US-Japan Writers Dialogue Bridges Literary Canons

NEW YORK, May 6, 2012 — As part of the 2012 PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, Asia Society and The Japan Foundation brought together some of the biggest names in the Japanese-American literary world to celebrate a new venture in literary translation, Monkey Business. Japanese writers Masatsugu Ono and Tomoka Shibasaki were joined by American poet Stuart Dybek and writer Kelly Link for a cross-cultural discussion facilitated by eminent translators Ted Goossen and Motoyuki Shibata. Ultimately, the afternoon was a meeting of the minds that bridged two literary canons.

As Michael Roberts, Asia Society’s Executive Director of New York Public Programs, noted at the beginning of the program, only two percent of books published in America each year are works in translation. Of that small fraction, only 50 books are works from Asia. Monkey Business, founded in 2008 by Motoyuki Shibata to showcase the best of contemporary Japanese literature, is an attempt to enrich the literary interactions between Asia and the U.S. Its just-published second issue features work by Haruki Murakami and the writers present at Asia Society's event.

Following readings of the their work, Ono, Dybek, Link and Shibasaki discovered several shared interests despite their vastly different backgrounds.

In conversation, Ono and Dybek explored their mutual fascination with place, the grotesque, the line between reality and unreality, and water as metaphor. Link and Shibasaki rounded out the program with discussions of "productive ambiguity," noise in literature, and a John Singer Sargent painting that inspired short stories for both women.

Watch the complete program
Asia Blog interview with Motoyuki Shibata

Watch: Highlights from the U.S.-Japan writers' dialogue (9 min., 48 sec.)