Looking back, it’s uplifting to see how far Project Plume has come along in the five months since its public launch. As we symbolically kick off a new decade, there is also a lot to look forward to — just today, we announced the shortlisted contributors of our upcoming pilot print anthology, Issue Zero — and we can’t wait to share it with the world.
Of course, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the support of our followers and readers, the devotion of our volunteer-run team – Cindy Brzostowski, Nathan Fields, Jin Kim, Elis Yurtsever – and the generous collaborators who gifted us their time and talent, of which there are too many to list (you know who you are!).
We also owe every achievement of the past year to the community around us: the publishing institutions, writers, translators, and activists toiling every day to innovate industry practices, engage curious readers, and reshuffle the status quo in publishing. As a grateful tribute, Project Plume founder Salwa Benaissa reflects on the blogs, books, events, and individuals that made 2019 a year to remember.
Miss Read 2019, Berlin
Miss Read is a book fair with a difference that takes place annually at the Haus de Kulteren der Welt in Berlin. Over a long weekend in May 2019, the event hosted around 300 independent publishers from all corners of the world for the ninth year running. Going beyond ‘the art book fair’ as we know it, Miss Read reimagines the boundless forms that grassroots publishing can take. Last year was my first time attending and I spent several heavenly hours each day browsing the rows of beautiful printed matter (and spending all my cash).
Miss Read 2019 also marked the launch of one of my favourite book purchases of the past year, Publishing Manifestos, edited by Michalis Pichler and co-published by Miss Read and The MIT Press. Anyone and everyone interested in publishing must get their claws on this international collection of critical texts by artists and writers from 1914-2019. Don’t skip the foreword by Pichler, an enjoyable read that questions the limitations of the term ‘art book’, while framing publishing practice as an art form in itself. Amen to that!
To quote Pichler: “Art book fairs today are not only a venue for representing a separate, prior publishing scene, they are also a central forum for constituting and nurturing a community around publishing as artistic practice.” My 2020 calendar is already marked with the next Miss Read installment coming up on June 5 – 7… see you there?
Anyone involved with the ‘women in translation’ movement will be familiar with the brilliant Translating Women blog by Dr. Helen Vassallo (who was also Project Plume’s first interviewee when we launched in August 2019). Translating Women is regularly updated with invaluable insight into the publishing practices of translated literature in the UK, including Helen’s reviews of books by women in English translation, fascinating interviews with translators and publishers, and apt op-eds on issues that relate to the ensuing gender gap in international publishing.
Though it’s difficult to pinpoint a single ‘best’ blogpost amid the wealth of entries in 2019, Helen’s #BeMoreOlga response to Olga Tockarzcuk’s Nobel Prize win stands out for its catchiness. The hashtag reached peak offline impact when Olga Tockarzuk herself proudly touted Helen’s pin at the Nobel prize-giving ceremony earlier this month! If you’re looking for good reading recommendations for the new year, Translating Women’s Best Books of 2019 round-up is also definitely worth checking out.
Meytal Radzinski founded Women In Translation Month in August 2014 but, for me, #WITMonth2019 will always maintain a particularly special place in my heart as it also coincides with the launch of this blog. 2019 was also the year I had the great pleasure to meet Meytal in person. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is no doubt in my mind that Plume would not exist without her prior efforts to advocate for women in translation.
By reviewing translated literature on her wonderful Biblibio blog and campaigning for #WitMonth through her Twitter account, Meytal has led her literary movement from obscurity to attaining wider worldwide recognition with every year that passes. If reading more women in translation is one of your New Year resolutions, you would do well to start with Meytal’s compilation of 100 Best Books by Women In Translation (based on a public Twitter survey during #WitMonth2019).
Women in Translation Tumblr
An invaluable resource for everything ‘women in translation’, the WiT Tumblr by Margaret Carson and Alta L. Price has been very active in sharing articles and collating data about women in translated literature throughout the year. Check out their selection of highlighted posts from 2019 embedded below.
Translating Feminisms / Tilted Axis Press
One of my favourite publishing projects of 2019 has to be Translating Feminisms, a unique chapbook collection produced by the WiT champions at Tilted Axis Press. The collection features Tamil, Nepalese, Korean, and Vietnamese poets in English translation alongside thought-provoking essays that question what ‘feminism’ looks like in different cultural contexts.
Beautifully designed and printed to resemble pocket-sized manifesto pamphlets, this well-edited series is a perfect testament to TAP’s “wider project of decolonisation through & of translation”. While the bundle is sold out, you can read more about Translating Feminisms and order the chapbooks individually here. And if you’re generally into the kind of literature that makes you (me?) so giddy you get weak in the knees, then treat your 2020 self and become a TAP subscriber!
Feebleminded by Ariana Harwicz / Charco Press
One of the reasons I dislike writing reviews of books I adore is because I feel any words I have to offer simply cannot can’t do the work justice. This is the case with the unforgettable Feebleminded by Argentinan novelist Ariana Harwicz, translated by Carolina Orloff (founder and director of Charco Press) and edited by Annie McDermott. It is undoubtedly my favourite book by a woman in translation of the past year, as well as from Charco Press, which is saying a lot considering how many fantastic releases there were to choose from. The compact novel yanks us into the middle of a volatile relationship between mother and daughter, the prose pulsing and rollicking between lyrical and ferocious, a combination that Harwicz masters betters than any other writer I can think of. It is also a book that reminds me how grateful I am to have discovered Charco Press (thanks, Helen and the Translating Women blog!) for the opportunity to access such talent. I’ve already read it twice and strongly suspect the book will live on in my new year reading list, along with Charco Press’s 2020 lineup, available to order online.
Translating Women Conference 2019, London
It goes without saying that the greatest highlight of my year was being able to attend and present Project Plume at the first-ever Translating Women Conference on October 31st-November 1st, 2019 in London’s Senate House. Co-organised by Dr. Helen Vassallo of the Translating Women blog and Dr. Olga Castro, the event brought many of the world’s WiT heroes (including some mentioned in this blogpost, such as Meytal Radzinski, Margaret Carson, Ariana Harwicz, and Annie McDermott) in the same physical space to exchange insights stemming from a range of disciplines and cultures.
For an overview of the fascinating talks and papers given, check out my report on #TWconf2019. You can also read about the event in the blog post by Margaret Carson and Barbara Spicer‘s conference report for the Institute of Modern Languages Research. Best part? We each got our very own #BeMoreOlga pin!
Second Shelf Books, L0ndon
2019 was the year that kept on giving and it wound down on the most pleasant note ever: on my way home for winter break, I made a stopover in London and had the chance to visit Second Shelf Books after more than a year coveting its book covers via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook posts. Tucked away from the Soho hustle-bustle in a corner of Smiths Court, the shop is well-stocked with beautifully-organised rare books and modern first editions by women writers. More than just my favourite bookshop visit in 2019, I’ve ordained it as my favourite of all time… heck, I wish I could live in it!
I was lucky to meet the owner, A.N. Denvers (pictured above beside the shop’s first art exhibition). The bookseller of my dreams, she was accommodating enough to pause what seemed like important work to offer a comprehensive tour of the gems on her shelves. I also got my hands on Second Shelf’s in-house literary quarterly of the same name, a beautiful print magazine on antiquarian books and movements by and for women writers. Issue 02, out now, offers a fascinating tribute to Angela Carter’s bookshelf and Joanna Walsh’s #ReadWomen movement… and this brings us to my final ‘thing to be grateful for’.
In a very recent end-of-year tweet, writer and book blogger Matt Jakubowski noted how in 2019 there’d been zero mainstream press coverage (notwithstanding the tribute in Second Shelf!) about the #ReadWomen movement, inaugurated by the legendary Joanna Walsh in tandem with her initiative to make 2014 The Year of Reading Women. During its year of inception, the hashtag had grown to 20,000 followers in its year of inception,
interesting… i had plenty of advice on going ‘bigger’ with @Read_Women but… i had my own work to do, and also very much wanted to keep it a grassroots in terms of open access, freedom to take, borrow, pass the idea on; no hierarchies, no finance, no trad media, no plan 🙂 https://t.co/erLFKtnysW
— Joanna Walsh (@badaude) December 28, 2019
In spite of the media overlooking #ReadWomen in 2019, it has maintained great momentum in bookish online communities, and is still going strong on Twitter. So, to undo the ills of 2019, I want to start 2020 on the right foot and echo this well-deserved mention as a reminder for anyone taking an active role in rebalancing their bookshelves in the year to come. Remember to #ReadWomen and challenge your reader-friends with it!
Although I’ve certainly missed a whole bunch of other things I’m grateful for in 2019, I’ll leave it here at the risk of going on forever, and crane my neck forward toward all the exciting ‘things to be grateful for in 2020’. There’s a lot coming up on Plume’s end in the forthcoming weeks and we can’t wait to share more about Issue Zero as it heads for production and funding. Stay tuned for more details on that — in the meantime, Happy New Year to all!
Text by Salwa Benaissa