Isbister publishes anthology of work from Chinese women writers

Written by Alison Parkins on |
Book cover

Dr. Dong Isbister, University of Wisconsin-Platteville associate professor of women and gender studies, recently published an anthology she co-edited titled “Chinese Women Writers on the Environment: A Multi-ethnic Anthology of Fiction and Nonfiction.” (McFarland, 2020)

The anthology includes 22 stories, prose and poems about women’s experiences in China that were collected and translated over the past five years by Isbister and her co-editors, Xiumei Pu and Stephen D. Rachman. The stories portray themes of strength, sadness, defiance and resilience and urban and village life in China, from the cultural revolution to the present.

Isbister’s work on the anthology stemmed from a presentation that she delivered on a short story by a Chinese writer, “Dalema’s Sacred Tree,” at a conference in River Falls, Wisconsin in 2014. Following the presentation, she was asked when she was going to translate the story. This question sparked the idea for the five-year long project that involved more than 60 people in China and the United States. Isbister and her co-editors directed a host of translators based in China and the United States to translate the 22 pieces of ecologically-oriented writing by contemporary women writers from 13 Chinese ethnic minority groups.

"The anthology is an expression of a hope that through translation into English we might expand the horizons of global literary study, ethnic literary study, environmental study and the study of women writers,” wrote the editors in the anthology’s introduction. “The voices found in this volume represent a range of ethnic groups that constitute smaller slices of the Chinese demographic puzzle: Daur, Evenki, Hui, Kazakh, Manchu, Mongolian, She, Tujia, Uyghur, Va, Xibo, Yi and Zhuang.”

Isbister said it is important that this anthology highlights voices and stories that are not as frequently heard.

"Much has been written about the economic development of China since the 1970s, and this collection seeks to give a global voice to another kind of development: the rich and unprecedented flourishing of several generations of women writers in China,” said Isbister, and her co-editors. “As a whole, these authors articulate subjects that reach deep into history and time yet also speak to the present – the changing demographics and social conditions that this economic and social development has set into motion."

Throughout the process of editing the anthology, Isbister found valuable ways to incorporate lessons into her classes at UW-Platteville.

“One important aspect of my teaching is to use cross-cultural lenses to help students make broader connections among cultures and outlooks on various and interconnected relations in different social, cultural and natural environments,” said Isbister. “The project and related research have been integrated in my lectures, class discussions and some assignments.”

The project has already garnered attention and awards. It was one of the recipients of the Translation Grants awarded by the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment in 2016. It also won multiple university grants or College of Liberal Arts and Education Dean's Funds at UW-Platteville. Two scholarly articles based on the project were published in 2017 and 2019, and multiple conferences presentations about the pieces included in the anthology were delivered at national or international conferences between 2016 and 2019.

For more information about the anthology, visit