Women Expand Japanese Literature

By Barreira, Alex | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), August 27, 2019 | Go to article overview

Women Expand Japanese Literature


Barreira, Alex, Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


BY ALEX BARREIRA

The Associated Press

TOKYO - The works receiving one of Japan's most coveted literary awards, the Naoki Prize, have something new in common: For the first time in 85 years, all six of the nominated authors are women.

Japan is home to what many consider the world's first novel, "The Tale of Genji," written in the 11th century by noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu. Its modern fiction has been defined mostly by long-established male writers such as past Nobel laureates Kenzaburo Oe and Yasunari Kawabata. And for decades it has been dominated by Haruki Murakami, whose surreal blend of magical realism and pop culture has made him an international bestseller.

But Japanese literature is beginning to look different as new voices, including young writers, women and the elderly, receive domestic and international recognition.

Last week, two women, Natsuko Imamura and Masumi Oshima, were presented with the Akutagawa and Naoki prizes. Since 1935 the Akutagawa and Naoki have recognized serious and popular fiction, respectively, and provided their winners with a commemorative watch and $10,000. Even more valuable is the prestige its winners receive from media attention and, increasingly, a clear path to wider audiences through translation.

Consider, for instance, the 2016 rise of "Convenience Store Woman." Writer Sayaka Murata's novel inspired by her jobs has sold more than 600,000 copies in Japan since it won the Akutagawa Prize that year. Murata, then 36, and working part-time at a convenience store, shared the stage with actress Naomi Watanabe, known as "the Japanese Beyoncé," as one of Vogue Japan's "Women of the Year." Two years later, the English translation of Murata's novel was an editor's best-of-the-year choice by the New Yorker, the magazine that helped catapult Murakami to stardom.

"International markets grow when talent emerges," said John Freeman, who published work from Murata and Murakami as editor of the anthology "Freeman's." In the past two and a half decades, there's been an explosion of good writing coming from Japan. That wave is cresting now with writers just barely 40 years old."

Publishers in the United States and Britain are seeing a growing audience for novels in translation, experts say. …

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