“I like the idea that you could have actual readable pieces hanging off the database, like ornaments on a Christmas tree. So as you go browsing, you also find things to read.”
“This is something I’m really keen on!”
“A catchy title would help, e.g. #TranslationThursday Weekly Story. (Sorry, that’s not very catchy.)”
“We don’t necessarily need a catchy name of our own – I think just calling it something like “Paper Republic’s Translation of the Week” would work fine.”
“I’ve been using ‘read’ as a name for things in the backend of the site, and wonder if ‘Read Paper Republic’ might be an okay series title.”
“I like it!”
These were some of the thoughts bouncing between members of the Paper Republic team back in the spring of 2015. Being a runner up in the International Literary Translation Initiative award at that year’s London Book Fair had inspired us to reflect on the purpose and future of the site. Who was Paper Republic for, and how could we make it more useful for them? One of the answers to the first question was “readers”, and there was an obvious answer to the second: “by giving them something to read.” Paper Republic was already involved with Pathlight, a literary journal within China in collaboration with People’s Literature magazine, but we wanted to do something that would allow us to reach a broader audience. A weekly online release – not shackled to the publication cycle of a print journal – seemed like the most natural way to augment the work that Paper Republic was already doing.
Though we didn’t have any funding, we reached out to all the translators in our address book, hoping that some of them might be prepared to contribute all the same. We were delighted (but not entirely surprised – they’re a pretty awesome bunch) by the overwhelmingly positive response. For some, it was an opportunity to translate a particular old favourite that they had always wanted to have a go at; for others, to test their limits and work on something that might lie outside their usual range. Plus, it was a chance for us to offer some exposure to a few of the upcoming new translators who had been quietly honing their skills. We were also keen to reprint some previously published pieces that we thought deserved a second chance in the spotlight, and writer and editor 欧宁 Ou Ning was kind enough to grant us permission to dust off some of the stories that had once appeared in his magazine Chutzpah! (天南). We were also extremely fortunate that so many authors (52, at last count) were prepared to grant us permission to feature the work – again, despite there being no renumeration involved. When we added a few of our favourite selections from old issues of Pathlight we found we had more enough content to keep us going for a year. This was our goal all along: we wanted to work towards a definite endpoint rather than try to continue indefinitely, so that we would be able to gauge just how much of an impact we could make by condensing our efforts into a fixed frame of time. We knew it was going to require a great deal of time, effort, and elaborate transnational coordination – but we wanted to show just what could be achieved with a bit of determination and a lot of goodwill.
And so (courtesy of some dodgy maths on our part) we ended up with a grand total of 53 releases on Read Paper Republic. They ranged from the comic to the surreal; from rural memoir to protest poetry; from interstellar love stories to infant autocannibalism. We coordinated releases to mark events such as the arrival of the year of the monkey and the anniversary of the Cultural Revolution, and responded in real-time to issues in current affairs like the relaxing of the One-Child Policy.
We collaborated and shared content with publications including Asymptote, the Guardian, LA Review of Books, China Dialogue, Asian Review of Books, and the Anthill. We worked together with organisations like the Free Word Centre in London and the Writing Chinese project at Leeds University to orchestrate events like speed bookclubbing, translation competitions, and a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process.
And though our first season came to an end in the summer of 2016, we’re going to keep on finding new ways to bring a diverse range of Chinese literature to a wider audience. We’ve already produced a second batch of four thematically linked short stories (entitled “Afterlives”), and we’ll be continuing to experiment with different publication models and event formats. We don’t know for sure what the future holds for Read Paper Republic, but we certainly intend for it to remain a vehicle for the best Chinese writing for years to come!
[Written for the GLLI – Paper Republic collaboration, Feb 2017]