Notes from BookExpo via @ShelfAwareness (I jump at any chance to promote translation!)

“We are here to talk about some trends and exciting projects in international literature with five very different perspectives,” said moderator Karen Phillips, executive director of Words Without Borders, to open yesterday’s panel discussion on the new wave of international fiction. “This is hopefully not the typical discussion in which we kind of wring our hands and moan and groan about how hard it is to publish and promote international literature. I think we all have heard that story and we know it well. This is instead a time to talk about what’s happening next, the exciting challenges and opportunities that you’re facing.”

Left to right: Karen Phillips, Johanna Castillo, Yuma Terada, Jenny McPhee, Juan Mila, Heddi Goodrich

Panelists were Heddi Goodrich, author of Lost in the Spanish Quarter(HarperVia, September); Juan Mila, executive editor of HarperOne Group; Jenny McPhee, author, translator and director of NYU Center for Applied Liberal Arts; and literary agents Yuma Terada, co-founder of CTB, and Johanna Castillo of Writers House.

Goodrich wrote the original manuscript of her novel in English a decade ago, but after extensive rewriting and re-editing, she still felt something was missing. Ultimately she realized that “I had the wrong language the whole time. And since I had learned Italian as a teenager, it was deeply ingrained in my brain and in my heart. And once I started rewriting the book in Italian, everything just came together magically…. So for me finding my voice in Italian was a real amazing moment in my life. This is me; this is what I was supposed to be doing.” She now writes in Italian and translates her own work.

Mila noted that with HarperVia, which is part of HarperOne Group, “We are creating a new imprint that will be very international…. There are wonderful stories out there to be published in translation and Heddi is a great example–the first book we acquired for HarperVia. We read it in Italian almost a year ago and we understood immediately that this was the kind of story that was going to help us bring these projects to readers in English…. And it had all the elements that kind of embody what the imprint wants to do.”

McPhee shared insights she gained while teaching literary translation to undergraduates at Princeton this past spring: “The exposure to world literature across time and geography was thrilling. And our discussions of the translation work showed how language difference shapes cultural and political difference. We were made acutely aware that the rest of the world does not speak, think and feel homogeneously, but in an infinite variety of ways…. As they continue their studies in various fields and on into their careers, these undergraduates will now be ambassadors for translation, spreading the idea that literature by its very nature is global literature; that it fosters and promotes intercultural communication as nothing else can.”

Terada said that he co-founded CTB six years ago “because we looked at the landscape and noticed that shockingly few contemporary authors of Japanese literature were being consistently translated and read, especially in the English language…. That struck us as quite strange, especially because we as editors work with many young contemporary authors who are commercially and critically successful, not only in Japan but also in many Asian countries compared to some of the authors you might have heard of here…. I think there are a lot of them in Japan, and we look forward to bringing out more of their works here.”

After leaving her previous role as an editor to return to being an agent, Castillo said, “it’s exciting to see what is happening now that I’m back on the other side, what the big publishers are doing. For me as an agent now it’s interesting to see that finally books in translation are being published as any other book written in English. It wasn’t that common years ago, and I think that’s really exciting. It’s probably also an answer to what is happening today in the world where we can communicate with each other in minutes…. I think that will be affecting literature and books in translation in general.”

“We are in the middle of this exciting wave for international fiction and it’s great to know that all of you are part of it,” Phillips observed. “So thank you for being here and celebrating international works.” —Robert Gray

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