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It’s time for change…

I think this post has been a long time coming… I’m making a big change to the way I do the blog part of Translating Women, and I want to talk about why.

I am no longer going to do “sponsored” reviews – i.e. I will no longer be accepting books in exchange for a review. I’ve been doing this for almost four years now, and slowly it has built up to the point where the only reviews I do – and almost the only posts I write – are this kind of reviews.

So what’s wrong with that, you might wonder? Well, here’s the thing: in the academic part of my life I’ve been writing a book on intersectional activism in the translated literature sector of the UK publishing industry, in which I’ve put together a “toolkit” of how we can live a feminist life in our reading, translating and publishing choices. It offers case studies of five of my favourite independent publishing houses, showing how each of them puts forward a positive model for one aspect of this toolkit. I was fortunate to be able to interview all of those publishers, as well as translators who have worked with them, and as I analysed the interview responses there was one thing that came up again and again. Almost all of my interviewees talked about how if we want real, sustainable, positive change then we need to cast our nets wider, actively seek out marginalised voices, and not be content with what arrives with us, neatly packaged, ignoring the (often biased or flawed) processes of scrutiny and judgment that have pushed that book or author to the top of the pile and left others behind. And it struck me like a slap in the face: that’s what Translating Women has become. I no longer seek out my own reading, or talk about books I’ve chosen. I read what gets sent to me, and I have stopped “casting my net” and actively seeking out more marginalised voices. I realised that I am part of the problem for which I am trying to offer solutions. How can I suggest ways in which stakeholders in the publishing industry could be more actively intersectional and diverse in their choices, when I have stopped doing this myself?

This is not to say that there is anything inherently bad or un-diverse about the books I’ve been reviewing. It’s also not to say there is anything to criticise about the publishers I review for – on the contrary, in fact, because they are predominantly activist independents. And I will still read – and sometimes still review – their books! But I will buy them myself and decide whether or not to write about them.

Over the last four years I have lost count of the number of publishing houses I’ve reviewed for – some never contacted me again (usually if I didn’t write an overwhelmingly positive review, and this threw up its own ethical dilemma: when I’m invited to review, am I being invited to give an honest opinion, or invited to rave enthusiastically and indiscriminately about everything? Would you trust my opinion if I never showed reservations?) and others have become regular collaborators – even, in a couple of instances, friends. I will never underestimate or devalue how amazing it has been to make these contacts, and in many cases to sustain them. And I will always feel privileged that so many publishers and translators have trusted me with their books, or wanted me to be part of the word-of-mouth promotion of particular titles.

But it’s time for change. I want to embody the positive activism for which I advocate in my research. There are so many things I have wanted to write about here in the past couple of years, and I haven’t been able to do so because I’ve had a long review backlog and no time and scope to write anything else for Translating Women. So there will still be reviews – unsolicited ones that don’t necessarily coincide with a book’s release – but also more opinion posts, reflective pieces, or round-ups of what I’ve been reading and enjoying.

I will, of course, still honour the reviews I agreed to write before making this decision. There are five or six more that I’ve committed to, and so those will still make their way here in the next couple of months. So you won’t see the full change immediately, but I when it comes I very much hope that it will be a shift you’ll enjoy.

Thank you, as always, for reading and supporting Translating Women!

Helen Vassallo

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