lives own their facts/…facts own their lives… (Zong! #22)
1. In 2016 Renata Morresi, wrote to me stating that she was interested in translating Zong! into Italian. Renata Morresi stated that she did not have a publisher. I advised Renata Morresi that she would have to get permission from the publishers, Wesleyan University Press (WUP). At the time it appeared to be something of a passion project and assumed that she would be in touch with me once she had a publisher. I heard nothing more from Renata Morresi until June 11, 2021 when I received congratulations from Benway Series Press on publication of a translation of Zong! by Renata Moressi.
2. In 2020 WUP sold the translation rights to Benway Series Press for $150. WUP did not inform me that the rights had been sold nor did they put me in touch with the translator Renata Morresi or Benway Series Press.
3. At least five people, including representatives of the Canada Council which funded the translation in the amount of some $13,000, have been involved in this Italian translation of Zong!, all of whom are white, and yet no one thought it necessary to consult with me, the Black and African-descended author of the said work, which engages with the transatlantic slave trade and which, as plainly stated on the cover—as told to the author by Setaey Adamu Boateng—involved Ancestral voices.
4. In addition to this egregious act of negligence regarding process and common standards within the translation community, the translator, Renata Morresi, failed to respect the foundational and organizing principle of Zong!, which is that no word or cluster of words can come directly below another: each word, fragment or word cluster is seeking the space above to breathe as those massacred 240 years ago this November were not able to breathe. It is this restraint and conceptual rigour that gives the work its distinctive shape.
5. On p.203 of the Notanda that appears at the end of Zong!, I state: “every word or word cluster is seeking a space directly above within which to fit itself and in so doing falls into relation with others either above, below, or laterally. This is the governing principle and adds a strongly visual quality to the work.” Renata Moressi has ignored this principle.
5. In ignoring this principle Renata Moressi is in breach of the Translators’ Code established by the Federation of International Translators, in particular paras. 4 and 11. These read as follows:
4. Every translation shall be faithful and render exactly the idea and form of the original, this fidelity constituting both a moral and legal obligation for the translator. (my emphasis)
11. Being a “secondary” author, the translator is required to accept special obligations with respect to the author of the original work.
6. Renata Morresi and Benway Series Press are also in breach of my moral rights as an author and, in particular, as regards a work that engaged Ancestral protocols and obligations.
7. Since June 11, 2021, when I first received notice of the publication of the translation by Benway Series, I have been making my concerns known to all the parties concerned, Renata Morresi, Benway Series Press, WUP and the Canada Council. I called for the work to be destroyed, an act which publishers do find necessary to do from time to time. Despite my making my concerns and opposition to the publication known to everyone, no one listened to me or took my concerns seriously.
8. On June 18, 2021, Benway Series Press wrote to me and did agree with me that they and the translator should have been in contact with me earlier: “You are entirely right when you say that we, Benway Series and the translator, should have contacted you earlier.”
9. They excuse themselves as follows: “Although the project has been ongoing since at least 2016, the great bulk of the translation, the editing and the painstaking proof-reading of your book was essentially done during the pandemic, among great personal and professional difficulties, and on a very tight schedule.” The translation appears to have essentially been a pandemic project.
10. In late August 2021 I received an email from WUP informing me that Benway was intending to go ahead with the distribution of the translation because they had told the Canada Council that they would publish the work by June 2021.
11. On September 1, 2021, I informed all the parties that unless I had a confirmation that Benway would destroy the translation and remove all mention of it from their website, I would make the situation public.
12. On September 1, 2021, WUP, via email, finally agreed that the translation did not follow the organizing principal of the original and agreed that the text should be destroyed and expressed hope that Benway Series would agree.
13. In response to these events WUP has changed its policies concerning informing authors of sale of licenses and has set a minimum fee of $500 for print runs under 1,000 books.
13. On September 1, 2021, via email, Renata Morresi continued to assert that the texts were exactly the same except for a few places where there was some overlap: “I invite everybody who hasn’t had the chance to do it yet to compare the original and its translation page by page: they will realize that the Italian version follows the layout of the original in almost every instance. Yes, in a few instances a word or a cluster of words slightly superimposes the word or cluster of words in the previous line, for the space of a character or two….”
14. Morresi’s statement is inaccurate, since there are many, many pages where the organizing principle is not followed.
15. Morresi also states in this letter that she reached out to me for “advice and collaboration more than once.” (Her emphasis) I have one request from Renata Morresi in 2016 referred to in para. 1 above. There was a failed attempt made by a third party to speak with her after the Benway publication.
16. I did not respond to Morresi because she had not contacted Wesleyan and did not have a contract. Morresi is clearly of the opinion that because she was interested in translating Zong!, I should have made myself available to work with her with no contract or financial recompense for my time. This is a form of exploitation and entitlement.
17. Benway Series Press did not reply to my September 1, 2021 email.
18. On September 7, 2012, I wrote once again to Benway concerning their failure to respond to my September 1, 2021 letter. In response Benway Series wrote that “(d)oubts about the book’s quality and graphic rendering… cannot be attributed to identity differences or presumed essences.”
19. Neither Renata Morresi nor Benway Series Press appear interested in the fact that in allowing the words to breathe on the page, the experience of the Zong massacre by drowning—the content, if you will, has been braided into the formal and textual properties of the work; in other words the form of Zong! is also the content and the content the form. Benway Series and Renata Morresi appear more concerned with what the former describes as the “graphic rendering” of the text, and the latter with how the text can be used to further the discussion of racism in Italy. Neither Benway Series nor Renata Morresi appear concerned with the reparative intent of the work for Black and African-descended people; indeed Benway dismisses those as “identity differences” and “presumed essences.” They do not consider Zong! a work of mourning or an honouring of the Ancestors, which it was written as. For the most part, they are more interested in how Zong! can kick start a discussion on race related to the migrant crisis in Italy today and be used to challenge a Fascist legacy.
20. Among the layers of erasure enacted by Benway Series is the fact that although they are a bilingual press and all their other books listed on their site are bilingual, Zong! is the only book to appear that is only in Italian.
21. Most recently Benway Series has publicly accused me on their website and on my FB page of racial essentialism; tribalism; authoritarianism & totalitarianism; North American privilege and colonialism.