Why You Should Apply for a PEN Translation Fund Award

Getting one’s first book published can seem all but impossible whether one is a poet, a fiction writer or a translator. Winning a prize can help with that, and one excellent prize for young translators to apply for is the PEN Translation Fund. The Fund was established in 2003 by an anonymous donor eager to support young translators and encourage young writers to try their hand at translation. You don’t have to be young to apply, but this is a youth-friendly prize in that each project is judged on its own individual merits and potential, regardless of whether or not the applicant has a nice plump CV. The prize comes with some cash (the amount fluctuates along with the stock market but tends to be roughly $2,500 to $3,000 for each of the approximately ten or so recipients selected each year). Just as importantly, the winning projects receive some serious visibility. The jury consists of established translators, publishers and editors, and the publishing community tends to keep an eye out for the list of winners announced each spring. It’s quite often happened that previously unknown translators have been offered book contracts soon after winning the award. Applying is relatively straightforward: one submits a 10-12 page sample along with a CV, a brief statement describing the project and a letter from the holder of the copyright for the original work stating that the translation rights are available. (Translation rights are always sold to publishers, never to translators, but if the rights are not available for purchase, there’s no point undertaking a project in the first place. I’ll have to blog about this in more detail some other time.)

The deadline for the receipt of entries for this year’s competition is Feb. 3, 2011 (though early submissions are encouraged). For an application form and details, consult the PEN website.

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  1. schultzie says:

    Hi, I read “one excellent prize for young translators to apply for” and immediately thought: “another ageist prize”, expecting it to be limited to under-35’s or the like. But the details at the site don’t mention anything about age – perhaps you meant “one excellent prize for novice translators to apply for”?

  2. Yes, that’s quite right – it’s for novice translators of all ages. Of course, established translators can apply for it as well, but historically the jury has tended to favor applications by translators who don’t yet have reputations in the field, i.e. those who would most profit from this recognition of their work. “The Fund seeks to encourage translators to undertake projects they might not otherwise have had the means to attempt.”

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