Independent publishers have been “spurred on” to continue producing works that give a voice to silenced nations following President Trump's controversial "travel ban".
Not-for-profit publisher Comma Press and specialist Arabic presses Saqi Books and Darf Publishers intend to scale up their publishing output by focusing on underrepresented writers, particularly from the Middle East and North Africa.
Comma Press has previously published translation by writers from the Middle East, including Independent Foreign Fiction Prize winner Hassan Blasim, an Iraqi national recently published in the US by Penguin. The ban will also affect over 20 other Comma authors, including contributors to anthologies such as The Book of Khartoum and Iraq + 100.
Comma Press publisher Ra Page told The Bookseller: "We are in the middle of selling rights to Iraq + 100 to the American market. This is the first anthology of science fiction from Iraq ever and has seen an amazing amount of interest from North America on social media. One of the contributors to this book, Anoud, recently moved to New York on a green card. She still doesn't know what her status is."
The press has decided to dedicate its entire translation activity in 2018 to writers from the seven affected countries - Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sudan - and is prepared to extend the programme should Trump decide to include other countries in the ban. It will be publish three anthologies of short fiction exclusively by writers from the region in 2017 and 2018, beginning with a specially commissioned e-book to be published this April, before the end of Trump’s 90-day ban - featuring of new short fiction from the banned nations.
The publisher's engagement manager Becky Harrison said: "This is one small way that we can show our solidarity with all those affected by Trump’s discriminatory ban. As publishers, we must work to ensure that Trump’s language and politics of hate fall on deaf ears, by providing a platform for those he is attempting to silence. We will not allow his divisive policies to go unchallenged."
Page added: "Reality has turned comic book farce, comic book evil. If the only narrative America wants to export right now is a narrative of hate, then we need to look elsewhere. Personally, I'd much rather hear voices from Somalia, Yemen or Iran than have to listen to yet another news report from America. We can learn far more from writers from these ‘banned’ countries than we can from the empty, recycled reality show that is American politics right now. We need to stop feeding it with our attention; we need to consciously turn our back on the circus that America is descending into."
Darf Publications has published several titles from the Middle East and North Africa, including The Confines of the Shadow by Alessandro Spina, Maps of the Soul by Ahmed Fagih, Hurma by Ali al-Muqri and Ebola '76 by Amir Tag Elsir.
Sherif Dhaimish, editorial project manager at Darf, told The Bookseller: "We published titles from these countries not only based on their literary merit in their original languages, but also because of the under-representation of such nationalities in translated literature. We are always seeking out new writers from the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region - this year alone we have works coming from and about Libya, Egypt and Syria, Morocco, with the possibility of others too from MENA. If anything, outrageous acts like Trump's 'Muslim ban', which may just be the beginning of a long line of discriminatory acts, only spur us on further to continue producing works from underrepresented countries, and give a voice to nations being silenced. A great example is African Titanics by Abu Bakr Khaal (Eritrea), which follows the story of an Eritrean refugee making the journey across Africa, and trying to escape into Europe.”
Fellow Arabic publisher, Saqi Books, will be publishing a collection of satirical writings and artwork, Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic, in response to the order in the next few months, which will include pieces from writers, comedians and cartoonists from around the world.
Lynn Gaspard, managing director of Saqi Books, is from Lebanon. She told The Bookseller: “My family and I come from a place where people kill each other because of their differences. This is why Saqi has always championed diversity and minority rights, publishing works that reflect our societies here as well as in the Middle East. Many of our authors are from and/or in the Middle East. What Trump has done is inhumane, dangerous and reckless. He has abandoned and condemned refugees when they are most desperate and devastated the hopes of people who have struggled to obtain visas to the US.
“We have to stand up for diversity, for human rights and for freedom of movement for people everywhere. We are in this industry because we believe in the power of words to affect change", she added.
Independent publisher OR Books yesterday (31st January) announced it had released President Trump Unveiled: Exposing The Bigoted Billionaire by John K Wilson.
Pearson chief executive John Fallon has also branded Donald Trump's travel ban policy "deeply worrying" in a rare political comment from the usually non-partisan education company and offered "all possible assistance" to affected employees.
This followed a pledge by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to fund the legal challenge to the ban, telling his employees in an email “the full extent of Amazon's resources are behind you”.