Translation at the PEN World Voices Festival

The PEN World Voices Festival was co-founded by a translator (Esther Allen, then Chair of the PEN Translation Committee, in 2005), and since then, literary translation has always been an essential element of this festival devoted to international writing. The 2011 Festival will be held from April 25 through May 1 in New York City and features dozens of writers from all over the world. Many of the festival events are free and open to the public, so do check out the program and get ready to hear some local celebrities share the stage with new discoveries.

One perennial event of the Festival is the celebrated Translation Slam held at the Bowery Poetry Club; this year’s slam will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, April 29. I participated in the first slam, held in 2008, translating a poem by Michael Krüger. At the translation slam, two translators offer competing translations of a single poem (in the presence of the foreign-language poet); typically, hilarity and heated audience discussion ensue. Good times.

This year I’m going to be moderating a discussion at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 1 with a lawyer specializing in intellectual property (think copyright and contracts), who will enlighten us as to the legal status of the translation process and translated texts in this country. We will be joined by two international writer-translators who will fill us in on the situation of translators in Israel, Spain and the Czech Republic, by way of comparison. This event would make a great double-header with one that immediately proceeds it (in a different location, but there’s half an hour to travel from one to the next): a conversation between illustrious German poet-translator Joachim Sartorius and Jonathan Galassi about Leopardi in particular and the role of poets as translators in general. This event will be moderated by poet Rosanna Warren.

This year’s festival also includes a panel about the translation of American literature into other languages and a so-called Global Book Swap, in which panelists discuss the works of translated literature that have meant the most to them for their own writing. Both events will be held April 29 at Scandanavia House, at 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.

Speaking of double-headers, the Translation Slam on April 29 will be immediately followed, at 8:45 p.m., by the presentation of the 2011 Best Translated Book Awards sponsored by Three Percent. I can’t help being especially curious about the outcome this year since I’m one of the finalists. Wish me luck!

Oh, and please note that the printed program for the festival does not contain the final iteration of the festival schedule; several events have shifted places, times and participants, so be sure to check the Festival website to confirm the time and place of events you’d like to attend.

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  1. Thanks, Susan. Can’t wait for the Translation slam–a fabulous event! Fingers crossed for the 3% award!

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