This past weekend, I was able to attend the AAS conference in Atlanta and speak on a roundtable about “The Translation and Publication of Contemporary Japanese Literature: Strategies and Resources” put together by the Japanese Literature Publishing and Promotion Center.
I’ve written about J-Lit a few times in the past, mainly because this is such a cool organization that produces really beautiful promotions . . . The basic thrust of the J-Lit Center is to get more works of Japanese literature translated and published throughout the world. To accomplish this goal, they started the JLPP (Japanese Literature Publishing Project) through which a committee identifies approx. 9 titles a year that the J-Lit Center has translated into English, Russian, and French. After the books are translated, J-Lit serves as the foreign agent, finding publishers in the respective countries to publish these titles. The publisher has to acquire rights to the book and translation from the J-Lit Center, but to further support these titles, the J-Lit Center purchases 2,000 copies upon publication (at a discount) from the publisher.
So from the publisher’s perspective, this is a really sweet deal. Preselected works of high quality literature, already translated by very good translators, pre-edited by people at the J-Lit Center, one-stop shopping for the rights, and guaranteed sales of 2,000 copies . . .
I did a few of the books from this program during my time at Dalkey (aside from Voices from Chernobyl, these are the only books in recent memory that Dalkey’s done in hardcover editions), and there are a number of books from the recent lists that I’m really interested in reading once they’re translated.
Overall, this is a great way of promoting Japanese literature and has led to the publication of 26 titles in English over the past 4-5 years. Not bad . . .
This panel was a follow-up to the one on publishing that took place last year when the AAS was in Boston, which was very, very well-attended. (This year the panel was from 5-7—during the first Final Four game—and still attracted a decent crowd of interesting academics and translators.)
All of the people on the panel were wonderful, and Prof. Stephen Snyder was an excellent moderator. (And provided a lot of useful information, since he’s on the committee that selects the books for the JLPP list.) Ako Sahara gave an interesting overview of J-Lit, its programs, and its goal of partnering with a U.S. institution to start a translation seminar here in the States to train Japanese translators.
Miho Walsh talked about the Donald Keene Center Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature, which is given out annually to a classical and modern translation of Japanese literature.
Wayne Lammers talked about the difficulties of being an independent scholar, and Doug Kibbee (who is referenced again on Literary Saloon today) talked about the University of Illinois’s translation center.
What I found most interesting was the speech by Isao Tsujimoto from the Japan Foundation about the need to create something that will help American readers to approach and understand foreign works. He was very concerned with the fact that a lot of translations come out with no surrounding context, and there’s not a lot of resources available for general readers to orient themselves to a particular book/author/country/culture, etc.
To me, this reflected both what I wanted to talk about (the coming transformation of our translation database) and Larry Venuti’s recent comments about the need for “translation culture.” Contrary to the normal “culture of complaint” that has infested every aspect of book culture (no one reads, no one makes money, no one reviews books, no one buys books, etc., etc.) there seems to be a growing trend of trying to find new ways of engaging with an audience that is more active and innovative than the usual we-publish-you-buy sort of set up.
There’s still a lack of specific activities, but the fact that people are at least thing in a positive way looking for things that could be done is very encouraging to me and a nice shift from the old view of having to find someone to subsidize all translations since they were destined money losers. Not that translations aren’t tough sells—rarely do they breakeven, and nonprofit presses such as Open Letter, Archipelago, Graywolf, ete. need donations to stay afloat—but it’s healthier for the book culture in the long run if time and resources are invested in developing a translation culture than in ensuring that a publisher can breakeven after selling only 500 copies of a book.
One of the off-hand comments that caught my ear was the fact that the people on the JLPP selection committee had access to the sales data for all previously published titles, and that aside from a few exceptions (such as Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories) none of the books sold very well. I haven’t seen many reviews of the recent JLPP books, and suspect that publishers have come to rely on the 2,000 copies being bought by the J-Lit Center to account for the majority of sales. Which kind of sucks. This guaranteed sale should free up the publisher to take a few more risks and do something special for these books. (These would be prime candidates for some sort of free e-book promotion.) Hopefully the JLPP will focus on placing their forthcoming titles with presses that are savvy promoters—a few breakthroughs would do wonders for the J-Lit profile.
(As a sidenote, anyone interested in contemporary Japanese writers should get a copy of this book that the JLPP put out a year ago. It’s incredibly comprehensive and useful, and supposedly volume two will be out shortly . . .)
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .