Allison Markin Powell

Allison Powell

Photo courtesy of Allison Powell


Allison Markin Powell is a literary translator, editor, and publishing consultant. Her translation of Hiromi Kawakami’s The Briefcase was nominated for the Man Asian Literary Prize and the UK edition (Strange Weather in Tokyo) was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. She is currently co-translating Lady Joker by Kaoru Takamura (forthcoming from Soho Crime) with Marie Iida, and translating Black Box by Shiori Ito (forthcoming from The Feminist Press/Tilted Axis). Her other translations include books by Osamu Dazai and Fuminori Nakamura, and her work has appeared in the International New York Times, Words Without Borders, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Guernica, and, among others. She is a founding member of the translation collectives Cedilla & Co. and Strong Women, Soft Power, served as co-chair of the PEN America Translation Committee, and maintains the database Japanese Literature in English.

Project Description

To support the translation from the Japanese of the novel Saraba! by Kanako Nishi. This award-winning and bestselling 700-page epic takes on the Japanese literary tradition of the I-novel, a genre of confessional literature in which events and details in the narrative correspond with those from the author's life—the main character, Ayumu, actually shares Nishi's birthday in 1977. With a backdrop of current events, including the Iranian Revolution, both major earthquake disasters in Japan (1995 and 2011), and the Arab Spring, Saraba! zooms in to portray the disintegration of a family and each character's struggle to find a meaningful path in the world. Nishi is the author of more than 20 novels—several of which have been adapted into movies—as well as short story collections, essays, and children's books. To date, none of her books have been published in English.

From my years working as a literary translator, it is clear that there is no single path to becoming one. I have very deliberately chosen this profession, carving my own way as I go, and it is a tremendous honor to receive a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship.

In the contemporary Japanese literary world, women writers are having a moment. In terms of both prestige and popularity, female authors currently enjoy an equivalent status to that of male authors. However, this parity is not reflected outside of Japan. According to Three Percent’s Translation Database, since 2012 barely more than a quarter—only 26 percent—of the books translated from Japanese into English were written by women. Clearly there has been a falling off somewhere along the line, and it is important that the international literary market should reflect the robust inclusivity of Japanese publishing.

Kanako Nishi’s epic Saraba! won the Naoki Prize and went on to become the fifth-bestselling novel of the year, which is even more significant considering the book runs over 700 pages in hardcover. Saraba! showcases Nishi’s lyrical talents and cements her place in the new literary canon. It wrestles with Japanese literary tradition and recent history, setting Japan and contemporary Japanese citizens within a global context, all the while allowing the reader to immerse themselves in an intimate portrait of a remarkable family.

Kanako Nishi is a writer who deserves an international audience, yet none of her books have been published in English. This NEA Literature Translation Fellowship will support the daunting expense and challenge of publishing this dazzling novel for English-language readers.