Two Words: The Blog of the Center for the Art of Translation

On Turning 21

Posted on January 20, 2015, 03:37:00 PM by Olivia Sears, Center Founder and President

The debut of Two Lines 21 this last fall marked our 21st issue as well as the beginning of our 21st year. The idea that reaching the age of 21 marks the entry into adulthood harkens back to English common law when a man could enter the knighthood — and of course this milestone was only relevant to men, and men of a certain class.

But 21 has been very good to women at Two Lines. In addition to the numerous impressive women translators in our pages (as always!), I'll draw attention to two fascinating women writers we feature in Two Lines 21.  Chika Sagawa, the pen name of Aiko Kawasaki, was born in 1911 in Hokkaido, Japan. One of Japan's first female Modernist poets — as well as a prolific translator of Joyce and Woolf during her brief lifetime — her strange and vivid poems were posthumously collected in 1936, but only now brought to English by Sawako Nakayasu. Unlike Sagawa, the award-winning dystopic writer Hon Lai Chu has lived to see her work published widely; the award-winning Hong Kong writer has twice had her novels counted among the 10 best Chinese novels. Here translator Andrea Lingenfelter brings to English “Lin Mu yizi” (“Forrest Woods, Chair”), the story of a man who aspires to be the perfect chair. It is a strange world we live in.

2014 was a great year for books by women at Two Lines Press, too, where we had the opportunity to publish the astounding Naja Marie Aidt, whose stories in Baboon evoke the dark forces lurking in our everyday existence — and Marie NDiaye, whose Self-Portrait in Green proves her mastery of the slippery and unreliable nature of reality. (read excerpts of Baboon and Self-Portrait in Green here)

But there is only so much one can do to rectify the mistakes and crimes of history; most of the poetry anthologies published in Italy, for instance, include no more than 10% women. At the 2014 American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) conference, a prominent editor of poetry from Latin America told me that he struggled to find enough poetry by women from certain nations to balance his anthology.

Then again, this week we learned that Lydia Davis (whose translations will be featured again in Two Lines 22 this March) has been named Officer and Chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Letters for her writing and translation. (That's right: she's been granted knighthood.)

All of this is to say: we strive to honor the vision of women writers of the past. And to you women writers and translators of the present: keep it up! We need you.