Huge congrats to Andrew Leong for winning the 2014 Association of Asian American Studies Book Award for Creative Writing for translating Shoshon Nagahara’s Lament in the Night (Kaya Press, 2012). Here is an excerpt from the incredible acceptance speech he gave:
“With thanks to the Association – this award goes to Nagahara Hideaki Shōson, wherever he may be. Shōson was born in Yama-no-uchi-nishimura in 1901 – the date and place of his death are as yet unknown.
In The Tale of the Heike, Rokudai, last of the Taira, cannot reach the grave of his father. He turns instead to the sand on the beach, for the sand might contain some trace of his father’s bones. He spends the night on the shore, reciting sutras, using his fingertip to write sacred images upon the sand.
Tonight, we write on sand.
From 1918 to 1923, Shōson worked in the mines and railroads of the American West. When he arrived in Los Angeles in the early twenties, he worked long hours as a gardener and a printer’s assistant. And in the time that was never enough, he wrote. He wrote novels – at least five, of which two survive.
Thank you Shōson, for the gift of your world.
Awards Committee: Thank you for recognizing non-English literature, and for acknowledging the act of translation. May this award not be one of a few exceptions, but one of a whole category of future awards for translation.
For translators past, present, future. Many are the voices of discouragement. They say your languages are not good enough. They say you are not young enough to learn, or relearn your language. They say your Asian language is what makes you a perpetual foreigner, that American Asian literature is not Asian American enough. They say that literature is not political enough. They say a translation is second-class service, not good enough for a dissertation, or a job, or for tenure. They say to you that you are not good enough.
Say to them what Shōson said: watashi wa namakeru koto ga ichiban kirai desu. The thing I hate most is doing nothing.
From my family, who taught me everything I know about stubbornness and persistence: No matter how long it takes, no matter how discouraging it seems, don’t let yourself do nothing. Every word you translate—every line, every page, every book—is an act of resistance.
Write on sand, so they may hear those words and see those worlds.”