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Greater recognition and solidarity for literary translators

Written by

Ros Schwartz

Here's a special extended version of Ros Schwartz's article on current trends in literary translation from ITI's latest e-book.

Ros SchwartzThe past decade has seen the publication of a growing volume of superb international literature, with the overall proportion of translated books reported to have risen from 3% to 4.5%.

Over the past 15 years or so, the concentration of both publishing and bookselling compounded by the rise of online retailers has made it very tough for publishers of quality literary works. But even so, we have witnessed the appearance of several independent niche publishers passionate about translated literature, such as Peirene, Les Fugitives, and translator-led And Other Stories and Tilted Axis. They have devised innovative models (subscription, selecting titles in consultation with readers' groups both physical and virtual, literary salons), creating a community, and their books are prominent on the translation prize shortlists. Publishers and translators are working closely together to produce and promote translations of the highest quality. And there have been some notable blockbusters, always unforeseen, such as The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery published by Gallic in 2008, giving the lie to the myth that translated books don’t sell. Arts Council English funding, distributed through the PEN Translates programme, has resulted in more bibliodiversity than ever, with 163 titles supported since its inception in October 2012, from 42 languages ranging from Albanian to Galician, Nyorsk, Occitan and Uyfhur.  

The launch of the Man Booker International Prize and the spectacular success of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian have created new readerships for translated fiction and spurred publishers to look further afield and take bolder risks. A number of translated books are projects championed by translators.

Daniel Hahn, one of the Man Booker International judges, comments:

“Judging the Prize this year meant reading 126 novels in English translation. In one sense it was thrilling to see the quality and range of what was being published in the UK from around the world – an extraordinary privilege; but it was also a sometimes salutary experience, too, when the (perhaps predictable) imbalances became clear. The fact our diet was overwhelmingly books from western European languages, say (with a handful dominating), with some major literatures barely represented, with a significant majority from male authors, and so on. Where are the books from non-Francophone Africa? How can so much of Asia be so drastically under-represented? There's a lot to celebrate, I think, with UK publishing of international literature becoming increasingly confident and successful these days, but in terms of diversity within that sector there are plenty of areas where we can still do better!”

Things have changed at the coalface too. Recent years have seen the emergence of a strong and vibrant translation community with the main literary translation bodies – the British Centre for Literary Translation, English PEN, Literature Across Frontiers, and a reinvigorated Translators Association – all working closely together.

As well as instigating peer training initiatives – the BCLT summer school and Translate at City in London, workshops, the Translation Centre at the London Bookfair and International Translation Day – the translation community is involved in partnerships with a host of national organisations including the Arts Council of England, the British Council, the British Library, book festivals, libraries and reading groups, the London Review of Books with its translation master classes, the South Bank, the European Literature network and the Eastside Educational Trust with Translation Nation putting translators in schools, to name but a few. Translators are increasingly active and visible, and translation events have become crowd-pullers: the translation strand at the Edinburgh Book Festival programme now sells over 800 tickets!

Today there is an influx of emerging translators bringing fresh energy and ideas to the scene, encouraged by the Writers Centre Norwich mentoring programme, the Harvill Secker prize and International Translation Day itself, which attracts newcomers to the profession.

 

For an overview of some of the most exciting translated titles 

Watch podcasts from the Literary Translation Centre at the London Book Fair

Watch sessions from International Translation Day 2017

 

Ros Schwartz is a renowned translator of over 80 works, including Antoine Saint Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. She received ITI’s John Sykes Memorial Prize for Excellence in 2017 for her outstanding contribution to translation.

 

Would you like to read more about latest trends in the translation and interpreting sector? Have you downloaded ITI's latest e-book yet? Find out more here.

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