The author of this article was a guest editor at GLLI during Nepali Literature Month.
Despite having a long editorial history, Nepal's literary tradition is still relatively unknown to international readers. While Nepalese author Laxmi Prasad Devkota started the tradition of writing and translating in English during the 20th century, this trend did not last long and only in the last two or three decades did the number of Nepalese books written in English begin to increase. . However, according to translator and researcher Mahesh Poudel, Nepalese literature remains largely excluded from literary publications focused on the region and is rarely included in major international anthologies and in newspapers. There are many publications waiting to be translated and the books of famous Nepalese authors are no exception. Translation costs and copyrights as well as lack of collaboration between national and international publishers are some of the main problems, according to editor Bhupendra Khadka.
In November 2019, the Global Literature in Libraries Initiatives (GLLI) established in the United States, virtually hosted Nepali Literature Month to show Nepali literature to international audiences. In June 2020, Global Voices interviewed the editor-in-chief of the GLLI, Karen Van Drie, through email to better understand Nepali literature within the global literary context.
GV: ¿What future prospects does Nepalese literature (written in English or translated into English) have in the world of global literature? AND What is the future of literary translations in the West?
KVD: English-language cultures are not as open to translated literature as we should be. Our countries are so physically big that it is hard for us as readers to keep up with the output of our own publishing, let alone works from other cultures. This is the wrong attitude to take though, as there is so much from other nations we could learn. Currently, only 3% of what is published in the United States every year has been translated from another language.
But there are two signs beyond literature that shows the situation could improve. A foreign film called Parasite, from South Korea, was chosen as Best Picture of the Year at the Oscars this year for the first time ever. Also, Netflix is stocking its content library with selections from around the world. And, the third promising sign is that there are new publishing houses starting to publish translated literature.
All of these trends could make the English-language reader more willing to try titles from faraway cultures.
KVD: English-speaking cultures are not as open to translated literary works as they should be. Our countries are so physically large that as readers we find it difficult to keep up with all of our own publications, let alone works from other cultures. However, this is a wrong attitude since there is so much that we can learn from other countries. Currently, only 3% of everything published in the United States annually has been translated from another language.
But there are two signs that are unrelated to the literature that show that the situation could improve. A foreign film titled Parasites from South Korea was voted Best Picture at this year's Oscars for the first time. Netflix is also feeding its content library with selections from around the world. The third promising sign is that new publishers are beginning to publish translated literary works.
All of these trends may make the English-speaking reader more willing to consider titles from remote cultures.
GV: How could Nepalese literature gain more visibility to global readers? Do you have any suggestions that could help Nepali literature make its mark internationally?
KVD: To make Nepali literature more visible to global readers, I would find a way to turn every potential tourist and visitor to Nepal into a potential advocate for Nepali literature.
Anytime someone requests information about Nepal before they come, do they also get information about locally-written literature? Does everyone involved in international tourism in Nepal have three home-grown titles they would recommend to foreign visitors as good reads? Are literature advocates in Nepal asking their worldwide Embassies to feature authors on their Facebook feeds, for example? Also, submitting Nepalese titles to book prize contests is a wonderful way to let someone else do your publicity if a book is a winner.
What I noticed is that Nepali titles were not available to buy immediately as an e-book. When someone reads a review of a title, that is when they are most inspired to purchase a book. That book needs to be available electronically immediately.
The second thing I would add is that when people are looking to specifically seek out books about Nepal, they are first likely to see books written on your biggest issues by foreign writers, not Nepalese writers. They are judging a book by its book cover; make it as competitive and compelling as possible. Make sure the most compelling events and issues in Nepal have home-grown writers writing about them.
KVD: To make Nepalese literature more visible to global readers, I would try to find a way to turn every potential visitor and visitor to Nepal into an eventual promoter of Nepalese literature.
Every time someone requests information about Nepal before their visit, are they also sent information about local literature? Do those who are involved in international tourism in Nepal have three titles from their own literature to recommend foreign visitors as good readings? Are advocates of Nepalese literature asking their embassies around the world to feature Nepalese authors in their Facebook posts, for example? Also, submitting Nepalese titles in literary prize contests is a great way to get a third party to advertise if your book wins.
I realized that Nepalese titles were not available for instant purchase as e-books. The time when someone reads a review of a title is when they feel more inclined to buy it. That book must be immediately available electronically.
The second thing I would add is that when people decide to search specifically for books on Nepal, they will most likely find books on the most important topics first, written by foreign writers and not by Nepalese. They are judging the book by its cover, so make it as competitive and attractive as possible. Make sure that, for the most interesting events, there are writers from the country who write about it.
GV: You have decades of experience bringing world literature to libraries. How could Nepalese publishers find ways to reach libraries around the world?
- KVD: 1) Invest, as a nation, in fantastic translation skills. Translators are non-stop advocates for authors. 2) Have a literary festival that showcases the books and the nation. I think you already do that. 3) An add-on at the literary festival could be a fellowship program for publishers interested in your nation's creative output. Bring them in for three days, at their own travel expense, to meet and greet publishers and learn about the writers and illustrators from Nepal. Get them excited to publish your books in their own language. 4) What English-language markets have an affinity for Nepal? For example, in the US state of Colorado, a fun thing people do is set a goal to hike every mountain in the state over 14,000 feet tall. There are 54 of them. I imagine Coloradans would be quite taken with all things Nepalese. How could you target these markets specifically? 5) Don't underestimate the power of your cuisine to get people around the world interested in your literature. Cookbooks related to Nepalese cuisine and a natural advocate for your cuisine able to cook and market the books in English are an exciting entry point to learning about the culture.
KVD: 1) Invest as a country in developing fantastic translation skills. Translators are tireless promoters of authors.
2) Organize a literary festival that will show the books and the country. I think they are already doing that.
3) Add a grant program to the festival for publishers interested in creative production in the country. Let them come for three days, on their own, to contact and meet publishers and to learn about Nepalese writers and illustrators. That publishers get excited about the idea of publishing Nepali books in their own language.
4) What are the English-speaking markets that have an affinity for Nepal? For example, in the Colorado state of the United States, something fun that people do is that they set a goal of hiking all over the state's mountains that are over 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) high. There are 54 of these mountains. I imagine that the people of Colorado would be quite impressed with all the things that Nepal has. How could they target these specific markets?
5) Don't underestimate the power of your kitchen to get people from all over the world interested in your literature. Cookbooks dealing with Nepali cuisine and a natural advocate who can cook and promote books in English represent an interesting entry point for discovering culture.