Having reviewed a poetry editor and a prose editor, we move now to one of the editors of our international section, a part of the magazine we’re always proud to have. There’s plenty of good writing elsewhere in the world, and it is too often overlooked. Naira Kuzmich tells us a bit about her attempts at expanding our ideas of what international writing can mean, as well as what she’s been reading and writing lately.
Naira Kuzmich: I’m finishing up Sarah Hall’s collection The Beautiful Indifference and just started Nam Le’s The Boat.
HFR: What are you writing right now?
NK: A sentimental, superstitious Armenian man decides to name his first grandchild after his dead wife. When the child turns out to be a boy, and then, years later, gay, he feels he is to blame. To redeem himself and give the boy a chance at normalcy and control, he decides to teach the boy to drive.
HFR: Whoa. That sounds awesome. Tell us a little bit about the international section of Hayden's Ferry Review. What do you see as being its goals? What do you hope to accomplish with the section during your time as editor?
NK: We currently work mostly with translations of poetry and prose, but we're trying to expand on this notion of “the international.” We're asking a lot more questions. Where do ethnonarratives stand in contemporary literature? Or American writing about foreign locations? Ethnic writers working in English, if it’s their second or third language? Or first? Why not? How do we present the exotic as something more than the exotic? And how do we do that without losing its power, its specificity and beauty? Sometimes I think of translation as a necessary evil—so much is lost, but then I read a work like Celia Hawkesworth’s translation of Ferida Durakovic’s “But, Mommy” (forthcoming!) and I think, so much more is gained. I want to spend my time as editor trying to find pieces that speak on multiple levels, in different tongues. I’m looking for both universal truths and culturally-specific ones, truths that the writer names as his or hers, says this is mine, this is my people’s, and then asks the reader, is this yours, too? And I think the answer to that question doesn’t always have to be yes. That piece can still be meaningful, maybe even more so.
HFR: You’ve been a reader for HFR before--what's different being International Editor? What challenges come up that don't among the other section submissions?
NK: You know, at the end of the day, I’m all about character. I like a strong voice. I like internal conflcts, characters struggling with what they want, what they’re able and unwilling to do, what is expected of them. These criteria don’t differ whether it’s a regular submission or an international. I hate crafty tricks. I hate hipster endings, people looking at the stars and smoking. So far, I haven’t come across too many of them in the international pile, which is a relief (and nice change). I think good stories are good stories in whatever language they’re written in or translated into. Most problems arise on the sentence-level. You want to honor the flavor of the original work by keeping true to certain idioms or rhythms, but sometimes you just can’t. You have to sacrifice a bit for the greater good. Translation’s a Machiavellian exercise. I hate that fact, I really do, but I ultimately need to make sure sentences make sense on the basest level and also that they sound pretty damn good.
HFR: From what countries/areas of the world would you love to see more submissions?
NK: I hear that there is a lot of interesting and important work being done in the Middle East and Indo-Europe, but I’m not seeing any of it in my inbox! Please send these things my way! But honestly, I love to be surprised, not by the language of the original work, but by the quality of its storytelling. Send me what you’ve got.
HFR: If you could absorb the powers of any three writers (alive or dead), who would they be and how would their skills crop up in your own writing?
NK: Oh, boy. The energy of Junot Diaz’s prose, Nabokov’s ability to friggin’ describe a toenail with poignancy, and Ondaatje’s musical ear. I think if I had all those things, I’d be my own favorite writer and would never read anything else. I’m glad I’m only human.