Given all the attention being paid recently to the fact that so much of the international literature that gets translated into English comes from a handful of “top” languages (French, German, Italian, and Spanish generally lead the pack), it’s always great to see initiatives focussed on supporting translations from less represented languages. The latest effort in that direction comes from Northwestern University Press, which has just established the Global Humanities Translation Prize, which comes with a $5000 award and publication of the manuscript in question. Here are the categories in which translators are invited to submit:
- Underrepresented and experimental literary voices from marginalized communities
- Humanistic scholarship in infrequently translated languages
- Important classical texts in non-Western traditions and languages
Complete submission information will soon be made available on the website of Northwest’s Buffett Institute for Global Studies, meanwhile you can read the press release announcing the new prize. My first question when I saw the announcement was whether the $5000 award is meant to be in addition to whatever contract the translator is offered or rather (as I suspect) the full payment for a translation done as a work-for-hire, in which case, depending on the length of the book in question, this is a not particularly well-paid translation gig for anything but a quite short book. If it is indeed as I fear, then this opportunity will probably be of interest primarily to academics and others with better-paid day jobs who have the leisure to take on work they couldn’t pay the rent with, or to first-time translators looking to build their resumes. No doubt the submission information page will contain more details of the terms Northwestern is proposing. And certainly I’m thrilled to see a university press with good visibility taking on the challenge of giving us a broader swath of international writing. The deadline for submissions is Aug. 1, 2016.
Many thanks for helping spread the word about this, Prof. Bernofsky. After reading your post I thought I’d help clarify. You are indeed correct that $5000 is the total amount for the prize ($1000 at the time of the award, with the remaining $4000 paid upon delivery of the finished manuscript). I understand your concern that this winds up being a pretty low number for a lengthy work, but at this stage it’s all we can afford within our budget. The Global Humanities Initiative is an entirely new project, and the translation prize is just one of several endeavors we’re trying to launch on a budget that’s fairly limited, in the grand scheme of things.
In the end, though, I suppose you’re right — this may well skew our applicant pool toward salaried academics and/or young translators looking to make a name for themselves, rather than professional literati who make a living off of their writing. But it’s a first step, at least, and hopefully we can get funds to expand the scope and $$ of the prize in future years. For now, whatever the limitations, we do hope that it’s at least one small gesture on our part towards the goal of encouraging new translations of underappreciated works in the global humanities.
Associate Professor of South Asian & Global History
Director, Asian Studies Program
Co-direcror (with Laura Brueck), Global Humanities Initiative