By Karen Langley
Japanese literature has a long and rich heritage stretching from early works like The Pillow Book (990s) and The Tale of Genji (early 11th century) to modern masters such as Murakami. Some of my personal favourites, such as Yukio Mishima, hail from the 20th century, but Japan continues to be a cultural force to this day. We’re very fortunate in the English speaking world that many wonderful works have been translated into our language for the Anglophone to enjoy. However, it can be hard to negotiate the large amount of books on the market from all sources; and many Japanese authors’ works never make it into English; so a brand new publishing venture which takes perhaps an unusual approach looks set to come to the rescue.
Red Circle Authors is something of a hybrid; describing themselves as neither agency nor publishing house, they prefer to consider themselves as a home for authors from, or living in, Japan. Co-founders Richard Nathan and Koji Chikatani (who have known each other for 20 years) aim to promote contemporary Japanese writing to a wider market, and to this end have set up an exemplary website. As well as promoting the Red Circle Authors specifically, the site also acts as a resource for Japanese literature generally, with news and a searchable ‘factbook’; there is also an online magazine, “The Circle” which has all sorts of fascinating features.
In an interview with the Japan Times, Nathan and Chikatani pointed out how different the Japanese publishing industry is to that of the West, with authors not usually having agents nor multiple book deals. Getting a work translated and published abroad is not so easy unless you’re a big name. So Red Circle have taken the somewhat radical step of producing the Red Circle Minis: short, beautifully produced works which are published in English first. These are first editions, written specifically to be published by Red Circle; it’s a bold initiative, and the first three Minis have been out for a little while and are garnering much interest online.
At a length somewhere between short story and novella, the Minis are the ideal size to act as an introduction to a new author, as well as being handy enough to slip into a pocket or a small handbag. Yet despite their slim size (perhaps reflecting the Japanese love of all things miniature?), each of the three books released so far has an intellectual heft that belies its brevity. If forthcoming Minis are up to the standards of these, Red Circle is a venture to watch.
In a world where publishing is increasingly commercialised and homogenized, a project like Red Circle, which seeks to widen our cultural horizons as well as producing bookish objects of beauty is very welcome. Additionally, the Minis plus back-up information about the authors on the Red Circle website will hopefully attract the attention of Western publishers who might be prepared to take a risk on a new work.
The first three Minis certainly give a flavour of the variety of Japanese writing that’s out there and perhaps might appeal to those who tend to be nervous of translated books (I believe there are such people….) Nathan and Chikatani have come up with a wonderful initiative to promote the writing they love – they describe it as their “passion project” – and Red Circle Authors is definitely an enterprise to watch!
You can find out more about Red Circle, their authors and Japanese writing in general at their website: https://www.redcircleauthors.com/
Karen Langley blogs at kaggsysbookishramblings and is fairly obsessed with cherry blossom (www.kaggsysbookishramblings.wordpress.com)