As February drew to a close, Hamilton welcomed a variety of prestigious authors in celebration of International Writers Week (Feb. 26 – March 2). A book fair, held in the Taylor Science Center on March 2, showcased works suggested by faculty, as well as pieces from the authors who gave presentations. The featured writers were A. S. Byatt, Kamila Shamsie ’94 and Ishion Hutchinson.
A. S. Byatt read selections from her novels The Children’s Game, Ragnarok, and Possession to an intimate gathering of students and community members in the chapel on March 1. She read, among other excerpts, a poem from The Children’s Game titled “Trenches” that was featured in the New Yorker. Her British accent, combined with her poignant and sophisticated word choice, captivated her audience. Between readings, Byatt gave anecdotes that described the inspiration behind her novels and the process undertaken to write them. In this manner, Byatt explained that her inspiration for Ragnarok was rooted in a love for Norse mythology that stemmed from an illustrated storybook her mother gave her.
On March 2, literature-lovers got a more interactive experience at a panel about favorite international authors, which featured Hamilton alumna and Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie ’94 as well as Jamaican poet Ishion Hutchinson. When asked, Shamsie stated that Intizar Husain, the author of Basti, may be the best living writer, while Hutchinson favored Patrick Chamoiseau, a novelist from Martinique. As the question and answer period began, the discussion turned toward the debate over digitalized texts. While both writers were concerned with copyrights and royalties, Hutchinson also warned that when poems are put online they can lose their proper format, an integral part of the overall effect.
Both Shamsie and Hutchinson agreed that translation poses a hardship to spreading literature across the globe. For Hutchinson, the nuances of poetry provide more of an obstacle than they do for novels. Nevertheless, as an example given by Shamsie illustrates, translation is never perfect. Shamsie prefers to write in English because it’s most easily translated; however, when her novel, Cartography, was translated into Italian, her clear-cut ending somehow became ambiguous. While this may have perturbed many authors, Shamsie admitted that she was “strangely delighted” by this because she thinks it only deepens her work.
Although the U.S. translates fewer books than any other country, International Writers Week reminded attendees that profound authors come from all corners of the earth. Language simultaneously provides a beautiful medium for personal expression, while also posing an obstacle for the worldwide community.