Archive for March 2015

Translation on Tap in NYC, April 1 – 15, 2015

I’m waiting for some good April Fools events to turn up, but meanwhile this is what I’ve got on tap so far:Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 10.43.26 AM

Monday, April 6:

“Processes of Translation”: an event with translators from the Russian Ronald Meyer and Ross Ufberg, in conversation with Aleksandar Boscovic, moderated by Bradley Gorski. Presented by The Birch Journal, Russian food provided! Columbia University, Lerner Hall, Rm. 569, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Tuesday, April 7:

Launch event for Time Ages in a Hurry by Antonio Tabucchi, with translators Martha Cooley and Antonio Romani interviewed by Alexander Stille. The Center for Fiction, RSVP recommended, 17 E. 47th St., more information here. 7:00 p.m.

Wednesday, April 8:

Fundraiser for the Trafika Radio project – a reading featuring translators Katrine Øgaard Jensen, Alex Zucker, and Jennifer Zoble as well as Armenian poet Marine Petrossian, with Trafika’s Andrew Singer as M.C. Word Up Community Bookshop, 2113 Amsterdam Ave (corner of 165th), $10 donation suggested, more information here. 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Thursday, April 9:

Poet and translator Marilyn Hacker presents her new book of poems, A Stranger’s Mirror, collecting her work of two decades, including many poems that respond to the French and Francophone literature she translates. Introduction by Yvette Christiansë. More information here. Book Culture, 536 W. 112th St., 7:00 p.m.

Wednesday, April 15:

The Bridge Series devotes an evening to North African literature, featuring translators Pierre Joris and André Naffis-Sahely. More information here. McNally Jackson Books, 52 Prince St., 7:00 p.m.

Some Longlists, Spring 2015

The Man Booker International Prize just posted its list of finalists today, which reminds me how remiss I’ve been in communicating all the other longlist first-prize-1267543615information that’s been coming out for the past few weeks. So without further ado, let the lists begin!

1. The Man Booker International Prize – a hefty (£60,000) prize for a body of work. This year 80% of the finalists are writers of languages other than English, making this the most translation-friendly Man Booker longlist to date. What’s more, if a foreign-language writer wins the prize, s/he is invited to select one of her/his translators to receive a supplementary £15,000 award. Nice!

I suppose this is technically a shortlist rather than a longlist. The winner of the Man Booker International Prize will be announced May 19.

2. PEN American Center Translation Prizes:

The PEN Award for Poetry in Translation:

  • Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon (Action Books), translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi
  • Love Poems by Bertolt Brecht (Liveright), translated from the German by David Constantine and Tom Kuhn
  • I Am the Beggar of the World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), translated from the Pashto by Eliza Griswold
  • Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Juana Inés de la Cruz (W. W. Norton & Company), translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman
  • Where Are the Trees Going? by Venus Khoury-Ghata (Northwestern University Press), translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker
  • Breathturn into Timestead by Paul Celan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), translated from the German by Pierre Joris
  • Guantanamo by Frank Smith (Les Figues Press), translated from the French by Vanessa Place
  • Skin by Tone Škrjanec (Tavern Books), translated from the Slovenian by Matthew Rohrer and Ana Pepelnik
  • Diana’s Tree by Alejandra Pizarnik (Ugly Duckling Presse), translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert
  • Autoepitaph by Reinaldo Arenas (University Press of Florida), translated from the Spanish by Kelly Washbourne

PEN Translation Prize:

  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz (Yale/Margellos), translated from the Polish by Danuta Borchardt
  • The Gray Notebook by Josep Pla (New York Review Books), translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush
  • The Symmetry Teacher by Andrei Bitov (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon
  • The Master of Confessions by Thierry Cruvellier (Ecco), translated from the French by Alex Gilly
  • The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), translated from the Spanish by Anna Kushner
  • I Ching (Viking Books), translated from the Chinese by John Minford
  • Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt (Two Lines Press), translated from the Danish by Denise Newman
  • Texas: The Great Theft by Carmen Boullosa (Deep Vellum Publishing), translated from the Spanish by Samantha Schnee
  • Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye (Two Lines Press), translated from the French by Jordan Stump
  • The Woman Who Borrowed Memories by Tove Jansson (New York Review Books), translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal & Silvester Mazzarella

Both PEN shortlists will be announced on April 15, the winners on May 13.

My enthusiasm at seeing these two lists was dampened by the announcement last week that PEN had selected Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle to be celebrated as its “Publisher Honoree” at the 2015 PEN Gala this May. Readers of this blog know that Penguin Random House – currently the world’s largest trade publisher – recently slashed the pay of all its literary translators in Spain.

3. The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

I’m particularly excited about this one, because a book I translated is on it. It’s a very German-happy list; five of the 15 books on the longlist are translations from German. (I’ve borrowed this copy of the list from The Guardian, so the links are to reviews in that paper.) This one comes with £5000 each for author and translator, plus a bottle of bubbly.

  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Harvill Secker), translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel
    Boyhood Island by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Harvill Secker), translated from Norwegian by Don Bartlett
  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck (Portobello Books) translated from German by Susan Bernofsky
  • The Giraffe’s Neck by Judith Schalansky (Bloomsbury), translated from German by Shaun Whiteside
  • F by Daniel Kehlmann (Quercus), translated from German by Carol Brown Janeway
  • Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes (MacLehose Press), translated from German by Jamie Bulloch
  • Tiger Milk by Stefanie de Velasco (Head of Zeus), translated from German by Tim Mohr
    In the Beginning Was the Sea by Tomás González (Pushkin Press), translated from Spanish by Frank Wynne
  • The Ravens by Tomas Bannerhed (The Clerkenwell Press), translated from Swedish by Sarah Death
  • Bloodlines by Marcello Fois (MacLehose Press), translated from Italian by Silvester Mazzarella
  • The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov (Peirene Press), translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield
  • While the Gods Were Sleeping by Erwin Mortier (Pushkin Press), translated from Dutch by Paul Vincent
  • The Investigation by Jung-Myung Lee (Mantle), translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim
  • The Last Lover by Can Xue (Margellos World Republic of Letters), translated from Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen
  • By Night the Mountain Burns by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel (And Other Stories), translated from Spanish by Jethro Soutar

The shortlist will be announced April 9.

4. Best Translated Book Award

Oops, not out yet. But according to the BTBA website, both the fiction and poetry longlists will be coming out April 7, with shortlists on May 5 and a prize ceremony at Book Expo America on May 27.

Translation on Tap in NYC, March 16 – 31, 2015

This is what “out like a lamb” looks like around here:

Friday, March 20:sakutaro-hagiwara-2

The Bridge Series offers a special edition this month based on the work of the great early-20th-cen. Japanese poet Sakutarō Hagiwara, featuring Hiroaki Sato, Eliot Weinberger, and Forrest Gander, all three of them wonderful writers in their own right as well as literary translators. I forecast a great evening. Details here. McNally Jackson Books, 52 Prince St., 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, March 24:

I’m delighted to see the Austrian Cultural Forum New York Translation Prize return after a several-year hiatus, and even happier to see that it’s being awarded this year to Tess Lewis, for her translation of Maja Haderlap’s novel Angel of Oblivion. The award ceremony will be particularly special this year in that the translated author will also attend and participate in a joint reading from her book in English and German. The prize will be presented by Paula Deitz, editor of The Hudson Review. Seating is limited for this presentation, so it’s crucial to RSVP (and the event will be live-streamed). More information here. Austrian Cultural Forum, 11 E. 52nd St., 7:00 p.m.

Also Tuesday, March 24:

This is not technically a translation event, but I’m listing it as an honorary one because Rivka Galchen does tend to talk translation when she interviews a foreign author, which she’s great at, and as she’ll be doing on this evening with the great, great César Aira. This one too should be standing room only. More info here. McNally Jackson Books, 52 Prince St., 7:00 p.m.

Wednesday, March 25:

This one isn’t really a translation event either, but you can’t have translation without knowledge of languages, and we’re in danger of losing some of them, so voila: Mother Tongues United, a panel discussion exploring the intersections of Garifuna, Haitian Creole and Quechua as historically undervalued languages, organized by Wynnie Lamour of the Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York. A $5 donation is requested, more information here. Commons Brooklyn, 388 Atlantic Ave., 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Tuesday, March 31:

De Traducciones y Purgatorios: a Spanish-language conversation between Chilean author Raúl Zurita and American writer Daniel Borzutzky who translates him. More information here. McNally Jackson Books, 52 Prince St., 7:00 p.m.

Plus some late additions that just came to my notice!

Monday, March 30:

The great Joel Agee presents his new translation of Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound with dramatic readings by actor Ron Cephas Jones. The Strand Bookstore, 828 Broadway, 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, March 31:

Joel Agee in conversation with poet Tom Sleigh about Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound, with introductory remarks by Edwin Frank. Onassis Foundation at the New York Public Library, 42nd Street Building, South Court Auditorium, 476 5th Ave., RSVP requested, more information here. 7:00 p.m.

Also Tuesday, March 31:

Book launch with essayist and translator Eliot Weinberger for Calligrams, a new series of writings from and on China edited by Weinberger. Asia Society, 8th Floor, 725 Park Ave., RSVP here. 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.

An Across-the-Board Pay Cut for Penguin Random House’s Translators in Spain

Logo ACE TraductoresI remember when I first heard that the German-based international publishing conglomerates Bertelsmann and Holtzbrinck had started systematically buying up American publishing houses in the 1990s. I was young and naive then, and my first thought was: maybe they’ll want to publish more German literature in translation. Of course that was completely backwards thinking on my part. These international corporations were purchasing logoACEttpublishing houses as a financial investment, and their management strategies served only to further the blockbuster bestseller culture that had already begun to dominate in this country before their arrival.

Just recently, on July 1, 2013, Bertelsmann merged one of its largest American holdings, Random House, with the enormous Penguin empire (owned by Pearson PLC). The resulting megalopublisher headed up by CEO Markus Dohle is now – as Jane Ciabattari reported in Library Journal three months after the merger – the largest in the world:

The newly formed company will have $3.9 billion in revenue, 10,000 employees, nearly 250 imprints, and a global reach, combining Random House’s strength in Latin America with Penguin’s hold in India and China. Penguin Random House will publish 15,000 new titles a year, about one-quarter of the world’s English-language books.

So what does a multinational corporation do once it’s cornered a big chunk of the world market in a given industry? Well, naturally, it stands to reason that it’s going to use its clout and position to maximize its profits, and one way to do that is to cut production costs wherever possible. And it’s not much of a surprise that one of the areas in which it’s looking to streamline its expenses is literary translation.

On February 10, 2015, Penguin Random House’s headquarters in Spain sent around an e-mail to all the translators whose work it publishes informing them that the rates paid for literary translations would be decreased starting on February 16, 2015. According to Carlos Fortea, president of ACE Traductores (La Sección Autónoma de Traductores de la Asociación Colegial de Escritores, i.e. the Translators’ Section of the Spanish Writers Association), further correspondence with PRH representatives revealed that rates would be decreased between 6% and 15% depending on genre (fiction, nonfiction, etc.), and that the policy shift was non-negotiable.

After PRH representatives refused to engage in any sort of negotiation in the aftermath of this announcement, ACE Traductores published a letter of protest on the organization’s website, pointing out among other things that the great financial success PRH’s Spanish branch enjoys is based in no small part on the popularity of bestselling works translated into Spanish by the very translators who are now being handed a pay cut for their troubles. Aurora Matilde Humarán, President of the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters, has now issued a statement of support as well, addressed to Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial CEO Nuria Cabutí and arguing among other things:

The fact is that it takes many years to train and develop a translator who, in the end, contributes thousands of readers to your value chain, even creating new consumers from childhood. On the other hand, it might take only a few months to convince translators who are shown so little appreciation for their invaluable task to find work in another field with more reasonable prospects and remuneration.

I think we’ll soon be hearing more international protest in this matter. For those of us in the United States, trouble in Spain can seem far away, but even aside from the question of whether we should be speaking out in solidarity with our Spanish colleagues (and of course we should!), local problems are largely a thing of the past. If a multinational corporation like PRH is trying out across-thtarifasjustase-board pay cuts in one country, this is a likely prelude to imposing them in other countries as well. Monopolies are never a good idea from the point of view of those who value quality (not just in culture and art, though certainly there). The largest publisher of translations in the U.S. is currently Amazon, and many of their translation contracts are assigned via an online bidding system that encourages translators hungry for work to underbid one another. I’m thinking that’s not the best way to produce a quality product. But once you start using words like “product” to discuss things like books (for which the understanding of quality must be infinitely more nuanced than in the case, say, of lawn furniture), notions of quality may not figure as anything more than as a variable for calculating the ratio between cost-of-production and units-sold. Sure, books can get published that way, but are these books anyone who actually loves books will want to read?

It’s a sad day in Translationland Spain, and that means trouble for all of us all over the globe who care about international literature.


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