“Without translation, I would be limited to the borders of my own country. The translator is my most important ally.” —Italo Calvino
Translations matter because they remind us of shared values among different cultures, revitalize our own languages, and help us grow by breaking stereotypes we may have accepted unintentionally. It is in literature where we have opportunities to imagine what it is to live other lives. And it is often in translated works where we learn to drop the expectation that writers from non-dominant countries (literary or politically) write only to bring representation to their culture. Instead, translations show us that we have many of the same concerns, loves, and experiences across borders.
Growing up in Mexico, I admired and loved literary translators. It was thanks to them that some of the books that shaped me were available to me. Looking back, I cannot imagine my childhood without the characters who lived in worlds far away from mine, and who, had it not been for a translator, would only speak in languages I could not understand.
Traditional publishing houses bring us classics from around the world, but independent presses are the ones bringing attention to new original talent. The opportunity to read works by contemporary international writers is mostly possible these days thanks to a growing movement by independent presses who facilitate the traveling of works from countries far and close.
A press I have admired for many years is Archipelago Books. Their books are carefully put together, inside and out. Having a book by Archipelago Books in one’s hand, one knows it is special. Their titles represent a philosophy based on an appreciation of “Artistic exchange between cultures [as] a crucial aspect of global understanding [because] literature can act as a catalyst to dissolve stereotypes and to reveal a common humanity between people of different nationalities, cultures, and backgrounds.”
The Spring 2022 catalog includes distant transit, a poetry collection by Maja Haderlap, translated from the German by Tess Lewis; the novel Salka Valka by Halldór Laxness, translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton; Moldy Strawberries by Caio Fernando Abreu, translated from the Portuguese by Bruna Dantas Lobato; A Postcard for Annie by Ida Jessen, translated from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken; and Whale by Myeong-kwan Cheon, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim. So far, Archipelago Books has published close to 200 books from more than 35 languages to “increase cross-pollination between readers, writers, thinkers, and educators across borders.”
Elsewhere Editions is Archipelago Books’ international children’s imprint “devoted to translating imaginative works of children’s literature from all corners of the world.” Elsewhere books aim to cultivate an appreciation for many cultures in young readers. Their titles show the careful consideration of children as serious readers whose understanding of the world has the power to transform it.
The spring 2022 catalog includes Blaze and the Castle Cake for Bertha Daye by Claude Ponti, translated from the French by Alyson Waters & Margot Kerlidou. Previous books published by Elsewhere Editions include translations from the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, Estonian, and Chinese. Their forthcoming title, What Feelings Do When No One’s Looking by Tina Oziewicz is illustrated by Aleksandra Zajaç, and translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft.
Back in 2015, during the first three years of its life, I helped co-found the indie press Veliz Books with poet and translator Laura Cesarco Eglin. “Veliz” is an out-of-use word in Spanish that means suitcase. I remember my grandmother getting her velices ready to go places. Much like the gifts my grandmother would bring back from her travels for friends and family, I imagined the press bringing to the U.S. the work of authors that had not crossed the border yet. Our objective was to share the work of emerging writers from the U.S. and Latin America, the latter in bilingual editions. Since then, the press has grown to include translations from Portuguese and Galician, and it has a new imprint, Toad Press International chapbook series, which publishes chapbook-length translations of poetry and prose. Their latest book in translation is The Face of the Quartzes by Chus Pato, translated from the Galician by Erín Moure. In it, Pato “creates a manual for living that is one with birds, with animals, with peaks and trains and lighthouses, and with women who undertake journeys toward life (the improper) and spring (renewal).”
Every book I have read by Deep Vellum has altered how I think of the world. Deep Vellum was founded in 2013 “with the mission to bring the world into conversation through literature.” In their first five years, Deep Vellum published 90 works in translation by international writers. These days, it has expanded its operations to encompass five publishing imprints and to publish English-original books.
Its 2021 catalog includes Radna Fabias’s Habitus, translated by David Colmer, a poetic perspective on the Black Lives Matter era by a Black Dutch poet originally from Curaçao. Palestine +100 gathers writers of the global Palestinian diaspora. Sara Goudarzi’s The Almond in the Apricot and Dalia Azim’s Country of Origin offer two profoundly affecting debut novels of the global diasporic and immigrant story. Also in 2021, Deep Vellum published Sergio Pitol’s first novel to ever appear in English, The Love Parade, translated by George Henson. Deep Vellum’s books are more than a window to other worlds, they are statements rooted in social justice. The voices of international writers Deep Vellum is bringing to the U.S. are powerful, beautiful, and not to be missed.
Alliteration Publishing is a new project born in Miami Beach that “invites us to construct and traverse bridges of meaning, acceptance, and understanding.” Their mission is to publish work that “echo loud and soft, with confidence and fragility…” The editorial team of Alliteration Publishing brings together creators, writers, and editors from Miami, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Caracas, and Barcelona. The titles include translations not only to English but from Spanish to Italian with bilingual editions that include the original work and the translation. 2021 titles include Annapurna: The Empirical Mountain (Fables of a Quasi-Metaphysical Civil Servant) by Igor Barreto, translated from the Spanish by Rowena Hill. Zoocosis by Manuel Llorens is one of their titles translated from the Spanish to Italian by Silvio Mignano.
Transit Books, founded in 2015, is a nonprofit publisher of international and American literature, based in Oakland, California. Their publications are “committed to the discovery and promotion of enduring works that carry readers across borders and communities.” This press focuses is on literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, essay, “and prose that falls somewhere in between.” In 2020, Transit Books introduced Undelivered Lectures, a narrative nonfiction series featuring book-length essays by international and American writers. “We want to provide an outlet for discursive prose of exceptional literary and cultural value that’s more lasting than a magazine piece but less substantial than a 300-page hardback,” said Transit publisher Adam Levy. Their titles include books translated from the Spanish, French, German, Dutch, and Portuguese. One of their recent titles, Migratory Birds by Mariana Oliver, translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches, is a 2022 finalist for the PEN America Translation Prize.
Enchanted Lion Books
Enchanted Lion Books is an independent company that publishes books for children based in Brooklyn, New York. They have published books from authors and illustrators in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Japan, Switzerland, and the U.S. The intention behind their books is to connect young readers to the “wonderfully diverse modes of expression that exist in the world, so that in the end they will feel that the whole world — with all of its wonderful, surprising and very real similarities and differences — is their home.”
One Day by Lee Juck and illustrated by Kim Seung-youn, translated by Asuka Minamoto, Lee Juck, and Dianne Chung, was one of World Literature Today’s 100 Notable Translations of 2021. One of Enchanted Lion Books’ forthcoming titles includes the fully illustrated selection of Book of Questions by Pablo Neruda in a Spanish-English bilingual edition, which will include 70 questions of the original 320.
We are fortunate to live in a time when there are many indie presses publishing work in translation in the U.S. who are dedicated to expanding how we communicate. When I read a book in translation, I find myself pausing more, taking more time to visualize scenes that would be unusual where I am. Entering a work in translation as an adult feels very close to the feeling of going to imaginary places as a child. Translators bridge experiences and create lines of understanding where otherwise there would be silence or mistrust.
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