This article was first published in The Linguist, APRIL/MAY 2017
In September 2017, InterLitQ (the online multilingual The International Literary Quarterly) will be ten years old. It has been a chequered decade, with innumerable highs and lows, but it is likely that we will continue far beyond our tenth anniversary to face-and hopefully rise to-many new challenges.
The origin of InterLitQ dates back to my days as a correspondent for the New York-based publication Mad Hatters’ Review, founded by the indomitable Carol Novack, the author and erstwhile lawyer who passed away far too young, at just 63. I was living in Madrid at the time and I had come across some texts by the Spanish author Juan Jose Millas, which I set about translating. It was one of my early forays into literary translation, and I was at a loss as to where to send them. My first choice was Carol, who not only accepted the work, but also suggested that I assume the role of UK Editor for her review. Flattered by her invitation, I accepted gladly.
Returning to live in London, I began preparing a feature that would profile music, art and literature by contemporary Scottish artists such as Calum Colvin, Janice Galloway and Tom Pow. It appeared in Mad Hatters’ Review (MHR) in January 2007, followed by a feature on the work of English artists, including George Blacklock, Aamer Hussein and Gabriel Josipovici, in the June issue.
Carol’s mantra seemed to be that work in her review should be avant-guard. I saw this as a limitation, believing instead that merit transcends alignment with a particular literary tendency. With this touchstone in mind, I started to conceive of launching my own literary review, which would fight shy of any artistic allegiance. I tendered my resignation to Carol and launched The International Literary Quarterly in September.
Despite our ideological differences, Carol and I remained on good terms, with an example of her work appearing in Issue 1 of InterLitQ. Without all that I had learnt during my time with MHR, and especially the rudimentary technical knowledge I acquired, I very much doubt that InterLitQ would have come into being at all, and so the seed that Carol planted lives on to this day, not only in her own review but also in mine.
Inclusiveness and diversity
The leitmotiv of InterLitQ was inclusiveness and the review has set out to publish literature in many languages, and in several genres. Indeed, the apotheosis of this overarching idea took place thanks to the intervention of the literary translator Sophie Lewis. She had been approached by Richard Burns (aka Richard Berengarten), the poet and Cambridge academic, who was keen to publish the Volta Project, an anthology of poems. A poem by Richard, inspired by George Seferis, and 92 translations, Volta was, in Richard’s words, “a celebration of multilingualism and diversity” in 93 contemporary languages.
Regarding the proposal as unique and fascinating, I seized the opportunity, and so InterLitQ came to publish literature in languages such as Abkhaz, Mongolian, Nupe and Samburu. After a long hiatus, we will resume publication of Volta, with the inclusion of texts in additional languages, including Piedmontese and Sardinian. In doing so, the review has availed itself of Richard’s extensive international network of literary translators. With such a goodly display of literary talent on offer, I have found it hard to agree with Cervantes’s dictum that “translation is the other side of a tapestry”.
The early days of InterLitQ, which I spent in a rented garden flat in London, were a flurry of activity, with lunches, drinks receptions, and meetings in a myriad cafes, as I met an array of authors. However, I had no time to feel prey to an Eliotian sense of having “measured out my life with coffee spoons”. After all, there were many texts to be evaluated, a heavy volume of editing to attend to, and a need to spread word about the review-at that time generally unknown to the reading public.
Setbacks, always inevitable, were to follow hard on the heels of the heady days: the departure of our highly professional production assistant-hard to replace-who landed a tenured position at a US university; and the decision on two occasions by Arts Council England, firstly in 2011 and subsequently in 2015, not to provide financing. The review, which had been publishing for several years, was cut adrift from structural and economic moorings.
At the end of 2011, the online issue www.interlitq.org went into abeyance for 18 months, although texts of considerable merit, such as Paul Scott Derrick’s fine translations of poems by Pablo Neruda, continued to be published in its blog (www.interlitq.wordpress.com). Some years later, this oeuvre was to be republished in the magazine’s Poetic Voices series.
A bright future?
I believe that if InterLitQ continues to innovate, it stands every chance of going from strength to strength. We are no longer a quarterly, but will publish on a regular basis, striving to become a more fluid publication that engages constantly with our readers. One of our central objectives this year is to reach out to native French readers by providing a home for high-quality writing in French. Many years ago, in the course of trying to place the French translation of my story Trip to Hell, I was struck by the relative dearth of literary reviews in France. Our readership in France is growing, but it is a gradual process.
We also have a loyal nucleus of readers in Argentina, where I have been resident for 16 years, and we aim to build on this momentum, acting as a bridge of interaction between the English- and Spanish-speaking worlds. It is an ambitious undertaking, but one that we aspire to. As is so often the case in the world of publishing, financing issues continue to dog us. As a not-for-profit corporation in New York, InterLitQ has no regular source of income and has always constituted a leap of faith.
In my quest to take InterLitQ to new heights, I am blessed to count on the moral support of the US poet and editor, Glenna Luschei, now one of InterLitQ’s three Vice-Presidents, alongside the Mexican journalist Elena Poniatowska and the Palestinian academic Sari Nusseibeh.
Glenna has more than 50 years experience in the world of publishing, having launched her Solo Press in 1966, and she is always on hand to offer the review her immense, hard-won wisdom. The first message I received from Glenna came on the day my mother died on 5 June 2016, the day after the anniversary of the tragic death of Glenna’s daughter Linda in 1994; a shared sense of bereavement, and the desire to transform the pain of loss into a source of renewal, has brought us together.
And so, with InterLitQ’s 10th anniversary in sight, 2017 looks set to be a busy year as I seek to juggle my work as a United Nations translator with my editorial role and, after some fallow years, my own output in both fiction and literary translation.
It is, of course, the readers that determine the longevity of any publication. And I hope to be fit to the task of providing readers of InterLitQ, currently to be found mostly in the Americas but also growing steadily in Europe, with a regular flow of high-quality international literature that reflects an immense diversity, and has the power to challenge our most deep-rooted preconceptions.
"The Power of Prose"