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Literary NAFTA Crosses Borders
Interview with C.M. Mayo, Founding Editor of
By Leslie Schwartz
June 1, 2001. Reproduced by permission from the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses Newswire. For more information about CLMP Newswire visit http://www.clmp.org/about/newswire_archive.html

C.M. Mayo had to laugh when she read the Bloomsbury Review's story regarding the debut of Tameme, the literary magazine she had just founded. "They called it a literary and cultural response to NAFTA," she says, still laughing. "But in a sense it's true." True because in its first issue, the publication-an annual bilingual journal of new writing and a forum for the art of translations-presented works from Canada, the United States, and Mexico, the three nations involved in NAFTA.

"Tameme," the Nahuatl word for "porter" or "messenger," hit the literary scene with a splash. The roster of contributors was star-studded and included an essay by Margaret Atwood, fiction by Edwidge Danticat, and poetry by Jaime Sabines. But impressive writers notwithstanding, Tameme did not necessarily spark a uniform reaction.

"The response still tends to be one of extremes— either total indifference or people literally jumping up and down," says Mayo. A case in point: At this year's AWP conference in Palm Springs, according to Mayo, most people seemed to clue into the Spanish-language aspect of the magazine then continue past Tameme's table without stopping. But there were also those who wouldn't leave, picking up copies of the magazine and gushing about its attempt to bring well-known writers from other countries to the United States. "That was gratifying because I started the magazine out of the shock I had when I saw that so few wonderful writers and poets were being translated," says Mayo.

And she does not mean strictly from Spanish to English. While living in Mexico and translating Mexican poetry, she was amazed to learn that many well-read Mexicans had never heard of big-name English-language writers like Margaret Atwood. At the same time, Mayo found that English-speaking readers had a limited knowledge of well-known Spanish-speaking writers. "Americans may know about Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes but few have heard of the popular Mexican writers like Juan Villaro or poet Alberto Blanco," says Mayo. "I wanted to bring the work of these many wonderful writers to the U.S. and Canada and vice versa."

So, in 1999, armed with little more than her own money, a few small donations and the help of her father's Silicone Valley-based publishing concern, Mansell Publishing, Mayo hunkered down and produced the first issue of Tameme.

[Here it should be noted that while Mansell Publishing donates the use of office space, Tameme is published by Tameme, Inc., a nonprofit foundation dedicated to bilingual publishing. - C.M.]

Much like Two Lines, a San Francisco literary magazine devoted to translations, Mayo wanted to provide the translators with a forum to defend and discuss their choices as writers and translators. "I wanted readers to see for themselves what liberties translators take and why they take them," says Mayo.

As a translator herself, Mayo firmly believes that literary translation is a painstaking art and that translators deserve equal billing along with the creator of the original work. "After all," she writes in a letter from the editor of the first issue, "when Beethoven is played at Carnegie Hall, it matters very much who the pianist is." But above and beyond the forum she provides for the translator in the magazine, Mayo has another, perhaps even more elusive but no less respectable goal. "I want to create a bridge between language and art, to promote the sharing and exchanging of valuable writing across borders," says Mayo.

To that end, Mayo designed her publication with care. The format is not unique. Like many other translation journals, the Spanish appears on one side, and on the facing page is the English version of the story, poem, or essay. What is unique is that the translators' notes appear in the back and each translator is given space to discuss and defend his or her work. "It's unusual to give translators so much space," says Mayo "but it's important that they have the opportunity to discuss the choices they've made in their own language."

While language and its intricacies are what guide Mayo's vision and mission, the financial and business aspects of publishing a bilingual literary journal create their own set of challenges. Finding a distributor in America has been taxing at best. No distributor as yet has agreed to take the magazine on. "Distributors don't know what to do with us," says Mayo who acknowledges that sales have come primarily through book fairs in both the United States (primarily in the Southwest) and in Mexico. Mayo has managed to find a Mexican distributor to handle sales across the border. And she has relied on direct-mail efforts and Amazon.com sales to keep the magazine alive. The second issue, just published, was funded by a generous grant from the U.S.- Mexico Fund for Culture.

Though Mayo acknowledges that there is a certain amount of what she calls indifference toward the publication of Tameme, she is not at all daunted. "I see this response as a challenge," she says. "It's that very indifference that makes me think that's precisely why we're doing this."

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