Writing and Publishing the Pacific: An Interview with Susan M. Schultz
By K. E. Semmel
In this issue of “Translator’s Cut,” we journey to a place we’ve never visited: Hawai’i and the literature of the Pacific. This has always been a fascinating area of the world to me, even though I’ve never actually been there. Susan M. Schultz, a professor of English at the University of Hawai’i and publisher at Tinfish Press, is our docent on this quick tour. I’m a big fan of Tinfish, and the work they publish is stunning both in form and content.
Although Susan is not a translator herself, a great deal of the work she publishes is translated. She is the author of several books of poetry and prose: Aleatory Allegories (Salt, 2000); Memory Cards & Adoption Papers (Potes & Poets, 2001); And Then Something Happened (Salt, 2004); Dementia Blog (Singing Horse Press, 2008); Memory Cards: 2010-2011 Series (Singing Horse Press, 2011); “She’s Welcome to Her Disease”: Dementia Blog [volume two] (Singing Horse Press, 2013); and Memory Cards: Thomas Traherne Series (Talisman Press, 2016). In addition, she edited The Tribe of John: Ashbery and Contemporary American Poetry (University of Alabama Press, 1995) and Multiformalisms: A Postmodern Poetics of Form (with Annie Finch, Textos Books, 2009), and wrote A Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (University of Alabama Press, 2005). She won an Elliott Cades Award for Literature in 2016.
Susan M. Schultz: I started Tinfish Press in 1995, five years after I moved to Hawai’i from the east coast. I wanted to find a way to navigate the differences between the experimental writing I had just discovered on the east coast (language writing, mainly) and the formally less innovative but linguistically more interesting writing I found in Hawai’i. I ended up shifting my own definition of “experimental” to include issues of place and language and colonialism in the Pacific.
KES: What is a distinguishing feature of literature from the Pacific Rim?
SMS: First off, we publish both from the Pacific Rim and Basin. Hawai’i is part of both, but there are islands like Samoa and Guam that are not Pacific Rim, which produce amazing writers. A distinguishing feature of the writing we publish is the attempt to navigate many cultures, languages, and poetic forms in the same poem-location.
KES: Where does one turn to learn more about literature from this region of the world? And if readers wanted to try out five must-read writers, whom would you recommend?
SMS: Too many to name, seriously. But if you want origins of Pacific Islander literature, look to Albert Wendt, who now lives in Auckland. More recently, Selina Tusitala Marsh from New Zealand. In Australia there are Pam Brown and Adam Aitken. In Korea, Kim Hyesoon, translated by Don Mee Choi. In Taiwan, Hsia Yu, translated by Steve Bradbury. In Hong Kong, Xi Xi, translated by Jennifer Feeley. Sawako Nakayasu is navigating Japan/USA connections, just as Lisa Samuels is doing for New Zealand/USA. But gosh, so many more!
KES: How many different languages has Tinfish published in translation, and how many do you estimate exist within your sphere of interest?
SMS: We’re publishing more Chinese poetry (which includes Taiwan, mainland, and Hong Kong) now, and a forthcoming chapbook will include translations from Japanese. Our newest book is Pei Pei the Monkey King by Wawa (Mei Lo Wah), translated by Henry Wei Leung.
There are probably hundreds of languages in and around the Pacific. We also publish work that refuses to translate. I’m thinking of Barbara Jane Reyes in Poeta en San Francisco. Or, more gently, work that assumes bilingualism in its readers. We have also published work in Pidgin (Hawai’i Creole English), such as Lee A. Tonouchi’s Living Pidgin. Another is Sista Tongue by Lisa Linn Kanae, about growing up a Pidgin speaker.
KES: What exactly is Hawai’i Creole English? Can you give us a sampling?
KES: I will switch gears for my final question. Tinfish books are aesthetically beautiful, like art objects. Can you describe what goes into your process of producing a book?
SMS: These days, we have one designer at a time. Back when Gaye Chan was art director, almost every book or chapbook had its own designer. All our books and (then) journal issues looked different. We also used a lot of recycled materials. Our designer now is Jeff Sanner (see his fine work at tinfishpress.com). I find the words and send them to him. He drafts a design, then talks back and forth with the author. Once the book is produced, I take over the marketing. Lucky me.
K.E. Semmel is a writer and literary translator and the creator of Translator’s Cut. His forthcoming translation is The Hermit by Danish novelist Thomas Rydahl. Semmel is also the Executive Director of Writers & Books in Rochester, NY. Find him on Twitter @kesemmel.