Archive for October 2015

2015 ALTA Prizes Announced

NewWawGreetings from Tucson, of which I have seen, so far, only the airport, the highway, and the American Literary Translators Association conference hotel, but I wanted to lose no time in letting you know the winners of the four ALTA prizes that were announced this evening at the  conference – which, by the way, has record attendance this year: there were at least 350 people there in the hotel ballroom when the awards were given out, creating an excellent standing-room-only effect. It went well with the seasonal treat of pumpkin-stuffed tacos (quite tasty, in fact).

All right, enough shilly-shallying. Here’s who won prizes this year:

The Lucien Stryk Prize for translation from an Asian language went to Eleanor Goodman for her translation of Something Crosses My Mind by Wang Xiaoni (Chinese), published by Zephyr Press.

The Italian Prose in Translation Award went to Anne Milano Appel for her translation of Blindly by Claudio Magris, published first by Penguin Canada and then by Yale University Press.

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2015 Italian Prose in Translation Award Shortlist

ALTAlogoThe American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) has just announced the finalists for the inaugural year of the Italian Prose in Translation Award. The winner of the prize will be announced during this year’s ALTA conference, which is being held starting this evening in Tucson, AZ. If I have understood correctly, this means we’ll know who won the prize tomorrow evening. So enjoy this shortlist while it’s still fresh out of the oven, and stay tuned for the big announcement soon! The full schedule for the conference is here – see you there?

Here’s the list:

The Day Before Happiness by Erri de Luca, translated by Michael Moore (Other Press)

A Pimp’s Notes by Giorgio Faletti, translated by Antony Shugaar (Farrar Straus and Giroux)

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions)

Blindly by Claudio Magris, translated by Anne Milano Appel (Yale University Press)

Walaschek’s Dream by Giovanni Orelli, translated by Jamie Richards (Dalkey Archive Press)

Translation on Tap in NYC, Nov. 1 – 15, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 11.08.06 AMIt’s November again, which means it’s time for the New Literature from Europe Festival, which this year features two excellent-sounding translation events, listed below starting Nov. 7 (or see the complete festival schedule here).

Wednesday, Nov. 4:

The Bridge Series presents Aaron Lacayo discussing his translations of Gordon Matta-Clark’s art cards as part of McNally Jackson Live, a new variety show; more information here. McNally Jackson, 52 Prince St., 7:00 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 7:

New Literature from Europe Translation Slam, featuring translators Mary Ann Newman and Mara Faye Lethem (Catalan), Sophie Duvernoy and Ross Benjamin (German), and Katrine Ø. Jensen and Kerri Pierce (Danish) facing off with their translations of Jordi Puntí, Bernhard Aichner, and Naja Marie Aidt. Moderated by Michael Reynolds. Ticketed event, more information here. Nuyorican Poets Café, 236 E. 3rd St., 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 8:

Women in Translation (New Literature From Europe Festival): PEN Translation Committee Co-Chair Margaret S. Carson will be joined by NLE authors Naja Marie Aidt, Josefine Klougart, and Bettina Suleiman along with Three Percent’s Chad Post for a discussion of the gender gap in both international publishing and literature in translation. Free event, more information here. Bowery Poetry, 308 Bowery, 3:30 p.m.

Also Sunday, Nov. 8:

Trafika Europe presents an evening of Slovenian Literature featuring translator Tess Lewis reading her translations of Slovenian-Austrian author Maja Haderlap, joined by Slovenian poets Aleš Šteger and Tone Škrjanec and hosted by Andrew Singer. More information here. Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, 8:30 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 9:

Launch party for Tristano Dies: A Life by Antonio Tabucchi with translator Liz Harris and author Honor Moore. More information here. BookCourt, 163 Court St., 7:00 p.m.

Don’t you want to know what Robert Walser has to say about Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Swing?

Thursday, Nov. 12:

Launch event for Looking at Pictures by Robert Walser (his writings on artists and art) featuring Translationista and illustrious other readers including artists Josiah McElheny and Moyra Davey, and famously Walser-infatuated poet Nathaniel Otting. More information here. The New Museum, 235 Bowery, 7:00 p.m.

Also Thursday, Nov. 12:

Stories from the Translation Lab: the translator/author pairs who’ve been working together at Writers Omi at Ledig House as part of the 2015 Translation Lab program will take the stage to discuss their collaborations. Featuring Christina MacSweeney, Daniel Saldana Paris, Alice Guthrie, Rasha Abbas, Izidora Angel, Hristo Karatoyanov, Amaia Gabantxo, and Miren Agur Meabe. More information here. Center for the Humanities, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 5th Avenue, Room C204, 6:30 p.m.

Also Thursday, Nov. 12:

Review 91: A Year in Review. Translators Gary Racz, Philippa Page, and Jason Weiss will be joined by authors authors Eduardo Chirinos (Peru), Luisa Futoransky (Argentina), and Julio Olaciregui (Colombia), and artist Lydia Rubio for a launch event for this year’s journal. Ticketed event, more information here. Americas Society, 680 Park Ave., 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 15:

Remembering Benjamin Harshav – memorial event for translator, poet and scholar Benjamin Harshav, featuring translator Barbara Harshav joined by Michael Holquist, Hannan Hever, Alexandra Shatskikh, and other speakers. More information here. YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 15 West 16th St., 6:00 p.m.

Who’s Getting Translated? Mostly Men

tumblr_nwfpjjwbEw1uv6ou0o1_1280This past May, at a PEN World Voices panel entitled “Who We Talk About When We Talk About Translation: Women’s Voices,” PEN Translation Committee co-chair Margaret Carson, translator Alta Price and poet Jen Fitzgerald of VIDA presented a series of graphs showing the percentage of books by female authors published in 2014 by the top 25 publishers of translations into English. The results were disheartening. On closer examination, lots of wonderful publishing houses turn out to publish woefully few women. But these were the figures for only one year. Now the Women in Translation team has crunched and graphed the numbers (sourced from the Three Percent Database) for the years 2010-2014, and yes, the results are as we feared.

The single largest publisher of books translated into English is currently AmazonCrossing (119 titles published between 2011 – the year of its founding – and 2014, and 45 in 2014 alone), and it is also the single largest publisher of translated books written by women. These two facts are flip sides of the same coin: most of Amazon’s publishing is in genre fiction, including genres in which female authors predominate, giving Amazon a total translated list that is 54% female. Atria (an imprint of Simon & Schuster with a pretty commercial list) is next, with 50% women, and coming in at a distant third is Europa Editions (best known these days as the publisher of Elena Ferrante) with 39% women. And from this point on, the percentage of women on these lists drastically dwindles, such that some of my favorite publishing houses clock in with alarmingly low figures (New Directions, 16%; Archipelago, 13%). The longer the publisher’s list, the more indignant I am at the disparity. New Directions and Archipelago published 59 and 39 translated titles respectively during this five-year period, mostly by men; while Dalkey Archive (16%) was publishing three times as many translated titles: 154, of which only 23 were by women. The way I see it: the longer your list, the more times a year you’re making choices about whom to publish.

As has surely been said before, the more a publishing house focuses on work by older authors (e.g. New Directions’s emphasis on modernist writing, and NYRB’s [16% women] emphasis on classic works), the more likely their lists are to skew male, since the publishing world used to be even more inhospitable to women in centuries past than it is now. And publishing houses that focus on literature published in countries where the literary/publishing scene is still overwhelmingly male are most likely going to reflect that in their lists. But it’s definitely time now for publishers to be thinking actively about the ways in which their publishing programs contribute to an international literature that eclipses women’s voices. Surely we can be doing better than the 25% female authors published by these 25 presses (or 21% if you leave the commercially-oriented houses Amazon and Atria out of account). Why shouldn’t editors be especially on the lookout for interesting female authors to publish when the opportunity arises – even if the voices of these women are not the ones heard most loudly in their home countries and languages.

Meanwhile, big thanks to Margaret Carson and Alta Price for continuing to pursue this important project. You can follow their work on the Women in Translation Tumblr page, and if you’re going to the ALTA conference in Tucson later this month, check out the panel they’re running: “Where Are the Women in Translation?”

Amazon to Spend $10,000,000 on Translation


Image credit: Paul Sawers / VentureBeat

One of the things everyone seems to agree on where literary translation is concerned is that it’s not where the big bucks are, even though every few years we see a book in translation that becomes such a run-away bestseller that even a 0.5% royalty might really add up to something. (One recent such example was Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone – translated by Michael Hofmann – whose copies-sold figures ascended well into the six digits.) But the sales for many translated books never get as high as even five figures, so there generally isn’t much in the way of profit to spread around. But now the bookselling and (as of recently) publishing behemoth Amazon has decided that there’s profit to be made in Translationland, and they’re putting their money where their proverbial mouth is: $10 million of it, to be spent on translations to be published over the next five years. Sounds like good news. Whether it will prove to be an all-around boon for literary translators and the literature they love remains to be seen.

Over the last few years, AmazonCrossing has become the number-one American publisher in terms of the number of translated titles published each year (and the representation of female authors). The majority of these titles are in various categories of genre fiction, which Amazon is singularly well-positioned to market and sell to readers who depend (in whole or in part) on its website for suggestions as to what to read next. Amazon does also publish works of “high” literary international fiction, in translations by well-respected translators such as Marian Schwartz, who translates Gelasimov for Amazon and Tolstoy for Yale. But the vast majority of its translation business is in the genre-fiction markets, and I assume that this is where the new venture will be centered.

Part of today’s announcement was the launch of a submissions portal that translators, foreign publishers, foreign authors, you name it can use to propose books to be included in this program. Most of the categories listed on the site are for genres (fantasy, thriller, mystery, etc.). And I assume that the majority of those who will be using this portal to suggest projects “over the transom” are people who have been unable to place their dream projects through conventional publishing outlets. And I suspect and fear that the translators who are hired in this way will be paid bottom-dollar for their work. After all, this is not a charitable venture; Amazon is running a business, and the point of a business like this is to be profitable, as I would assume AmazonCrossing has been thus far, given the volume of sales Amazon is is in a position to achieve. Several years ago, Amazon set up a portal that allowed translators to bid on translation projects to be published by AmazonCrossing, and while my contacts at Amazon assure me that these gigs do not automatically go to the lowest bidder (there’s someone checking credentials and weighing skill against cost), I don’t know what other purpose a bidding website can have other than to drive prices down, obviously at the translators’ expense. Drive them down to how low? It’s impossible to say, since last I heard Amazon was still requiring the translators who accepted contracts to work for it to sign a non-disclosure agreement. (If they’ve since dropped that requirement, I’d love to hear about it and will publish a statement to that effect right here.)

In the end, this new translation-project-suggestion-portal might wind up being just a way of creating a glorified form of self-publishing for translators and translation, the way an unpublished novelist can use print-on-demand to get her book at least nominally into print. Is this bad for the translation market? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the proliferation of genre fiction in translation via AmazonCrossing hasn’t had any negative impact at all on the high-literature-translation world, and that the driving down of prices for the translation of genre fiction – while clearly not good for translators in general – has had few or no repercussions for translation rates elsewhere. As when negotiating with other publishers, professional translators will surely (or at least I hope so) refuse to sign contracts offering unacceptable terms. As for those not in a position to negotiate, they’re in no worse a position than the self-publishing authors, especially if (and this would be my strong recommendation to them) they make sure their contracts include a royalty clause so that if the crime novel or romance they translate happens to sell a hundred thousand copies, they’ll have a share in the windfall.

Meanwhile, good for Amazon for declaring Translationland a place where money can indeed be made. I’d like to see more major players in the mainstream publishing world taking note of that fact.

Apply Now for a 2016 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant


Allison Charette won a 2015 grant, photo ©Devon Rowland

Heads-up, translators, this year’s deadline for the receipt of PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant applications is just over a month away: Nov. 16, 2015. So it’s definitely time to get cracking on those sample translations. I wrote so much about these grants and how to apply for them last year that I’m not going to repeat myself this time around. All you need to know is that these grants are one of the best ways out there for a up-and-coming translator and/or an up-and-coming project to get some attention from potential publishers (along with a little funding). So please read my write-up (including application tips), and the official instructions on the PEN website, and then get your applications in by Nov. 16!

Translation on Tap in NYC, Oct. 15 – 31, 2015

Quick, there’s still time to squeeze in some translation event-going before Halloween. Here’s what’s coming up:

Tuesday, Oct. 20:

Ferrante Fever: A Conversation about Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, featuring her translator, Ann Goldstein, joined by Joan Acocella and Dayna Tortorici. More information here. McNally Jackson Books, 52 Prince St., 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 22:

Launch event for Michel Houellebecq’s Submission featuring the book’s translator, Lorin Stein, joined by Eric Banks, Tom Bishop, and Adam Shatz. More information here. NYU’s Maison Française, 16 Washington Mews, 7:00 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 23:

Launch event for  Emmanuel Bove’s A Raskolnikoff, with the book’s translator, Mitchell Abidor, joined by Donald Breckenridge. More information here. Unnamable Books: 600 Vanderbilt Ave, Brooklyn, 7:00 p.m.

Metamorphosis coverWednesday, Oct. 28:

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Kafka’s classic story of transformation The Metamorphosis: a Thalia Book Club/Studio 360 event in which Translationista (who translated the book a couple of years ago) will be joined by Ben Marcus, Helen Phillips, Eric Jarosinski (a.k.a. the Nein! guy), and actor Heather Burns, moderated by Kurt Andersen. Ticketed event, more information here. Leonard Nemoy Thalia at Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th St., 7:30 p.m.


Shelley Frisch and Catherine Porter

Thursday, Oct. 29:

The Bridge Series presents an evening on translating nonfiction (in this case: biographies and critical theory), with Shelley Frisch and Catherine Porter, moderated by Sal Robinson. More information here. McNally Jackson, 52 Prince St., 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 30:

Translator and poet Eugene Ostashevsky teams up with artist Daniel Mellis to discuss their English-language book-in-the-making entitled Tango with Cows, based on a Russian Futurist visual poetry original from 1914. More information here. NYU Jordan Center, 19 University place, 2nd floor, 3:00 p.m.


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