7 April 08 | Chad W. Post

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 . . .)


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
My Brilliant Friend
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Reviewed by Acacia O'Connor

It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .

Read More >

Stealth
Stealth by Sonallah Ibrahim
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, Egypt was going through a period of transition. The country’s people were growing unhappy with the corruption of power in the government, which had been under British rule for decades. The Egyptians’. . .

Read More >

Miruna, a Tale
Miruna, a Tale by Bogdan Suceavă
Reviewed by Alta Ifland

Miruna is a novella written in the voice of an adult who remembers the summer he (then, seven) and his sister, Miruna (then, six) spent in the Evil Vale with their grandfather (sometimes referred to as “Grandfather,” other times as. . .

Read More >

Kamal Jann
Kamal Jann by Dominique Eddé
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Kamal Jann by the Lebanese born author Dominique Eddé is a tale of familial and political intrigue, a murky stew of byzantine alliances, betrayals, and hostilities. It is a well-told story of revenge and, what’s more, a serious novel that. . .

Read More >

I Called Him Necktie
I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flašar
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

While looking back at an episode in his life, twenty-year-old Taguchi Hiro remembers what his friend Kumamoto Akira said about poetry.

Its perfection arises precisely from its imperfection . . . . I have an image in my head. I see. . .

Read More >

Return to Killybegs
Return to Killybegs by Sorj Chalandon
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The central concern of Sorj Chalandon’s novel Return to Killybegs appears to be explaining how a person of staunch political activism can be lead to betray his cause, his country, his people. Truth be told, the real theme of the. . .

Read More >

The Last Days
The Last Days by Laurent Seksik
Reviewed by Peter Biellp

Spoiler alert: acclaimed writer Stefan Zweig and his wife Lotte kill themselves at the end of Lauren Seksik’s 2010 novel, The Last Days.

It’s hard to avoid spoiling this mystery. Zweig’s suicide actually happened, in Brazil in 1942, and since then. . .

Read More >

Selected Stories
Selected Stories by Kjell Askildsen
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

To call Kjell Askildsen’s style sparse or terse would be to understate just how far he pushes his prose. Almost nothing is explained, elaborated on. In simple sentences, events occur, words are exchanged, narrators have brief thoughts. As often as. . .

Read More >

Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories
Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

After a mysterious woman confesses to an author simply known as “R” that she has loved him since she was a teenager, she offers the following explanation: “There is nothing on earth like the love of a child that passes. . .

Read More >

Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage
Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Reviewed by Will Eells

Floating around the internet amid the hoopla of a new Haruki Murakami release, you may have come across a certain Murakami Bingo courtesy of Grant Snider. It is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s funny because it’s true,. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >