Fundraiser to commission writing from Trump's banned countries

Fundraiser to commission writing from Trump's banned countries

An online literary journal is fundraising to commission new work and translations from the seven countries in Donald Trump’s "Muslim ban".

Award-winning magazine Asymptote is campaigning against the US president’s stance by trying to raise $30,000 (£24,000) for the project for its April issue. There is a week left to raise the remaining $17,000 (£13,600) to make the project happen. Authors such as Junot Díaz, Yann Martel and George Szirtes have added their voices in support. Organisers say 20% of all proceeds to US non-profit American Civil Liberties Union or British charity Refugees Welcome.

The 80-strong team will begin large-scale editorial research as well as commissioning a minimum of two new works and translations from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, in response to Trump’s executive order banning travel to the US from people in those countries. All contributors will be paid and the issue will either be published on the Asymptote website or on The Guardian (the journal's editor-in-chief Yew Leong curates the weekly Translation Tuesday showcase for the newspaper). Additionally one article from the edition will be selected for a multiple-translation project for which 10 to 20 additional translations will be commissioned.

Theophilus Kwek, chief executive assistant of the journal, told The Bookseller that the journal wanted to oppose Trump’s “terrifying” stance by “pushing back to say, ‘we exist’.”  

He said: “Each issue is based around a theme. We were considering themes for this year's issues when we heard about Trump’s stand. We want to help minority languages and writers who have been oppressed so when this opportunity came up we jumped on it. When we heard Trump's (banning order) it confirmed many of our worst fears, that would be man in office that he said he'd be. It was clear he wasn't kidding anymore which was terrifying.

“The initial signs [from his presidency] are not looking good, there are rumours about cutting endowments for arts in the US which helps artists and translators but people have come together in a distinctive way. We are pushing back to say ‘we exist, you can't sideline us by cutting funds’."

Kwek, who is studying an MA in Refugee Studies at Oxford University, became involved with the journal a year ago. He said: “We have tried to be a platform for marginilised voices and this comes at a time when the voices have been marginilised for a while. We hope it will position us as a platform for access and openness. We can use a springboard for other similar projects and stand up to nationalist sentiments which are on the rise around the world.

“In terms of submissions we have editors at large based around the world, in many of these countries. They will put out feelers in the literary community to people so we are open to submissions but also looking for them. We are keeping a more flexible approach when it comes to deadlines for submissions. What’s been encouraging over last few days is response from highly respected writers and translators, for example Yann Martel has blogged on the fundraiser page as well doing a video for us.”

The journal’s collaborator George Szirtes said: "Asymptote's excellent idea of publishing and spreading translations of works from writers in all the seven countries president Trump intends to ban will be the answer of eloquence to brutality, the answer of measure to crude rhetoric, the answer of real experience to alternative facts."

Asymptote has published new work from 109 countries and 90 languages by writers and translators such as J. M. Coetzee, Junot Díaz, and Haruki Murakami. It won the LBF Award for International Literary Translation Initiative in 2015. As well as quarterly issues, each featuring work from more than 25 countries, the journal also runs a daily blog, a fortnightly newsletter, and a podcast. The fundraising for the project finishes on Tuesday (21st February).

Last month not-for-profit publisher Comma Press and specialist Arabic presses Saqi Books and Darf Publishers announced plans to scale up their publishing output by focusing on underrepresented writers, particularly from the Middle East and North Africa.

Trump’s executive order bars citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US for a period of 90 days and suspends the US refugee system for a period of 120 days.

For more information, visit the fundraising page or asymptotejournal.com.