Monday 15 February 2021


By Elizabeth (Betty) Wilson

The University of Maryland’s Latin American Studies Centre will host a virtual belated celebration of the 30th anniversary of the ground-breaking collection Her True-True Name: An Anthology of Women’s Writing from the Caribbean on Feb. 18. This is being spearheaded by Prof. Merle Collins, poet and prose writer from Grenada, whose work appears in the anthology. 

Published in 1989, near the beginning of the era of Gender Studies and Women’s Studies, Her True-True Name was the first anthology of prose writing by Caribbean women and the first to include non-English-speaking writers. The title is taken from an extract in the text by the Trinidadian writer Merle Hodge.

For the celebration, the renowned Guadeloupean writer Simone Schwarz-Bart - whose work also appears in the anthology - points out that sometimes it is not until the end of a person’s life that you discover who that person really is, her true-true name.

This seems to apply to the anthology as well. Although it was at the top of the list of texts chosen for the “20 Selected Titles List” in the UK for Feminist Book Fortnight in 1990 and named by the librarians of the New York Public Library as one of 100 books recommended for young readers in the same year, it is only in retrospect that we, the editors, recognized its historical importance.

There have been several excellent Caribbean anthologies since, and while Her True-True Name is now out of print, the attention and excitement generated by this virtual event attest to its importance and impact. 

Conceived as a response to our interest in having a Caribbean-wide publication of writing by women, the editors, my sister Pamela Mordecai and myself, set about trying to select the “tiny sample” which 200 pages would permit. We eventually found room for 31 writers from 13 countries, from Cuba in the north to Belize and Guyana on the South American / Caribbean mainland. 

The introduction to the text details some of the challenges we encountered in those days before “calls for submissions”, cell phones and the internet. We were both on the staff of the University of the West Indies, Mona, and blessed to know personally many writers and scholars at home and in the wider Caribbean - who spoke French, English, Creole and Spanish; their input was a source of contacts and encouragement.

We also knew the artist, Sharon Chacko, whose batik “Metamorphosis” (1986) appears on the cover. Sadly, the inclusion of writers from the Dutch-speaking Caribbean had to wait until 1992, when we were guest editors for a special issue of The Literary Review (Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, New Jersey), “Women Poets of the Caribbean”, where they were included.

The Feb. 18 celebration promises to be a full and rewarding day of readings by writers from the anthology, and presentations by scholars on the work of Caribbean writers from the different language areas included in the text. There will be interpreters for these papers and for the discussions. The organizers have tried to include as many writers as possible and have taken great care to preserve and honour the cross-Caribbean nature of the text.

We are so grateful to Merle Collins and her team, and I am excited to invite you to this free virtual event.

For more information:

Photos (top to bottom): The cover of Her True-True Name; Prof. Merle Collins (photo by A. McKenzie).

Friday 5 February 2021


Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé has long been one of the most widely translated Caribbean authors, following the international success of books such as Ségou (Segu) and Moi, Tituba, sorcière (I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem).

Now the translation of her novels is seeing a surge since she won the New Academy Prize in Literature, or the “Alternative Nobel”, in 2018.

Last month, Spanish publisher Impedimenta released La Deseada (Desirada, 1997) in a vibrant, eye-catching edition that has been garnering attention from the media and readers. This comes on the heels of two of Condé’s books published in English translation in 2020 - Le fabuleux et triste destin d’Ivan et d’Ivana / The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana (translated from the French by Condé’s husband Richard Philcox, who has done most of the English translations of her novels) and La belle créole / The Belle Créole, translated by Nicole Simek. Publications in other languages also hit bookstores throughout the year.

La Deseada is translated by Martha Asunción Alonso, a Spanish writer, poet and translator who holds a PhD in French Studies from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. She has translated two previous books by Condé for the same publisher, both receiving positive reviews in the Spanish press as well.

Asunción Alonso has taught in metropolitan France, the French Caribbean, Albania and Spain, and is currently a professor at the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares. As a writer herself, she brings a poetic sensibility to her translations (her poetry has received several awards in Spain), and she is particularly mindful of linguistic rhythms and musicality, as she told SWAN. She also focuses on writing that has a feminist perspective, something very present in Condé’s work.

The following bilingual interview, conducted by email, is part of SWAN’s series about translators of Caribbean literature. It is done in collaboration with the Caribbean Translation Project, which aims to promote the translation of writing from and about the region.

SWAN: You speak several languages - Spanish, French, English - and you’re familiar with Welsh, Catalan, Guadeloupean Creole, German, Italian and Albanian. Where and how did you begin learning languages?

Martha Asunción Alonso: El español es mi lengua materna. El francés es mi lengua de adopción elegida (decidí estudiar Filología Francesa y doctorarme en Estudios Franceses con una tesis sobre literaturas antillanas). El resto de idiomas que mencionas en la pregunta he ido conquistándolos, en mayor o en menor medida, a lo largo de mis periplos vitales, lecturas, experiencias… 

Soy española y en mi país, junto con el español, conviven varias lenguas cooficiales que siempre me han interesado. He intentado, por lo tanto, leer algo de literatura y consumer cultura en todas ellas.

Como profesora, he vivido en las Antillas francesas y en Albania. Allí me familiaricé con las lenguas autóctonas. Aunque mis conocimientos de criollo guadalupeño y de albanés son muy básicos.   

SWAN: How did your interest in translation begin?

M.A.A.: Siempre me he sentido muy atraída por la diversidad, por las culturas y las lenguas diferentes a las de mis orígenes, Supongo que el interés por la traducción, en ese sentido, siempre me ha acompañado.

No obstante, tengo un par de recuerdos infantiles fundadores que, me parece, tienen mucho que ver con mi vocación de traductora. Por ejemplo, éste: de niña, fui de vacaciones con mi familia a un pueblo de Cataluña fronterizo con Francia. Conocí en la playa a otra niña, francesa, y sentí una gran frustración porque no lográbamos comunicarnos del todo. Quizás entonces nació mi deseo de ir hacia los demás, de acercar diferencias y encontrar la manera de entendernos, de estar más cerca y compartir a pesar de todo.   

SWAN: Can you tell us more about your translation of Maryse Condé’s work? Were there any particular challenges with the language?

M.A.A.: Traducir a una creadora como Maryse Condé, con una voz tan personal y tan permeable a aportes de toda procedencia, es un viaje apasionante. Creo que se necesita estar aún más atenta de lo normal en la fase de exégesis del texto, previa a toda traducción, para no dejar escapar ningún eco o guiño a otros textos, otras voces, otros géneros e incluso otras disciplinas artísticas. En Condé se imbrican creativamente muchos idiomas, músicas, ritmos y sustratos culturales, que nos hablan de la vida nómada y del espíritu abierto, tolerante y humanista de la autora. Es un gran reto dar a escuchar, ver y sentir todo ese imaginario híbrido en la versión española.

SWAN: How important is translation in today’s world?

M.A.A.: A pesar de la tendencia a la globalización, la labor de las traductoras y de los traductores de todos los campos posibles es capital. Sin traducción, no sabríamos nada los vecinos y, en consecuencia, tampoco sabríamos nada del mundo ni de nosotros mismos. Viviríamos en una soledad y en una ignorancia insoportables.

SWAN: In the Caribbean, as in other regions, it sometimes feels as if countries are divided by language. How can people in the literary sphere help to bridge these linguistic "borders"?

M.A.A.: La literatura es siempre un lugar de encuentro, una herramienta para acercar orillas construyendo puentes y hermanando.   

SWAN: As a writer yourself, can you describe some of the skills you bring to translation?

M.A.A.: El hecho de haber escrito, sobre todo, bastante poesía quizá me haga estar más atenta a retos rítmicos, a la musicalidad del lenguaje y a la dimensión lírica de los textos que traduzco. 

Photos (from top): The cover of La DeseadaMartha Asunción Alonso, photographed by Gustavo Gómez.

Follow the Caribbean Translation Project on Twitter: @Caribtranslate.