I was invited by Philippe Thiollier, editor of L'Asiathèque Publishing House, to direct a new imprint, Taiwan / Fiction, which we launched in October this year.
Taiwan / Fiction is not strictly speaking the first dedicated series of Taiwanese literature in France. The Lettres Taïwanaises collection was created in 2000 by three professors, Chan Ching-Ho, Angel Pino and Isabelle Rabut, who have published (and sometimes translated) literary works by the Chu family (Chu Hsi-Ning, Chu T'ien-Wen and Chu T'ien-Hsin), Ch'en Yin-Chen, Chang Ta-Ch'un, Hwang Ch'un-Ming, and more recently Wuhe.
Taiwan / Fiction's goal is somewhat different to that of the Lettres Taïwanaises imprint, since the texts we will translate and publish are primarily contemporary novels and not necessarily classics or already well recognised in the history of modern Taiwanese literature. We are instead interested in writers that appears to us to be representative of new voices, new viewpoints and new literary experiments from the island.
We will concentrate on living authors who explore the changing world in which we live through their literature. Thus, we don't simply focus on historically 'representative' Taiwanese writers or literary movements, but authors whose works have a wider resonance, which are not limited to their own contexts. Of course, this doesn't mean that these authors can't talk about the singular Taiwanese experience, on the contrary, we would like to introduce in French works that can show that the Taiwanese experience illustrates and reveals the current state of our world, or generates fresh perspectives on it.
In the original statement announcing the launch of our collection, we wrote as follows:
[...] The ambition of the Taiwan / Fiction series is to translate and publish texts whose subjects and scope should go beyond Taiwan or the so-called 'Chinese world' to echo beyond it and offer new thoughts on global issues. Among them: environmental concerns, identities of local languages and cultures, the impact of colonialism on memory, of economic globalization on traditional ways of life, gender and sexuality, etc... The above topics do not necessarily imply a duty to publish so-called 'social activism' novels, but high-quality stories whose aspiration is not simply 'art for art's sake', but a wish to question our daily realities.
Hence, we hope to introduce the authors we will publish not strictly as 'Taiwanese writers' but as 'global writers with a Taiwanese view on the world.' For example, the French translation of the Taiwanese writer Wu Ming-Yi's THE MAN WITH COMPOUND EYES recently received the French International Insular Book Award. It was the first Taiwanese novel to ever receive such award in France. We hope to promote Taiwanese literature in this same vein: Taiwanese literature should not only interact with 'literature written in Chinese language' or some separate space of 'Asian literature', but must be brought into a 'world literature', where Taiwan can speak to an international audience.
Among the first texts we have selected, we will publish the queer science fiction novel MEMBRANES by Chi Ta-Wei and a unique literary experiment, the two screenplays written for the cinema classic A City Of Sadness, written by Wu Nien-Jen and Chu T'ien-Wen respectively.
In the future, we would like to introduce to French-speaking readers a variety of texts, all thematically strong and of the highest literary merit, including novels and short stories by authors such as Badai, Kao Yi-Feng, Lai Hsiang-Yin, Wu Ming-Yi, Lo Yi-Jun, Wuhe, Hung Ling, Chen Hsuë, Chu Yu-Hsun and many more.
But like in any new literary imprint, we too have encountered some (temporary) obstacles that we have had to overcome.
Firstly, we face a problem common to all Taiwanese literature in translation, namely a basic lack of media interest when compared to other 'national' literatures, such as those of China, Japan and now Korea. It is therefore important to offer significant translations with an original point of view with respect to Asian literature in general, but also books that can attract the attention of a reader who isn't necessarily attracted by Taiwan itself at first glance. Texts on issues such as ecology, war, memory, sexual identity, the vitality and reinvention of ancient religions and cultures or new technologies seem to us very powerful in this regard.
For decades, l'Asiathèque Publishing House has been a recognised and respected force in the French publishing industry specialising in texts relating to Asia. But until recent years, L'Asiathèque mostly published scientific and cultural books on the continent, such as works of classical literature and language textbooks, but very few contemporary novels. A challenge for us will be to seduce an audience who is not usually familiar with this kind of material from a publishing house such as L'Asiathèque. Hence the publication of the novel MEMBRANES, which is not only a high-quality work by a wonderful storyteller, but also offers cross readings on original issues. To us, this seems the perfect way to draw in future readers.
Another challenge we are facing is that of the small number of French translators who are familiar with Taiwanese literature and society and the presence of different Taiwanese languages in literature from the island. This question was of particular pertinence while working on the oeuvre of Kan Yao-Ming, an author we particularly admire. However, our ambition is to work with young and talented translators and we are not afraid to experiment in order to recreate the same multilingual and multicultural textures we find in the original text.
As for the rights market, since we have only just launched the series and L'Asiathèque is still not considered a publisher of general contemporary literature, it has not been easy to get a place and gain influence in the financial negotiation for the rights to contemporary works with big potential. We hope that the future success of our collection will allow us to simplify these procedures.
A final problem is of course related to the funding needed to run a project like ours. It is difficult in the early stages to accurately assess the size of our potential readership and any financial investment is a risk. Hopefully, we will be able to access French and Taiwanese cultural grants to help us in this regard.
But whatever the challenges, we are very excited about the road ahead and we can't wait to introduce to French readers the richness of Taiwanese literature.