A couple of days ago I wrote this piece for The Guardian on why gender disparity in publishing a) is real, b) is exacerbated when it comes to translation, c) needs to be considered from an intersectional perspective. What most excited me about Kamila Shamsie's call for a Year of Publishing Women was her insistence that it not be “a year of publishing young, straight, white, middle-class, metropolitan women”.
With Tilted Axis, we're trying to consider the issue of representation holistically – not only the ratio of female authors, but their individual backgrounds, and how women are represented in all our books, regardless of the author's gender. We publish men too, after all, including Thai wunderkind Prabda Yoon, who recently used his position on the Tokyo Lit Fest committee to organise a panel of female Asian writers discussing social taboos. Just another reason we love him.
In this, we're helped enormously by working with translators who are keenly aware of their curatorial role, particularly for lesser-represented languages. Arunava Sinha, whose translation of Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay launches our list in June, actively promotes a whole host of female Bengali writers, while Mui Poopoksakul chose to pitch a staunchly anti-urban female author, after translating Bangkok-based Prabda.
Crucially, of course, the primary reason for choosing to translate a book – and for us choosing to publish it – is being in love with the writing. The aesthetic impulse comes first, but representation is both an important and inseparable corollary; the one informs the other. As Man Booker International judge Tahmima Anam pointed out, their recently-announced longlist is diverse “not just in the number of countries and languages that are represented but also in the ways the authors use, stretch and challenge the novel form”. I'd argue that this formal and stylistic innovation proceeds directly from diversity in the former sense, that the distinctive aesthetics of Eka Kurniawan stem from his position as both an international and a local writer, equally influenced by Marquez and Dostoevsky as by Indonesian pulp horror and Javanese oral traditions. Tilted Axis' focus on Asian languages – where authors' equal facility with short stories and often poetry as well as novels encourages hybrid forms; where linguistic experimentation is informed by daily lives shifting between languages – is a brilliant way of discovering the stylistic innovation and non-conforming narratives that most excite us. Next year, we'll publish one of Hamid Ismailov's Uzbek novels, which bears the clear imprint of his work as a poet; this November sees Indigenous Species by Khairani Barokka, who incorporates untranslated Bahasa Indonesia to both stylistic and political effect.
And props to Khairani for pointing out that my piece's original title – which used 'blindness' to denote a deliberately narrow-minded, unperceptive outlook – was problematic and potentially hurtful. There are so many biases we (I) don't even think about, embedded in the language itself, and none of the groups they discriminate against can afford to wait for their own hashtag year.
And, of course, they're not. The recent Bare Lit festival was only one example of the many brilliant initiatives not only for but by writers of colour; the Jhalak book prize is another. Last week I had the privilege of being on a panel alongside Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, who founded Cassava Republic with a view to creating an archive inclusive of such marginalised figures as the older African woman given nuanced treatment in their next title.
One hell of an exciting time to be a publisher.