Dr. Sumie Jones, residential fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study, has always been a hardworking member of the Indiana University community and she shows no sign of changing that soon. A professor emerita of both Comparative Literature and East Asian Languages and Cultures, she has maintained a career marked by an impressive publication history and the organization of two successful, internationally funded and attended conferences among other scholarly, artistic, and critical contributions to the international academic community and the local one here at Indiana University Bloomington.
Dr. Jones' most recent project is the compilation of Japanese urban literature in English translation, published by the University of Hawai’i Press. The project, supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Toshiba International Foundation in addition to Indiana University, collects a wide variety of urban or popular Japanese literature, the majority of which has never before been translated into English. Broken into distinct historical and geographical periods, this three-volume anthology provides both the scholar and the casual reader with comprehensive introductions to each work, written by the translator and co-editors and allowing anyone to enjoy these translations without the weight of lengthy footnotes or other distracting intrusions, and with an in-depth look at each period and region's social, cultural, literary, and historical context.
The project is interested in accessibility, addressing a gap in Japan Studies by creating a literary and scholarly project that dovetails nicely with contemporary American interest in Japanese pop culture. In translating literary texts by well-known and established authors beside texts heavily dependent on images and commercial reception—examples from the recently released A Tokyo Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Modern Metropolis, 1850–1920 include translations of gōkan, or Edo-style graphic novels, and comic panels from An Illustrated Ja-pun, a Meiji-period Mad magazine—or by lesser-known writers and artists, the anthology calls attention to a parallel interest in the written and the seen and, just as importantly, brings much-needed attention to popular literature and culture, often denigrated as low class or unworthy of serious consideration and study.
The project boasts a commitment to representing the texts to a contemporary American audience with the same immediacy and understanding the original reader might have experienced. “Rather than severing the connection between these texts and their accompanying images, she works tirelessly to obtain the rights to manuscripts and other visual materials to accurately reproduce the texts as the original readership experienced them,” explains Ali Frauman, one of the project’s chief assistants since 2014. A focused attention from both a visual and a textual perspective ensures that the works collected in and disseminated by way of these volumes maintain a fidelity to original works (a conceptually important issue in translation studies) that goes beyond the traditionally elevated position of “literal” textual equivalence and Dr. Jones’ cooperative approach to editing—one marked by repeated correspondence on matters ranging from legibility and textual interpretation to the choice of punctuation—ensures that the best possible translations are presented to an American readership. Frauman explains the process as a “dialogue created during the revision process that allows for a refined and skillful final product.”
Dr. Jones is currently at work on the volume that covers the earliest time period of the anthology, tentatively titled “A Kamigata Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Metropolitan Centers, 1600–1750.” This volume, joining the already-published and well-reviewed An Edo Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Mega City, 1750–1850 (2009) and A Tokyo Anthology: Literature from Japan's Modern Capital, 1850–1920, focuses on works concerning the cities of Kyoto and Osaka and will feature poetry, prose, drama, graphic narratives, and texts that push against and between genres thanks to newly-won grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Toshiba International Foundation, and Indiana University.