English PEN’s Writers in Translation programme (yes, I can occasionally manage British spelling) just turned ten. For a decade now, in other words, they’ve been helping U.K. publishers pay to have books translated and promoted, and have provided support for U.K.- and Europe-based translators wishing to produce sample translations and readers reports to place their favorite foreign-language books with English-language publishers. Their translation grants to publishers stipulate a minimum rate (of currently ₤90 per 1,000 words) to be paid to the books’ translators. Feeling envious, U.S.-based translators and publishers? Well, you should. U.S. translators can still benefit indirectly from the support if they happen to work for U.K. publishers, but for the most part we’re out in the cold. The British have all these nice programs because they have a government that supports the arts (via the British Council) at a significantly higher level than we have in the U.S., where the National Endowment for the Arts does all it can (and we’re grateful for the grants it gives), but our government keeps it on a starvation budget. Apparently we as a nation prefer to spend our tax money on fancy new instruments of warfare.
Anyhow, English PEN is celebrating its decennial by presenting its “Best of the World Bookshelf,” featuring 100 translated books that have been supported by PEN. I’m proud to see my translation of Jenny Erpenbeck’s The End of Days among them, but on a list of 100 books you’re bound to find other favorites as well. And PEN would like to see which of your favorites actually are your favourites, so if you’ve got a moment, do have a glance at their list and then put in a vote for a book that has meant something to you over the past decade. The winning book will enjoy a new round of publicity courtesy of PEN. You can keep an eye on the leader board here. Get your votes in before November, and may the most beloved book win.