Special issue: South Asian Writing

The International Writing Program, with its long history of South Asian participants, welcomes two guest editors.


Guest editors:

Shabnam Nadiya is a Bangladeshi writer and translator based in the US. She is currently translating Shaheen Akhtar's novel Beloved Rongomala and Moinul Ahsan Saber’s novel Kobej Lethel from the Bangla. Her work can be found at http://shabnamnadiya.com/.

Daisy Rockwell is a writer, painter, and translator living in Vermont. She holds a PhD in Hindi literature from the University of Chicago; her translations of Upendranath Ashk’s novel Falling Walls (2015) and short story collection Hats and Doctors (2013) were published by Penguin Classics, India. She has published many story translations, a novel (Taste; 2014) and The Little Book of Terror (2012), a collection of paintings and essays on America’s War on Terror.

                                                New translations of South Asian writing.            

You need an introduction, the Chief Editor said. What is your overarching vision for this issue?

               We felt a little stumped. The truth was we hadn’t thought in terms of thematic or stylistic or linguistic cohesion. Our vision, if we could deem it such, had been fundamental, almost childlike, in its simplicity: South Asian literature in translation is nearly invisible in the US. It shouldn’t be. Let’s make it a little less so.

               South Asian literature is a complex creature. Academic discussions range around it being defined and limited by post-colonialism, around commonalities of culture, and political and economic ties, and the nature (or perhaps non-existence) of transnational literatures, among other things. There are debates about South Asian writing in English vs. South Asian writing in vernacular, or what gets published locally and/or internationally and why, about what kind of South Asian book is received well in “the West” and what sinks without a trace, about diaspora vs. writers firmly rooted in the soil. These are significant questions, perhaps deserving urgent and immediate exploration given the rapidly shifting sands of today’s world.

               But alongside these debates, the act of writing itself continues: the action of giving voice to what has been, what is, what shall be, and what can be, continues. As writers and translators, we are also, first and foremost, readers. Inevitably, inextricably, avidly so. As readers we pause again and again in wonder--at the splendid writing, at the puzzling phenomenon of why this writing should not find and reach a broader readership.

               As writers and translators we also have our feet solidly planted in multiple worlds. As writers and translators, we try to pull you, the reader, into these, our worlds. As translators we try to pull you into worlds you couldn’t access otherwise.

               We brought together as many contemporary translators as we could, and showcase their best work. Our efforts were limited to the translators who submitted their work, as well as by the number of translators working in specific languages. Hindi, Urdu and Bangla were best represented in the submissions, perhaps because we work in these languages, but also because there seem to be more translators specializing in these South Asian languages.

               In addition to Hindi, Bangla, and Urdu, we are also pleased to present works from Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil, and Malayalam, as well as an essay written in English, about an outsider’s experiences working in the Hindi publishing industry in Delhi. (Whenever possible, .pdfs of the original versions are attached to the translations.)

What do they have to offer? Love in a shantytown. Heartbreak in a palace. Regional rivalries that persist in a foreign land. A writer’s pomposity pricked and humbled. The goddess Durga as everywoman. Poetic musings on the nature of power and hierarchy. And more.