The Transpacific Literary Project is an ambitious online editorial initiative of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop (AAWW) that is poised to foster literary connections between East and Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Asian diaspora, and a broader American reading public. The project has taken the shape of a series of portfolios published on AAWW’s online magazine The Margins. These portfolios comprise poetry and prose written by East and Southeast Asian writers, with an emphasis on works in translation, curated around broad themes, and seek to traverse geographic and other boundaries.
Ruth Ozeki’s novel Tale for the Time Being begins with a barnacle-encrusted plastic bag washing ashore in Whaletown, British Columbia. Discovered by the novel’s narrator, also named Ruth, the plastic bag contains a Hello Kitty lunchbox, a Seiko watch, a bundle of letters in Japanese, a French composition notebook, and the secret diary of a young girl named Nao, which also contains a copy of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. Ruth initially dismisses the bag as “someone’s garbage,” but as she excavates its contents she realizes that the bag is likely debris from the devastating 2011 Tōhoku tsunami in Japan that has made its way to Whaletown through the Pacific Ocean’s Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world.
In Ecologies of Entanglement in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, academic Michelle N. Huang reads Tale for the Time Being’s plastic bag as a reminder of “jettisoned histories of disregard and violent erasure” that circulate through the Pacific Ocean, an “archive of our forgotten, but not dead, waste.” Huang conceives of plastic as more than just “someone’s garbage,” but as signifiers of value, history, attachment, and “material otherness.”
Huang makes a tongue-in-cheek reference to the trope of the “plastic litany,” the catalogue of garbage that is shared whenever someone talks about oceanic waste. Ozeki’s includes, “soda bottles, styrofoam, take-out food containers, disposable razors, industrial waste. Anything we throw away that floats…” We’ve put together our own plastic litany, a list of inspiration and ideas to consider for this issue:
Mass production, factory workers, Foxconn, iPhones, electronic goods, computers, toys, AI, techno-Orientalism, climate change, pollution, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, North Pacific Gyre, debris, industrial waste, the environment, the Anthropocene, garbage dumps, recycling, China’s plastic ban, credit, debt, (in)authenticity, artificiality, plastic surgery, cosmetics, “Made in China,” plastiglomerates, synthetic, porous, toxic, flotsam and jetsam, plastic bags, code switching, “jettisoned histories”
For this next folio in the Transpacific Literary Project, we’re looking for fiction, graphic fiction, essays, poetry, and creative nonfiction on these themes by writers from East and Southeast Asia*. Work in translation is especially welcome. If the submission is by the translator, please indicate if English-language rights are available. We also welcome submissions of images, photo essays, and works of art that speak to the framework described above. Deadline is Friday, June 1, 2018.
Submissions should be titled “Plastic_Lastname_Firstname”
AAWW will hold exclusive print and online rights to your piece for 90 days, and your story will be archived online. All other rights remain with the writer and translator. All contributors of original work (including translators) will be paid. We are also happy to look at ARCs of forthcoming books with a view to publishing extracts.
Simultaneous submissions are welcome, but we ask that you withdraw the piece promptly if it is accepted somewhere else. If you need more information, please get in touch with email@example.com.
*One of the aims of The Transpacific Project will be to interrogate the idea of the Transpacific, and where exactly the region might lie. As such, the following list of countries should be regarded as indicative and non-exclusive; broadly, East and South-east Asia consists of: Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Guam, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Mongolia, North Korea, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and their diasporas.