Tiffany Tsao: On working with Norman for Asymptote

Blog / People

May 24, 2017 — by Tiffany Tsao

Last updated on August 13, 2018 at 2:28 pm

One of the most rewarding things about being an Editor-at-Large for Asymptote is unearthing and bringing a new life to exciting work from the countries we represent. As the Indonesia Editor-at-Large, I see my role as that of an advocate. In proposing a piece, it’s crucial to make a strong case for the work. This involves compiling information about the author and the piece, hunting down example translations of an author’s work, and sometimes doing a sample translation of the work myself.

Bringing these pieces to the table is one part of a long process leading up to final publication, but not all proposals make it past this first step. It’s always disappointing when a piece you care about so deeply doesn’t make the final cut. Thus, it was with great satisfaction that I was able to see six poems by Norman Erikson Pasaribu that I proposed come to fruition in our Winter 2017 issue.

Norman (as he prefers to be called) belongs to Indonesia’s newest generation of writers. He has been shortlisted for the Khatulistiwa Literary Award twice and his debut poetry collection Sergius Mencari Bacchus (Sergius Seeks Bacchus) won first place in the 2015 Jakarta Arts Council Poetry Manuscript Competition—no small feat for a work dealing openly with gay and transgender issues in a country where anti-LGBT hostility and violence is very common.

In order to suggest Norman’s work to our poetry editor Aditi Machado, I had to confirm that his poems were available (it can be difficult to find accurate information on which Indonesian literary works have already been published in English). I reached out to Norman through a direct Twitter message and ascertained that they were. I also asked if he would be alright with me translating some of his poems for our poetry editor’s consideration—bearing in mind that there was no guarantee of acceptance. To my amazement, he was still willing to work with me on the translations, even if they didn’t find a home at Asymptote. Happily, six of the nine poems we submitted did.

As a result of our collaboration on these translations, we were able to put together an application for the 2017 PEN Presents…East & Southeast Asia competition. Our entry was one of six finalists chosen for inclusion in English PEN’s special competition catalog!

I’m incredibly pleased that Norman’s poetry was able to make its first English-language appearance in Asymptote’s pages. And it’s my hope that noteworthy pieces by Indonesian writers will continue to appear in our future issues.

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If you’re interested, Asymptote welcomes submissions of hitherto unpublished translated poetry, fiction, nonfiction and drama; certain types of original English-language nonfiction, including literary and critical writing; as well as visual art. Here’s a link to the submissions page


This story was originally published as part of Asymptote’s Fortnightly Airmail, and is reproduced here by courtesy of Tiffany Tsao/Asymptote. Enjoy more of Tiffany’s musings and insights in her essay on Indonesian writing, published on the Asymptote blog, or give Tiffany a visit to her profile page here.