We come close to literature at nights, and early mornings, when we’re occupying that world between realities, the space between the perceptible and the imperceptible: yes, storytelling is important but often our lives do not tell a story, they exist as these strange, fragmented wholes and that’s just the way it is. And often the most haunting works of art are the ones that acknowledge this broken narrative.
Mainstream publishers (and mainstream critics, and mainstream audiences), it is no news, don’t encourage or even make space for experimental writing, especially when its writer is not a privileged male. And yet, inventiveness continues to grow and genres keep getting bent.
Literature has a lot to owe to independent presses, who sometimes ignore the economics of the market to bring out books that need to come out because they need to be read. There is a lot of good writing and many small independent presses that remain to be discovered (by me, by you, by someone) but here’s a personal list of brilliant international women writers – published by independent presses – that you probably should be reading.
Fritz is an Austrian novelist, whose book The Weight of Things was recently translated into English by Adrian Nathan West and published in 2015 by Dorothy, A Publishing Project. On Dorothy’s website, it is mentioned that it is possibly her only translatable book, “for after winning acclaim with this novel – awarded the Robert Walser Prize in 1978 – she embarked on a 10,000-page literary project called “The Fortress,” creating over her lifetime elaborate colorful diagrams and typescripts so complicated that her publisher had to print them straight from her original documents.” Her recent “discovery” has sparked a much-needed debate on why her work has remained largely ignored and if genius is read as essentially masculine.
Her genre-bending book Garments Against Women, published by Ahsahta Press, is about surviving capitalist America as an artist and single mother. In her review for the New York Times, Maureen McLane writes, “Boyer offers a self-portrait of the artist in a time of ‘indentured moods,’ debt collection, chemical spills, amid her attempts at and refusals of writing, sewing and the daily care of herself and her small daughter. Does one have to be a ‘property owner’ to make ‘literature’? Write memoirs? Poetry? These are perverse questions, perhaps, but they are Boyer’s, and should be ours.”
Samatar published her debut novel A Stranger in Olondria with Small Beer Press in 2013. A work of fantasy – winning the William L. Crawford Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the World Fantasy Award – it occupies this strange space between reality and unreality, between the oral and written traditions. Sometimes called a Proustian ghost story, Kelly Link writes, “Sofia Samatar’s debut novel is both exhilarating epic adventure and loving invocation of what it means to live through story, poetry, language. She writes like the heir of Ursula K. Le Guin and Gene Wolfe.” The sequel to this beautiful and haunting book, The Winged Histories, will be published by Small Beer Press in March 2016.
A British writer and illustrator, the fiction editor of the alternative 3:AM Magazine, and creator of the groundbreaking Twitter hashtag #readwomen, Walsh published her second collection of linked short stories Vertigo with Dorothy, A Publishing Project (her debut collection, Fractals, was published by Galley Beggar Press). Her poetic and circuitous, sometimes wry writing style is haunting and beautiful in the most unusual way. The Kirkus Review observes, and rightly so, that Vertigo is “less a collection of linked short stories – though it is that, too – than a cinematic montage, a collection of photographs, or a series of sketches, Walsh’s book would be dreamlike if it weren’t so deliciously sharp… This is Walsh at her best, towing the line between an equation and a poem.”
A British-Indian writer currently in the US, Kapil is known for her uncategorisable work, which resides between poetry, fiction, and history. Her recent work Ban en Banlieue, published by Nightboat Books, follows Ban – a fictional girl and a protagonist from a novel Kapil started but never finished – as she walks home from school through London suburbs (“benlieue” is the French word for suburbs) at the beginnings of a riot.
Broken into sections, this stunning work reveals the deep impact of cultural violence and whether such acts of violence have a single origin. Sueyeun Juliette Lee of the Constant Critic notes that “she [Bhanu Kapil] offers a variety of emotional, psychological, and spiritual loci around which her text coalesces. To cry out. To fail. To rise like diesel smoke in a hot summer wind… this book is a series of mirrors folded towards each other, and they all admit night.”
Kapa is a writer, artist, and teacher of Modern Greek and English in Northern Germany. She wrote a sort of poetic dictionary on Twitter through a single calendar year: descriptions, aphorisms, and comments on particular nouns. All The Words, composed entirely of a series of tweets, published by Phoenicia Publishing, offers an insight into the flux of language and its constantly changing and altering meanings. The poet and translator George Szirtes writes about the book, “A collection of jottings and registerings exploring the great continents of death, love, dream and time along with their archipelagos, islands and subsidiary states, Magda Kapa’s All the Words is, as its own definition of poetry suggests, ‘pure thought caught off guard.’”