In this conversation, Michael Juliani and Bonnie Huie discuss Huie’s new translation of Qiu Miaojin’s Notes of a Crocodile, a coming-of- age novel about a group of queer friends in late 80’s, post-martial-law Taipei, recently released in May 2017 by NYRB Classics.
Michael Juliani: You said it took a long time to getNotes of a Crocodile into print. I’m wondering if you could describe how you arrived at translating it.
Bonnie Huie: I got into translation on a fluke. It was me not putting two things together in my mind. I studied Chinese in college. I used to do more of my own writing, and I showed it to someone from Taiwan who had her first poetry collection published by a very nice indie publisher and she said, “I would love to have an English translation of my book.” And I said, “Sure, I’ll do it.” And as a gift, she gave me books by Qiu Miaojin.
In Fall 2014, I was Wayne Koestenbaum’s student in the MFA program at Columbia University, where he taught a seminar focusing on notebooks by writers such as Susan Sontag, Clarice Lispector, and Hervé Guibert. My reading of his new book, The Pink Trance Notebooks, spread many of the freedoms I enjoyed as his student further into excitable and mysterious space, as I worked to combine and accompany my poetic practice with the energies of newer literatures. It was exactly Wayne’s inclusiveness and submersion in the solar system of pleasurable syntaxes—such an element of his weekly inspiration as a teacher—that drove me to ask for some of his time to talk. We met in September at his Chelsea studio, an uptown-facing, sun-flooded room more than a dozen stories high. When he’s not writing or teaching, he goes there to paint.
Michael Juliani: There’s something almost cinematic about an in-between form where everything can collapse. The cinematic shadow is what’s interesting to me. I find myself speaking a lot in abstractions when it comes to my own practice. Do you find yourself having to do a lot of explaining when it comes to the form of The Pink Trance Notebooks?