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Reading translated books can seem like an easy and simple way to broaden your perspective by leaps and bounds. Until you realize there is a surprising amount of similarity in the world of English translation. Some presses mainly publish works by white authors from European countries. Many only offer a tiny percentage of books written by non-male writers. Some seem especially interested in dead Frenchmen. Fortunately, there is are inclusive publishers of translations with various catalogs.
But hey, what exactly do I mean with terms like “diverse catalogs” and “inclusive publishers”? Am I talking about racial diversity? Well yes. But that’s a mixed yes, because how do I decide what’s diverse enough to be? I can’t, not really. And there is a lot of room for improvement on this point in the world of translation. For example, black writers just aren’t translated enough into English, as John Keene pointed out in “Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness.”
Basically I use ‘miscellaneous’ and ‘inclusive’ as shorthand to describe the output of working presses toward diversity and general inclusion. These publishers do better than the industry standard for racial and ethnic diversity. They do better than average in women’s publishing. They have published remarkable work that challenges norms of gender and sexuality. Moreover, their work is “diverse” in the sense that it shows variations in under-represented regions and groupings. This is important, because “diversity” efforts sometimes result in token gestures that seem condescending and foster stereotypes.
I do not mean that the presses below represent all marginalized groups. Or that it is a “better” list. It should also be noted that many translations are done in pieces. Some smaller presses may only have the budget to publish one or two translated books, period. So look for translations everywhere. Try the Publishers Weekly Translation Database, a project started by Chad Post of Open Letter Books. And if you have your own favorite editors doing inclusive translation work, let us know in the comments!
Tilted Axis is a relatively young press founded by Deborah Smith, who has translated the works of Korean authors Han Kang and Bae Suah. I can’t remember how I first heard about it, but it probably had something to do with follow Deborah Smith on Twitter. Since its inception in 2015, Tilted Axis has published a rich variety of translated literature from East, Southeast, South and Central Asia. And translations are mainly what they do. Their catalog is a great example of deeper diversity within a particular region. Bonus: They have a gorgeous and colorful range of stylish cover designs.
Recently, I was overwhelmed by Tokyo Ueno Station by author Yu Miri (translated from Japanese by Morgan Giles). Yu’s novel looks unflinchingly at social inequality and homelessness in Japan. The story’s narrator is a ghost, and the text has an invigorating yet dreamlike quality to it. Tilted Axis points out that Yu, who is Korean-Japanese, brings an “outside perspective” to her work.
Feminist Press, run by activist and writer Jamia Wilson, has been around since 1970. As its name suggests, it focuses on books written from feminist angles. Although they are not primarily translation publishers, they are currently one of the best places to find quality translations. In fact, I discovered them through a blog post by Meytal Radzinski, founder of WITMonth (Women in Translation Month).
You can browse the huge Feminist Press catalog through “Categories” (“Africans/African Americans”, “Middle East”, “LGBTQ”, etc.). Just keep an eye out for those translator signatures. You can also take a look at their “New Releases” to see if there are any translations among them.
Wondering where to start? The Bastard from Trifonia Melibea Obono (translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel) is worth a visit. It is the coming-of-age story of a girl who discovers her love for another girl on the fringes of a patriarchal society. The Bastard is the first novel by a woman from Equatorial Guinea to have a published English translation.
And other stories
And Other Stories was founded by translator Stefan Tobler in 2009. I discovered them when my mother bought me a gift subscription. Their subscriptions are great because you get books before “official” publication, usually about two months. Their books are kind of head-scratching. Often bizarre, sometimes mysterious, always out of the ordinary. Their focus on Latin American literature is remarkable, as it accounts for nearly 40% of their current translation catalog. They haven’t translated as many women from non-European countries or backgrounds as the other presses on this list. However, their recent reading groups for contemporary African and Brazilian literature may indicate that they are upping their game.
Moreover, they value and listen to their readers. In reading groups like the ones linked above, readers help consider titles for future translation. Assuming they continue these, you might have a say in what they post!
The iliac crest by Cristina Rivera Garza (translated by Sarah Booker) is a spooky and haunting gothic tale. It’s also quite funny sometimes. The main character first appears to be a man concerned about his masculinity. But appearances can be deceiving. This book invites questions about gender identity, language and existence. Interestingly enough, Feminist Press owns the US rights to it (And Other Stories is based in the UK).
Since Will Evans founded Deep Vellum in 2013, the Dallas-based press has published translations from every habitable continent except Australia. Deep Vellum pays attention to literature that uses non-traditional approaches to center marginalized perspectives. At least that’s the impression I got while reading their books. Their work got me thinking about the concrete ways in which marginalization can affect voice, form, content, etc. – and the power that these specificities can have. They also have their own bookstore and are active in their local community. I first heard about them from a friend who lived near Dallas at the time.
I recently found “Muslim”: A Novel by Zahia Rahmani (translated from French by Matt Reeck) interesting for the way it explores the complex questions of identity. More specifically, it examines Muslim identity within the imposed context of European society. I also like the work Emma Ramadan has done translating Anne Garréta, another French author, for Deep Vellum. Especially in Not One Day, which is a collection of personal essays on desire from a queer perspective. Well, sort of. You just have to read it and find out.
Try following these editors on Twitter to see announcements about upcoming work. Happy translated reading!