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Nonfiction

9 Writers to Read on International Mother Language Day

February 21 is UNESCO's International Mother Language Day, a celebration of linguistic diversity and the preservation of heritage languages. In honor of this day, we've compiled a list of short stories and poems by nine writers working in their own mother languages, from Galician and Cebuano to Guaraní and Kaaps. When possible, we've also included audio and video recordings of the authors reading their original-language texts.
Various wooden letter blocks
Photo by Amador Loureiro on Unsplash

1. “Dawn”

 
 

Miguelángel Meza captures a traveler’s surreal journey in “Dawn,” translated from Guaraní by Tracy K. Lewis. You can also read Meza’s poem “Void,” from his 2021 collection Dream Pattering Soles, on WWB here.

 

2. “The Blue Book of Nebo”

“It happened so quickly. The End.”

In this excerpt from her novel The Blue Book of Nebo, which she translated from Welsh to English, Manon Steffan Ros follows a boy and his mother as they struggle to survive in a postapocalyptic world. For more about Welsh and the self-translation process, read this conversation between Ros and Welsh writer Casi Dylan.

 

3. “The Gut Demons”

This haunting folktale from the Melaka Portuguese oral tradition is transcribed and translated by Sara Frederica Santa Maria, who also works to preserve the language by teaching classes in her hometown of Melaka, Malaysia.

 

4. “Baking the National Cake”

“He feels like opening the door and stuffing the VP into one of the old closets.”

In this humorous short story by Hilda Twongyeirwe, translated from Runyankole-Rukiga by Juliet Kushaba, a beaten-down government bureaucrat dreams of power and prestige.

 

5. “A Night Sama”

 
 

Uyghur poet Tahir Hamut considers Sama, a form of dance traditionally performed at Uyghur festivals, in this short poem translated by Darren Byler and Dilmurat Mutellip. Two other poems by Hamut, “Phone Call” and “The Past,” are also available on WWB in Joshua L. Freeman’s translation.

 

6. “And They Say”

“i come from a family built on longing”

In this excerpt from her novel of the same name, Susana Sanches Arins looks back on family memories and the legacy of the Spanish Civil War in lyrical prose, translated from Galician by Kathleen March. For more about Sanches Arins’s use of Galician, read her conversation with editor Valentim Fagim.

 

7. “Children of the Xam”

Khadija Tracey Heeger considers the rich heritage of her community in this poem, translated from Kaaps by Olivia M. Coetzee.

 

8. “[I needed to wake up at 3:00 in the morning to make it to work]”

“I proceeded with caution / Like a marble inching toward the line”

In these two short poems translated from Kurdish (Kurmanji) by Shook and Zêdan Xelef, Ciwan Qado details the worries of adult life.

 

9. “Can’t Go Out”

“I want to cry and look for Papa, but I can’t go out.”

A girl yearns to travel beyond her small village in this short story by Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano, translated from Cebuano by John Bengan.


Copyright © 2022 by Words Without Borders. All rights reserved.

 

Looking for more reading lists? Try these:

7 New Voices in English Translation to Read Now

The Best Translated Books of 2021

How to Write a Pro-Glacier Book: An Earth Day Reading List

English

1. “Dawn”

 
 

Miguelángel Meza captures a traveler’s surreal journey in “Dawn,” translated from Guaraní by Tracy K. Lewis. You can also read Meza’s poem “Void,” from his 2021 collection Dream Pattering Soles, on WWB here.

 

2. “The Blue Book of Nebo”

“It happened so quickly. The End.”

In this excerpt from her novel The Blue Book of Nebo, which she translated from Welsh to English, Manon Steffan Ros follows a boy and his mother as they struggle to survive in a postapocalyptic world. For more about Welsh and the self-translation process, read this conversation between Ros and Welsh writer Casi Dylan.

 

3. “The Gut Demons”

This haunting folktale from the Melaka Portuguese oral tradition is transcribed and translated by Sara Frederica Santa Maria, who also works to preserve the language by teaching classes in her hometown of Melaka, Malaysia.

 

4. “Baking the National Cake”

“He feels like opening the door and stuffing the VP into one of the old closets.”

In this humorous short story by Hilda Twongyeirwe, translated from Runyankole-Rukiga by Juliet Kushaba, a beaten-down government bureaucrat dreams of power and prestige.

 

5. “A Night Sama”

 
 

Uyghur poet Tahir Hamut considers Sama, a form of dance traditionally performed at Uyghur festivals, in this short poem translated by Darren Byler and Dilmurat Mutellip. Two other poems by Hamut, “Phone Call” and “The Past,” are also available on WWB in Joshua L. Freeman’s translation.

 

6. “And They Say”

“i come from a family built on longing”

In this excerpt from her novel of the same name, Susana Sanches Arins looks back on family memories and the legacy of the Spanish Civil War in lyrical prose, translated from Galician by Kathleen March. For more about Sanches Arins’s use of Galician, read her conversation with editor Valentim Fagim.

 

7. “Children of the Xam”

Khadija Tracey Heeger considers the rich heritage of her community in this poem, translated from Kaaps by Olivia M. Coetzee.

 

8. “[I needed to wake up at 3:00 in the morning to make it to work]”

“I proceeded with caution / Like a marble inching toward the line”

In these two short poems translated from Kurdish (Kurmanji) by Shook and Zêdan Xelef, Ciwan Qado details the worries of adult life.

 

9. “Can’t Go Out”

“I want to cry and look for Papa, but I can’t go out.”

A girl yearns to travel beyond her small village in this short story by Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano, translated from Cebuano by John Bengan.


Copyright © 2022 by Words Without Borders. All rights reserved.

 

Looking for more reading lists? Try these:

7 New Voices in English Translation to Read Now

The Best Translated Books of 2021

How to Write a Pro-Glacier Book: An Earth Day Reading List

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