Tilted Axis on utilising community-based publishing to increase diversity

Tilted Axis Press was committed to at least gender parity when we were founded in 2015, and three years in we’re well over that 50% target. But numbers are only one part of the issue: what occupies us now is not merely how to publish more women, but how to publish them well. Particularly given our focus on writing from Asia, we’re motivated simultaneously by Malayali translator and scholar J. Devika’s assertion that “translating women authors from regional languages is an important escape route from the overbearing and overwhelming patriarchies that have shaped and continue to shape regional literary publics,” and the influence on UK publishing of orientalising white feminism which, in Rafia Zakaria’s words, “rewards Arab women writers who choose intentionally or unintentionally to be the victim, escapee or pawn.”

The most effective solution would simply be an increase in diversity in all senses – formal, stylistic, regional, and across gender, ethnicity and sexuality – so that no single book will be taken as a ‘representative’ synecdoche of any country or culture as a whole. But Tilted Axis publishes only a handful of books a year. The tide is turning, though, and it’s often indie publishers who act as industry vanguards, our risk-taking gradually filtering into the mainstream. Our response to Kamila Shamsie’s call for a Year of Publishing Women is a set of chapbooks titled Translating Feminisms – our intention being to showcase some of the finest poets and translators at work today, as well as to critically explore that label ‘feminist’, which many writers (particularly though not exclusively in Asia) find reductive and problematic.
 
Our first chapbook features translations by both the late Lakshmi Holmström and Meena Kandasamy of work by four female poets from Tamil Nadu – Salma, Malathi Maithri, Kutti Revathi, and Sukirtharani. Then we have Nhã Thuyên, translated from Vietnamese by Kaitlin Rees, a wonderful duo who co-run the Hanoi-based press AJAR. Their chapbook came about through the International Literature Showcase, a joint project between the National Centre for Writing (formerly Writers Centre Norwich) and the British Council, who are also funding a Vietnamese translation of our poetry/visual art collection, Indigenous Species by Khairani Barokka, which AJAR will publish in July. And rounding out the initial trio is Muna Gurung translating Sulochana Manandhar, the perfect example of a poet incredibly well-known in her home country (in this case, Nepal) who deserves to find a much wider audience.
 
As well as the poetry, each chapbook features a short essay which foregrounds the intimate nature of these collaborations, ensuring our writers the opportunity to contextualise their own work. Because translation is not about ‘giving a voice’, but listening to those who are already speaking.
 
Our art director Soraya Viljoen has made some characteristically beautiful covers riffing off the ’70s DIY protest poster aesthetic, and is also designing a print that we’re offering as one of our Kickstarter perks, based on ‘Utopian’ ideas of how feminism might translate, and which spring from conversations we're having with our authors. Tina Xu’s video also offers a sense of that.
 
Because we’re using the chapbook format to reimagine models of collective and/or community publishing, crowdfunding felt appropriate. Plus, we simply couldn’t afford to publish this series otherwise. Our core funding comes from Arts Council England, but funding for individual translations always needs to be sourced separately. Only a handful of Asian countries, most notably South Korea and Japan, have specific translation funding programs, and being limited to those languages wouldn’t do much for our aim of diversity. We only manage to publish a broader range of languages – Thai, Uzbek, Turkish, Bengali – through a) only publishing three to six books per year, and b) the incredible generosity of English PEN – their PEN Translates program has funded almost 50% of the titles we’ve published and signed so far, which is pretty astonishing.
 
We’re halfway into our Kickstarter campaign, and Translating Feminisms is about 70% funded with a little over two weeks to go. So many people have already supported us – we're incredibly grateful, and excited to do more.