You can view 2 more articles. Unlock unlimited articles with the TANK Digital Subscription. Subscribe here.

Tilted Axis

Tilted Axis Press, founded in 2015, won the 2022 International Booker Prize with Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand (2021), translated by Daisy Rockwell, and has become one of the UK’s most widely-respected independent presses with a full-time staff of one. Much of the press’s success is built on its relationship to language, which understands dialects and dialogue not as rigid systems but supple beings – Tilted Axis describes itself as a publisher of literature “translated into or written in a variety of Englishes”. Language systems, collective but also deeply individual, describe relationships to places, people and things in ways that reverberate beyond what is directly expressible. The press’s director, Kristen Vida Alfaro, spoke to TANK about translation and the work of the writers, translators, editors and all those who constitute Tilted Axis’s expansive yet delicate orbit.

An interview with Kristen Vida Alfaro

I always say that I live in three tenses. I’m always thinking about the backlist, the current list and then next year. Our publicity is also often anachronistic. A review just came out of Yu Miri’s The End of August, a book that came out in June 2023, for which we toured in October. A lot of that has to do with funding and the capacity that we have as a small team. Most of our authors and translators don’t live in the UK, so it’s very expensive to build a tour.

Tilted Axis Press (TAP) was founded in 2015 by Deborah Smith, Simon Collinson and Sarah Shin, largely because they couldn’t find Korean literature or indeed any Asian literature in translation in the UK. Over the years, it’s changed due to the people who have become a part of the project, who have moulded where we go and why. One of the most important things about TAP is its fluidity – it can listen to anything that’s part of our landscape, which includes translators and authors. It’s a way and reminder to resist cultural extraction. In the UK, the act of translation is fundamentally tied to Empire and colonialism. I think if you claim to be an anticolonial publisher, your responsibility extends beyond the book. Anticolonial publishing is itself an act of resistance and a method of challenging the institutional structures in which we exist. From how we talk about the book, to how we make decisions, it’s all part of what it means to be anticolonial. As part of our Translating Feminisms chapbook series, we published Pa-liwanag: To the Light (2020), a collection of writing by Filipino women, edited by Gantala Press. In their introduction, they write: “When a government wages war against its people – surely a woman’s press can and should do more than just publish books?”

Everyone working at TAP is part of the Global Majority and we are all part of a diaspora. That is impor-tant in terms of how we think about collaborations, and how we think about translation. If we’re going to publish or promote a book from Southeast Asian litera-ture, we need to speak to publishers actually in Southeast Asia. These are questions of solidarity – everything is relational.

There is a struggle in every element of an independent publishing project, from fair wages (for authors, translators, workers) to higher production costs to the number of people employed. Arts funding is becoming increasingly scarce in England and we have to think of different ways to generate income. We also have to think about ourselves as workers and how we can make this project sustainable for everyone involved.

We rely on our network – there’s such a strong community of translators on X (formerly Twitter) and a lot of our submissions derive from the relationships we build. We also find books through English PEN Presents, which is an opportunity for translators to apply for funding to create a translation sample, along with submission support from English PEN.

With the exception of Korean literature, our translations are largely unfunded by governments. With translated literature – and culture more broadly – there is an undercurrent of politics and policy that partially determines what is translated and why. European languages still dominate literary translation, while Japanese and Korean are among the most widely translated languages from Asia. I wish there was better government funding for independent presses. If you look at different countries like the US, the independent publishing scene is very different. There is private patronage and significant fundraising capacity alongside government funding. In the UK, people do incredible work but often it’s their side job or passion project. Yet what we do as independent publishers is such an important contribution to the cultural landscape of the UK. For Tilted Axis, we do this for our authors, translators and the diverse communities that we come from. Independent publishers often exist to publish books that big publishers won’t take the risk on – risk is built into our mandate. The potential for low sales isn’t at the forefront of our editorial decisions – it’s the quality of literature that determines what we publish. But I can’t pretend that the risks we take aren’t at the back of my mind: I lead a business that contributes to people’s livelihoods, my own included.

Fig 1

From A Book, Untitled (2023) by Shushan Avagyan, translated by Deanna Cachoian-Schanz

In our anthology, Violent Phenomena: 21 Essays on Translation (2022), editors Kavita Bhanot and Jeremy Tiang discuss the colonial structure within which translated literature exists and the labour translators are doing to work against it. When we think about translated literature, we must consider the politics that surround who is translating, why, and how.

Some people believe that if you’re going to translate into English, it should be your first language. We don’t subscribe to this belief at all. If you focus on a particular level of fluency, you fail to understand a translator’s personal relationship to the original language and the possibilities or constraints that are a result of this.
If you’re a heritage speaker, there will be other relationships you have with that language and a particular way into the literature. For instance, it could be the language you speak with your family or a language you inherited from colonial structures — so much can exist within a person’s relationship to a specific language.

In an essay in Violent Phenomena, Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi proposes the translator as an intermediary, challenging the notion of bridge-building and globalisation through language. An intermediary, she writes, is part of the colonial project, a role that understands language at the intersection of emotion, history, and tenderness. The essay(s), presented in a split-page format, must be read horizontally and the act of reading becomes an embodiment of the intermediary. The eye and the mind must reckon with a simultaneity that already – and always – exists for the intermediary translator.



Figure 2: From Kavita Bhanot & Jeremy Tiang’s introduction to Violent Phenomena (2022)

Figure 3: From Pa-liwanag: To the Light (2020) compiled by Gantala Press

Figure 4: From “Preserving the Tender Things” by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi in Violent Phenomena (2022), edited by by Kavita Bhanot & Jeremy Tiang 

Fig 2

Then, what I love about The End of August is the rhythm. There’s a movement ingrained in the writing, in Yu Miri’s prose and in Morgan Giles’s translation. There are also lines in the original Korean and Japanese that aren’t translated. If it comes across as difficult or alienating for the English speaker, that’s the whole point. People who grow up in multilingual environments might not understand everything they hear, and the book expresses this.

The novel opens with breath: “In-hale, ex-hale. In-hale, ex-hale.” Readers must contend with these two words for extended lines, and sometimes an entire page. At points, Korean and Japanese words remain untranslated, and the reader must reckon with discomfort and unknowing. Though semi-autobiographical, Yu Miri describes the book as fiction. On tour, she held the 700+ page book (which looked larger against her small frame) and firmly stated, “This is fiction, but it is not a lie.” In literary form, Miri expresses a truth about the experience and aftermath of settler colonialism. You might come to this book with particular expectations but Yu Miri and Morgan Giles will inevitably defy them.

What is often considered literary is based on a Western canon. Without translation, our knowledge of literature is confined and limited to a fraction of what actually exists. I’m drawn to the unknown, to worlds and possibilities that I can’t imagine. The project of Tilted Axis reflects this curiosity and challenges what we think we know about literature.

There’s a poem at the end of Again I Hear These Waters, a compilation of Miyah voices from the Northeast Indian state of Assam curated by Shalim M. Hussain, that reminds me of “If I Must Die” by Refaat Alareer. Solidarities have existed for a long time between Palestine and the rest of the Global South, and that undercurrent is always present in what we do as a publishing house. Palestinian liberation is a part of everything that we’ve published. Each person who works at TAP is tied to histo-ries of colonial violence and that proximity affects our editorial choices and collaborations. Part of our work is making our threads of solidarity visible.

Poetry is so important to resistance movements, and to the transmission of knowledge. Oral traditions have a long relationship to organising labour, in poetry and songs. We’re doing a project with Gantala Press in the Philippines, Song and Sovereignty, where we’re going to capture women farmers involved in food justice – their poetry, their songs, their recipes. Poetry doesn’t just exist as words on paper, it can be a fundamental part of community or resistance.

When bringing translated work to the UK, you have to think very clearly about the language that you use. In our new editorial framework, “Translating Waters”, we are trying to challenge the concept of a nation-state by focusing on bodies of water, both conceptual and literal. We begin with the Pacific Seas and the Indian Ocean. This year we’re also publishing work we consider part of the Black Atlantic. This framework acknowledges the movement of people, language, ideas and imaginations. I’m trying to shift away from describing the press as a publisher of Asian and African literatures, and to think more in terms of the Global Majority and diasporas. For example, we’re publishing our first Latin American novel in 2025 and the author, Yuliana Ortiz Ruano, is part of the Afro-diaspora. Translated literature is often categorised nationally or regionally but the histories of colonialism and slavery complicate such categorisation. The words we use to describe what we publish are deliberate, and integral to our commitment to the anticolonial movement.

We’re trying to facilitate a two-way, reciprocal relationship, and diasporism is not exclusive to the UK. The movement between literatures and place can be considered risky — it’s so much easier to commit to a single purpose. For Tilted Axis, we have to accept that we are not just one thing – that we cannot be. ◉



Figure 5: The End of August (2023), Yu Miri, translated by Morgan Giles

Figures 6 and 7: From Again I Hear These Waters (2024), curated and translated by Shalim M. Hussain

Fig 5