Japanese Program's event honors Japanese literary magazine

Baruch College’s Japanese Program hosted “Too Much Monkey Business?: Japanese Authors” on Thursday, May 4. The event celebrated the publication of the literary magazine Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan Vol. 7 by featuring two authors, Hiromi Ito and Hiroko Oyamada, who were highlighted in the magazine.

Motoyuki Shibata, Monkey Business’ translator and founder, opened up the event by explaining the purpose of Monkey Business. A Tokyo-based magazine, Monkey Business’ objective is to publish the works of contemporary Japanese writers.

Shibata discussed his background and his influence on Monkey Business. After spending time in the literary journal writing field, Shibata founded Monkey Business in 2008. In the beginning, many contributors were authors from Britain, Canada and the United States, but Shibata pushed for a forum that featured works that were translated from Japanese to English and written by Japanese writers.

Ted Goossen, a professor of Japanese literature at York University, explained that the journal’s aim is to introduce writers who are well-known in Japan but not in the United States. Monkey Business' staff members have now started organizing yearly events in both the United States and Canada. The debut of Monkey Business at Baruch was one of the stops on its U.S. tour.

After Shibata’s and Goossen’s explanation of Monkey Business, the first author, Oyamada, was invited to speak. Oyamada, a Hiroshima native, won the Akutagawa Prize in 2013.

Oyamada read one of her short stories, “Mothers,” in her native Japanese and Goossen translated each paragraph read out loud to English.

When she finished reading, Oyamada said that her stories are often based on dreams she has, and that “Mothers” was not any different.

“I woke up in a sweat and could tell that this was going to be a story. My 3-year-old daughter was sleeping next to me so I covered myself with the covers and wrote this story on my cellphone,” Oyamada said. “I wrote the story as quickly as possible because I wanted to capture what I felt in the dream. In the morning, I typed it up on my laptop.”

Ito was invited to present next. She first provided some background information on herself, revealing that her interest in poetry began when she was 18 years old. She found her university exams difficult, struggled with her confidence and developed an eating disorder.

“I took a writing class and a poet praised my work, saying that writing was a good option for me. So, I wrote again and I could not stop,” Ito said. She explores women’s issues in her work.

Ito chose to read her poem on abortion. She read in Japanese and paused for Shibata to translate. The phrase “congratulations on your destruction” was repeated several times. At one point, Shibata and Ito began repeating “congratulations” together.

After Ito, editor Roland Kelts spoke. Kelts, author of Japanamerica, specializes in nonfiction and gives talks about contemporary Japanese culture. He said that he met Shibata in New York City and worked with him on A Public Space, a Brooklyn-based literary magazine. When Monkey Business was founded, Kelts was asked to help with the production of the magazine.

“I cannot believe that this is the seventh issue. I feel humbled and privileged to be a part of this. I do not think there is anything else like Monkey Business,” Kelts said.

Later there was a question and answer session on the production schedule of the literary magazine. Writers can submit original work in June and July, Shibata said. The editing process is time-consuming, as editors get drafts back with many comments regarding style and nuance. When they are finished with edits, editors consult the translators in October. The translators’ work ends in December but can continue into early January. The magazine finally enters the publishing phase in either March or April.

At the conclusion of the event, attendees were welcome to purchase a copy of Monkey Business signed by Oyamada and Ito.