-friendly and stunning risographed product. Lastly, I’m planning a few fun launch events this year to help contextualize the feminisms.
WWB: The series is being launched during National Poetry month. Are there events or promotion planned around the launch and will the contributors be participating?
TA: There will be a few events around the US during the spring at the Asian American Writers Workshop in New York (the home of the expansive Transpacific Literary Project, edited by Kaitlin Rees) and Porter Square Bookshop in Boston. In the UK, there may be an event or two in East London. Stay tuned for more news on our website.
WWB: Does Tilted Axis plan to continue this series and might there be other chapbook series on the horizon?
TA: Definitely. We were so thrilled by the response and support on Kickstarter that we’re scheming to organize a few more series. We’re discussing themes such as translating dissent, queerness, and ecologies. I'm fondest of translating ecologies because it's one of the trickiest linguistic knots to untangle, I find. Each language has its words and tales about local flora and fauna. And the hope is that the more we pay attention to our landscapes through language, the more we might be compelled to recognize our debt to nature and stop climate change.
Founded in 2015 by translator Deborah Smith and based in London, Seoul, Toronto, and Vienna, Tilted Axis is a not-for-profit press on a mission to shake up contemporary international literature. Tilted Axis publishes books that might not otherwise make it into English for the very reasons that make them exciting—artistic originality, radical vision, the sense that here is something new. Tilting the axis of world literature from the center to the margins allows Tilted Axis to challenge that very division. Recent releases include Sergius Seeks Bacchus, a humorous and heartbreaking poetry collection on queer faith, by Norman Erikson Pasaribu, translated from Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao; and Tokyo Ueno Station, a slim novel on the radical divide between rich and poor, by Yu Miri, translated from Japanese by Morgan Giles.