Archive for April, 2010

Alex Epstein at PEN World Voices, Boston University, the wonderful Schoen Books, and it seems all over the internet

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

First, for those of you who are local: on Sunday, May 2, at 7 pm, Alex Epstein and Becka McKay will read from Blue Has No South at one of the Valley’s great independent bookstores, Schoen Books.  Afterward we’ll have a Q and A about translation, the short-short story in world literature, and whatever comes up. Please join us!

Alex has been at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York all this week. See him Friday at the “Short Stories: Past, Present, and Future” panel with Preston L. Allen, Aleksander Hemon, Yiyun Li, and Martin Solares, moderated by Deborah Treisman.

What virtues and challenges are unique to the short story? How flexible is the form? And why is it that, even now—after Poe, Chekhov, Hemingway, O’Connor, Nabokov, and Munro—the short story often gets less respect, in terms of prizes and critical esteem, than the novel? Join acclaimed practitioners of the form from Bosnia, Israel, China, Mexico, and the United States, for a conversation with The New Yorker fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, about the past, present, and future of the short story.

On Friday evening, he’ll be part of the festival’s famous translation slam, which I wish we could make it to…

For those of you in Boston: on Saturday, May 1, Alex and Becka will read as part of the Bay State Underground‘s reading series, at 236 Bay State Road (the basement of the AGNI offices) at 6 pm.


On Monday, Alex participated in Guernica magazine’s panel “The Diversity Test: Gender and Literature in Translation,” with Lorraine Adams, Esther Allen, and Norman Rush, moderated by Claire Messud.  Watch the panel online here. Many thanks to Guernica for hosting this event and making it available on the web.

You can also find a new interview with Alex, “Almost Blue: Israel’s New Borges,” and excerpt from Blue Has No South up at Forward.  And another interview here at the Jewish Week.

PEN also has an interview with Alex up here

Alta Ifland: You were eight years old when you came to Israel from Russia, so I would like to ask you a question about the relationship between mother tongue and writing.  Paul Celan and Czeslaw Milosz… have said that a true poet can only write in his/her mother tongue.  What do you think of this?  What language do you consider to be your mother-tongue?  (Some writers, like George Steiner, claim that they don’t have a (single) mother-tongue).

Alex Epstein: I don’t have a mother tongue—in order to write in Hebrew I had, in a way, to forget my Russian.  It was one of the triggers that made an author out of me…   I guess that Hebrew “adopted” me—I write in Hebrew, I “live” in Hebrew, I dream in Hebrew, but since it’s not my first language, it’s more an “adoptive” tongue than a mother tongue.

Then there’s “Ten Approximations” from Blue Has No South up online, from PEN America 12: Correspondences.

A rich array of offerings—Alex and Becka are proving hard to keep up with! Western Massachusetts dwellers, we hope to see you Sunday.

Quote of the day

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Why Translation Matters

Reading Edith Grossman’s engaging new Why Translation Matters on the plane back from Miami last week led me back to Jose Ortega y Gasset’s essay “The Misery and the Splendor of Translation.” Grossman’s neat summary: Ortega y Gasset calls “translation a utopian enterprise, but, he said, so too is any human undertaking, even the effort to communicate with another human being in the same language.” (Endearing, isn’t it?)

From the essay, translated by Elizabeth Gamble Miller:

To write well is to make continual incursions into grammar, into established usage, and into accepted linguistic norms. It is an act of permanent rebellion against the social environs, a subversion. To write well is to employ a certain radical courage.

Or, as Hilary and I often sign our emails to each other, Resist!

On the way down, I saw the flower I hadn’t seen on the way up

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010
Ko Un

Ko Un

Tuesday night, though I didn’t think I had any energy left, I persuaded my daughter to eat sushi with me and then go hear the great Korean poet, Ko Un, read at an event sponsored by the Smith Poetry Center.

You never know when the world will break open for you—when life will seem more alive. From the moment Ko Un leapt onto the stage (literally: refused the stairs the translators took, the stairs there for that purpose, the stairs everyone uses), he held us completely. After saying that a poem is not to be understood through the words on the page (which I think he, or the translator, called “code”), but through sound, he proceeded to embody exactly that. The sound of his voice was all. He spoke his poems in Korean with such precision, uttering a line in an urgent whisper, the next  in a rising howl, his whole body gesture: the poet became the poem.

Though he was speaking in a language I don’t know, listening I had no doubt that he would make me understand. I watched, delighted to see my daughter’s wide-eyed astonishment match mine. “Now I want to learn Korean,” she said, when we rushed out of the auditorium, breathless, late, into the night. Yes, I thought: I want to learn that language.

That language. Which could be English.

You can watch a similar performance of Un with Richard Silber at the Dodge poetry festival (though he was even more spectacular Tuesday night, and that performance will one day soon be available on DVD at the Nielson library). Some books of his in English: Ten Thousand Lives (Maninbo) from Green Integer and “What?” from Parallax.

Though the more immediate point I took away is spring’s: Don’t sleep now! Prepare to be astonished!

This weekend in Amherst: the 10th annual Juniper Literary Festival

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

For those of you in the Valley, the Juniper Literary Festival is this weekend, with a great program honoring the ten-year anniversary of jubilat. Clockroot will have a wee bit of a table, honored to be elbow to elbow with a selection of truly fantastic poetry presses & magazines (see below), and other UMass MFA-program-related endeavors (one teaser: Microfilme magazine, dedicated to the preservation of writing that shouldn’t be read with the naked eye…). Come by!

Friday April 23

3:30 pm Eric Carle Museum: Antonio Frasconi Exhibit Tour: curator tours of the internationally acclaimed artist’s woodcuts, including works inspired by Pablo Neruda and W.S. Merwin

4:30 pm: Eric Carle Museum: Roundtable: On Poetry & The Visual Arts: Jen Bervin, Terrance Hayes, & Matthea Harvey, moderated by Jane Curley

6 pm: Fine Arts Center Lobby: Independent Journal & Book Fair Opening Reception

7:30 pm: University Gallery: Reading & Performance: Jen Bervin, Christian Hawkey, & Michael Teig, followed by the premier of a performance based on Christopher Smart’s “Jubilate Agno,” staged by Missoula Oblongata

Saturday April 24

10:30 am: Fine Arts Center Lobby: Journal & Book Fair Continues

11 am: University Gallery: Roundtable: Poetry, Publishing, & the Pioneer Valley : the dreaming up, creating, & evolving of jubilat, Verse Press/Wave Books & Rain Taxi with Rob N. Casper, Matthew Zapruder, & Eric Lorberer, moderated by Dara Wier

12:30 pm: University Gallery: Roundtable: The Future of Poetry, Part II with Heather Christle, Cathy Park Hong, Evie Shockley, & Rebecca Wolff, moderated by Rob N. Casper

3 pm: Amherst Cinema Arts Center: Reading: Terrance Hayes, Caroline Knox, Dean Young, & Matthew Zapruder

Journal and Book Fair Participants Include

A Public Space, Action, Amherst Books, Adventures in Poetry, Aufgabe, Bateau, Black Ocean, Boston Review, The Canary, Canarium, Clockroot, Conjunctions, Factory Hollow Press, Forklift, Ohio, H_NGM_N, Hobart, Jellyfish, jubilat, Kelly Writers’ House, Kenyon Review, Magic Helicopter, Massachusetts Review, Microfilme, Noo, Nor by Press, notnostrums, Now Culture, Open City, Paris Press, PennSound, Pilot Press, Pocket Myths, Poetry Northwest, Poetry Society of America, Publishing Genius, Rain Taxi, Schoen Books, Slope Editions, Small Beer Press, Thermos, Ugly Duckling Presse, Walser Society, Wave Books, Zephyr Press

Absinthe recommends Rien ne va plus

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Absinthe 13 showed up on my step last week, with not only what looks like an extremely tempting selection of Romanian literature, but a warm note on Rien ne va plus in the “Absinthe recommends” section.  I’ve been overdue to give Absinthe a well-deserved nod and thank you on this blog—for those of you who don’t yet know the magazine, it is a wonderful venue for translations from European literatures, and reviews thereof, and we at Clockroot were honored that it was one of the first places to welcome Ersi Sotiropoulos’s short stories in English, publishing the story “Stella,” which would later be collected into Landscape with Dog.  Check it out—

The Geometry of God in Ploughshares

Friday, April 16th, 2010

In this spring’s Ploughshares, Akshay Ahuja reviews The Geometry of God:

Set in Pakistan, Uzma Aslam Khan’s novel is an eloquent rebuttal to its own character’s claim about modern Islam’s single-mindedness. Skipping across eras and registers of culture—and showing devotion to pleasures as diverse as Elvis Presley and the Mu’tazilites, Aflatoon (the Arabic name for Plato) and evolutionary biology—it is both an example of and an argument for the essential hybridity of every society. “A language is like a person or a whale,” Mehwish, one of Zahoor’s granddaughters, says, “it comes from something else…it is mixed not pure.” In Pakistan, which literally means “land of the pure,” this proves to be a dangerous sentiment for all the characters.

Read the whole review here

Adania Shibli in London: Why Does Translation into English Matter?

Friday, April 16th, 2010

As per our earlier post, and this update, Adania Shibli cannot be in Beirut for the Beirut 39 festival, but she is participating in a number of wonderful events surrounding the London Book Fair. Those of you in the UK, be sure to check them out:

Join Adania and many other superb festival writers at International PEN’s Free the Word! literary lunch, Sunday, April 18, at the Young Vic.

And on April 19 at the London Book Fair, see the panel “Why Does Translation into English Matter?”, with Adania, Bill Swainson (senior editor, Bloomsbury), Amanda Hopkinson (professor, University of East Anglia), Donato Ndongo-Bidyogo, and Marlene Van Niekerk, moderated by Ros Schwartz:

What does it mean to an international writer to be translated into the English language? An increased readership, certainly, and a moment of recognition. But what are the wider artistic implications?

How do translators interpret their role and responsibility? What are the rewards of translating literature into English, and how central is contemporary literature in translation to the cultural consciousness of this country? What is its significance for the UK publishing industry?

English PEN brings together an international panel to discuss the literary, personal, and cultural importance of being translated into English.

Notes from AWP (1): Be a fan

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Pam and I are just back from an excellent AWP that hit all the notes (warm embraces of, cold drinks with those we’d only known virtually—readings at which we grinned and others cringed, hands over their faces—mysteriously missing books—bureaucratic red tape and the trials of the little man in the face of UPS—glimpses of adored writers of our pasts, writers to be newly adored in our futures—snarkiness, sentiment, tears, chase scenes)—there will be plenty to say of it, but this quickly: I had the pleasure of being someone’s “first fan” (I hope, first at the fair, not ever so encountered)—I spotted the amazing Nina Shope at the Starcherone table, and stopped to tell her how much I had loved her Hangings and how I always stopped at Starcherone at whichever fair to see if there was anything forthcoming from her.  I’m waiting for the new book, I said.  My first fan! she said.  I read the stunning three novellas in Hangings three years ago, and had one of those glorious moments where you realize, Ah, so this is possible.  At a lovely dinner that evening with Pam and Jed Berry (also of the fantastic Valley-based Small Beer Press), I recounted my fandom, and how inspiring it had been especially compared to the glummer moments of the conference (the aftermath of the economic downturn, the occasional sinking feeling that somehow there may be more writers than readers…).  Jed said that he too had just gotten to meet someone and in expressing his admiration, be their first fan.  (The writer’s name, like too much else right now, escapes me.)

And so I thought, a goal for times & book fairs to come: To be someone’s first fan.  Loudly, sweetly, embarrassingly, pushily, humbly—as readers and writers, to keep the myriad paths of fandom well trod.

More soon!  Good to see you all in Denver—

Shibli blocked from Beirut festival

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

After flying across the country and arriving in Denver for one big gathering of writers, we just learned the distressing news that Adania Shibli and Ala Hlehel, both Israeli Arab writers, won’t be allowed to travel to Beirut next week to participate in the Beirut39 festival, where their writing is being honored. (They’ll receive their awards in London instead, on April 15.)

This isn’t the first time this has happened to Adania. We’ll post later the wonderful essay she wrote the last time this happened to her —it seems to have been taken off the web. Not to attribute anything sinister.

Now we’ve got a bookfair to attend, where  our complaints about sketchy internet connections and smashed cartons of books now seem small.

Our books are even better at high altitude

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Come visit us this week in Denver at AWP 2010!  Exhibit hall A, table D14.  You may even catch Alex Epstein and Becka McKay signing Blue Has No South.  (And we’ll be featuring a special guest appearance from Akashic Books.)

On Saturday, April 10th, Alex is giving the introduction at the Denver Film Society’s Evening with Etgar Keret.  Hope to see you there—


(OK, a few minutes on Wikipedia educates me that “Mile-High” isn’t high altitude. So I can’t prove my title claim yet. But I can say that we will have truly stunning literature in translation, one heck of a banner, and we would love to see you.)