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A Global Translation Initiative Report by English PEN and Free Word

Taking Flight A Global Translation Initiative Report by English PEN and Free Word The Global Translation

Taking Flight

A Global Translation Initiative Report by English PEN and Free Word

The Global Translation Initiative (GTI) is a collaborative research project that aims to identify perceived barriers to literary translation, to explore successful models of best practice, to celebrate achievement and to establish ways of building infrastructure for literary translation across the anglophone world.

International Translation Day and the Literary Translation Centre at the London Book Fair are important staging posts for the discussion of GTI-related topics, which range from practical issues such as education, funding and training for literary translation, to wider cultural concerns such as literary translation in review media, the role of literary festivals, the translation of minority languages and intercultural understanding.

Other GTI publications

The GTI survey, Research into Barriers to Translation and Best Practices, was published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2011. Available online

The GTI interim report, Flying off the Shelves, was published by English PEN and Free Word in 2011. Available online


If we value literature at all, we know the worth of literary translation. If we want language to be as subtle and supple and layered and resonant as language can be, we know the worth and the work and the subtlety of literary translation. If we care at all about looking beyond our back yard and our own dominant narratives, we know the worth, the work, the open border, open mind, open eyes and ears of literary translation. If we belong to a culture which rates the word literary, we know the value, the scope, the touchstone, the creativity, the generosity that exist in this fusion of literary and translation.

If we consider the tiny percentage of translated literary works published, compared to everything else in the UK’s literary publishing output every year, we’ll be entitled to feel sober, ashamed, cheated, excluded from whole worlds. If we work against this, we’ll be a lot richer, in the end, when it comes to world and worlds.

If we recognise that a country, in all its history and all its contemporaneity, can be seen, revealed, understood by recourse to its literature; and if we can see that all human languages belong to and with each other, exist in the one huge borderless country of language; then it’s obvious even just at a glance: the importance of, the excitingness of, the fertility of and the imperative in, the act of literary translation.

Foreword If we value literature at all, we know the worth of literary translation. If we
Foreword If we value literature at all, we know the worth of literary translation. If we

Ali Smith

Anything to declare? Yes, we have! 2
Anything to declare? Yes, we have! 2

Anything to declare?

Yes, we have!

This is the final report of the Global Translation Initiative. Taking Flight: New Thinking on World Writing brings together a series of 18 short essays from professionals that are keen to declare the value of literary translation. Concerned with the relatively small amount of literature available in translation across the anglophone world, our contributors consider obstacles facing literary translation and tell us why they believe we deserve better.

The essays in this report have been arranged in three sections to reflect three types of value that we associate with literary translation – cultural, professional and commercial. There are many instances where these classifications overlap, but they provide a useful framework as we begin to measure this value.

We declare that literary translation brings great value in the following ways ...

Helps us to understand the changing world Allows us to read the best of the
  • Helps us to understand the changing world

Helps us to understand the changing world Allows us to read the best of the
  • Allows us to read the best of the best

Promotes shared values Provides a valuable teaching tool
  • Promotes shared values

Promotes shared values Provides a valuable teaching tool
  • Provides a valuable teaching tool

Regenerates literary sources Develops new readers and writers
  • Regenerates literary sources

Regenerates literary sources Develops new readers and writers
  • Develops new readers and writers

Revitalises Develops new
  • Revitalises

Revitalises Develops new
  • Develops new



Revitalises Contributes to
  • Revitalises

Revitalises Contributes to
  • Contributes to


economic growth

Understanding the changing world Engaging our senses with the cultural exports of another country enables us
Understanding the changing world Engaging our senses with the cultural exports of another country enables us

Understanding the changing world

Engaging our senses with the cultural exports of another country enables us to understand not only the world as it is now, but also the shared history that brought us here. The world is constantly changing. Advances in digital technology, for example, mean that we can access writing from around the world at the touch of a button, but what is it actually like to be a blogger in a country like China or Iran? Nasrin Alavi’s We Are Iran captures the writing and experiences of a young generation of Farsi bloggers, which opens our eyes to their thoughts on revolution, censorship, women and even fashion.

‘Translated books have profoundly shaped our cultural perspective over the past half century’

Jon Parrish Peede

Awaiting News at the Dock

‘A healthy landscape of literary translation can produce a healthy level of “awareness without borders”’

Julian Evans

A Brief History of Intercultural Awareness

‘We like to find books that tell us of worlds we do not know, or have forgotten’

Peter Stothard

Translation, Reviewed

Understanding the changing world Engaging our senses with the cultural exports of another country enables us

Promoting shared values

By conveying human rights issues, the experiences of the marginalised, and elements of common humanity, translation encourages a greater understanding between different communities and cultures. Whether it’s Anna Politkovskaya’s Putin’s Russia or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Petit Prince that awakens your empathy, it’s incredibly important that we have access to these stories and experience literature beyond the borders of representation of our own countries, or worlds.

‘Translation increases readers’ awareness of shared human emotion and experience’

Geoffrey Taylor

Found in Translation

‘Literature in translation is essential to an informed transnational dialogue’

David Shook

Translator Profile

‘Translation creates relations between writers and readers that dissolve not only literary barriers, but barriers of economics, politics, nationalism and cultural materialism’

Julian Evans

A Brief History of Intercultural Awareness

You may be interested in the following pieces:

Many Languages, One Literature, Namita Gokhale

A Small Country in the South Pacific, Jean Anderson

‘Important and useful’, Polly McLean Translation and Reciprocity, Ivor Indyk

You may be interested in the following pieces:

Many Languages, One Literature, Namita Gokhale Go Dutch!, Mireille Berman Found in Translation, Geoffrey Taylor Awaiting News at the Dock, Jon Parrish Peede

Regenerating literary sources The power to renew the literary impact of a work is not restricted
Regenerating literary sources The power to renew the literary impact of a work is not restricted

Regenerating literary sources

The power to renew the literary impact of a work is not restricted to new translations of classic authors like Tolstoy or Zola. The fortunes of The Reader by Bernhard Schlink were transformed by its translation from German to English and its exposure to a new audience. In Germany, Schlink was considered to be a crime writer, and The Reader labelled ‘soft’ on the Nazis. It was on the back of the translation of the novel that its adaptation for film was commissioned, sparking great commercial success. Translation allows literature to travel, meaning writers can speak out across generations and cultures.

‘Translation from Greek into Latin more than 2,000 years ago was the starting point for the critical canon, for what we have traditionally recognised as literature at all’

Peter Stothard

Translation, Reviewed

Regenerating literary sources The power to renew the literary impact of a work is not restricted



Translated work can enrich and benefit the language into which it is translated, bringing new terms and ideas with it. Each interpretation of a text is a revival of language and imagery; a new setting though which we frame our understanding. By exploring and experiencing different cultures through literature, we build our capacity to articulate the world around us in fresh and exciting ways.

‘Words and phrases that we are most frequently touched by trickle into our daily use: words like déjà vu, orang-utan, assassin and doppelgänger’

Geoffrey Taylor

Found in Translation

‘Translations of García

Márquezs One Hundred Years of Solitude

revitalised readers and writers of English novels in the 1970s and 1980s’

Peter Stothard

Translation, Reviewed

You may be interested in the following pieces:

A Brief History of Intercultural Awareness, Julian Evans

Translator Profile, Maureen Freely

‘For Wales: See England’, Wiliam Owen Roberts

You may be interested in the following pieces:

Many Languages, One Literature, Namita Gokhale

Translator Profile, Maureen Freely

Revitalising literature Reading the best of the best Having more books in translation encourages us to
Revitalising literature Reading the best of the best Having more books in translation encourages us to



Revitalising literature Reading the best of the best Having more books in translation encourages us to

Reading the best of the best

Having more books in translation encourages us to experiment with our own literature. It can inspire anglophone writers to reach beyond their niche; to learn from the literary techniques, language and concepts of other cultures. Salman Rushdie playfully explores the borders between Hindi and English in Midnight’s Children, drawing attention to the absorption of one language and culture into another. It is vital that we continue to play with these linguistic and cultural boundaries to ensure diversity in our national literature.

‘To revitalise is one of the essentials of the translator’s art’

Peter Stothard

Translation, Reviewed

‘Translators wishing to do justice to a great poem or a great novel will need to pay attention not just to its surface meanings, but its voice, its tone, its style, its music and allusions’

Maureen Freely

Translator Profile

In every other art form we can enjoy the ‘best in the world’. We can visit world music festivals like WOMAD to appreciate diversity in the UK music scene and watch the latest Luc Besson film at our local Picture House cinema courtesy of Artificial Eye, but with literature it’s a little more challenging to locate ‘the best’. Great work is already being done but we need sustainable infrastructure in place to ensure quality books are consistently identified, marketed and, above all else, read. Whether it’s literary fiction or fantasy novels we’re after, surely we can, and should, enjoy the very best.

‘Publishers must find great foreign novels and avoid publishing mediocre ones’

Polly McLean

‘Important and useful’

‘Translation is a great democratiser, allowing anyone to study the best writers in the world’

David Shook

Translator Profile

You may be interested in the following pieces:

Translator Profile, David Shook

A Brief History of Intercultural Awareness, Julian Evans

You may be interested in the following pieces:

A Revolution in Words, Mark Thwaite Awaiting News at the Dock, Jon Parrish Peede

Providing a valuable teaching tool Developing new readers and writers Literary translation can foster a deeper
Providing a valuable teaching tool Developing new readers and writers Literary translation can foster a deeper


a valuable teaching tool

Providing a valuable teaching tool Developing new readers and writers Literary translation can foster a deeper

Developing new readers and writers

Literary translation can foster a deeper understanding of the intricacies of language and its various functions, and can improve written and spoken communication skills in English. The pedagogical benefits of learning languages are increasingly evident; both through scientific research and the direct impact of translation projects for young people. Certain initiatives like Translation Nation and Poetry Inside Out show that when language learning is enhanced with translation, young people gain confidence and critical thinking skills as a matter of course.

‘After many lessons of translating others’ work, students “are bursting to express themselves – to write”’

Olivia Sears

Beyond the Text

‘There are too many people either complacent about, or frightened by, languages other than their own. The ultimate challenge for linguists is to address this debilitating combination of complacency and fear’

Michael Kelly

Britain’s Crisis of Language Learning

Refugee and migrant communities within the UK are often hugely underrepresented in our national literature, and it is important that we create a space for new and emerging voices and readers; particularly where they might not otherwise have a platform. International literary festivals can attract new readers, and in turn generate more translations, by catering for different linguistic groups and being aware of the kind of issues, languages and stories that are important to the audiences their experimentation draws in.

‘By providing access to translations through festival programming, the readership of translated works will increase and thus the opportunities for translators will too’

Geoffrey Taylor

Found in Translation

‘Translation is an important tool for promoting Welsh language literature globally’

Wiliam Owen Roberts

‘For Wales: See England’

You may be interested in the following pieces:

‘Important and useful’, Polly McLean Translation and Reciprocity, Ivor Indyk Translator Profile, Amanda Hopkinson Translator Profile, Nicky Harman

You may be interested in the following pieces:

A Revolution in Words, Mark Thwaite Unlikely Encounters, David Del Vecchio

Developing new markets Contributing to economic growth A number of writers in this collection throw the
Developing new markets Contributing to economic growth A number of writers in this collection throw the

Developing new markets

Developing new markets Contributing to economic growth A number of writers in this collection throw the

Contributing to economic growth

A number of writers in this collection throw the familiar assumption that anglophone readers have a meagre appetite for books in translation into question. Research carried out by Dalkey Archive Press also indicates that readers really are ready to ‘consume’ books in translation. With generous portions of Stieg Larsson and Carlos Ruiz Zafón in translation being served around the world, can we still justifiably assert that readers find literature in translation difficult to stomach? There are huge untapped markets that we’re only just beginning to cater for; and we’re scarcely beginning to grasp the potential of online research and promotion for translated titles.

‘Literature is literature and there is always a market for great books’

David Del Vecchio

Unlikely Encounters

‘Migration from print to digital platforms carries great promise for translation’

Jon Parrish Peede

Awaiting News at the Dock

‘The internet allows us to do peer-to-peer marketing directly. There are hundreds of blogs out there with hundreds of thousands of readers. They are telling publishers what they (and their followers) want to read’

Mark Thwaite

A Revolution in Words

You may be interested in the following pieces:

A Small Country in the South Pacific, Jean Anderson

Awaiting News at the Dock, Jon Parrish Peede

Literacy, cultural understanding and linguistic capability can help fuel economic competitiveness, improve employability and develop insight into foreign markets. Reading works in translation – whether it’s the latest Scandinavian crime novel or a recent autobiography of a political activist – helps foster a generation that is able to work in the world without being trapped in a single language.

‘Having a second language enables graduates to thrive and communicate confidently in complex

global societies


... are the future leaders in

business, the professions, voluntary organisations, education and research’

Michael Kelly

Britain’s Crisis of Language Learning

You may be interested in the following pieces:

‘Important and useful’, Polly McLean Translation and Reciprocity, Ivor Indyk


Cultural 9
Translation, Reviewed Peter Stothard , editor of the Times Literary Supplement , believes that the ‘import-export’
Translation, Reviewed Peter Stothard , editor of the Times Literary Supplement , believes that the ‘import-export’

Translation, Reviewed

Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, believes that the ‘import-export’ of words is a vital part of keeping literature alive

Translation, Reviewed Peter Stothard , editor of the Times Literary Supplement , believes that the ‘import-export’

No one should be surprised that translated literature

receives less critical attention than PEN (or the TLS) would like. Literary criticism of all kinds has less appeal to editors than it once had. While opinion everywhere extends its reach, argued opinion is confined. Argument based on knowledge including the knowledge of other cultures and other languages is confined all the more. So it is valuable to recognise, in every way we can, how essential is the import-export business of words to literature’s life and worth.

For as long as there has been a literature writers have translated to survive. Translation from Greek into Latin more than 2,000 years ago was the starting point for the critical canon, for what we have traditionally recognised as literature at all. Writings are still being translated to keep writing alive; and future canons of classical literature are already being born from translation even if the key languages are not yet identified. But when we worry that we are not translating enough, or not reading enough translation, we are rightly worried.

We should, however, beware despair. Translation happens more than we think, more than we sometimes notice and for many different reasons, good, bad and indifferent as well as wonderful.

I’ve been asked to consider whether there is ‘a perceived bias against translated literature in the review media’. The evidence of the newspaper pages and broadcast schedules certainly suggests a lack of consideration for new Indian poetry or Qatari novels. But we should not assume that, because of the absence of coverage alone, there is a bias here. If literary editors sniff at an expensively funded campaign to promote

small countries through small stories, we are right to be suspicious – just as we will feel little obligation to review English novels promoted on posters on the Underground. Winners of national literary prizes – designed to exercise soft power on unsuspecting readers – should be equally examined with caution in the literary editor’s office.

Each year the Times Literary Supplement publishes reviews of a wide variety of translated fiction and poetry. Among notices of novels in the past 12 months, I have counted almost 70 (out of more than 300) translations into English from some 18 languages, from Slovenian, Korean, Hebrew, Hungarian, Russian, Czech, Japanese and all these and more in addition to the large number of books we review in their original language. We take note of translation for many reasons, some that might be seen as classical, others that are not. Translation brings no more guaranteed virtue than any other act. But we consider translated books because we look as widely as we can for what is worth finding.

The classical dictates of comparative literature remain vital. The line of Plato, Boethius, Chaucer, Petrarch, Wyatt, Marlowe, Dryden, Hölderlin, Pound and Hughes is not to be lost; and the skills learnt in following that line, and other long lines, helps the understanding and identification of successor lines. Informed arguments about the value of books demand deep knowledge of the layers of meaning and association that have gathered over time. Even the greatest originality depends on the understanding of origins: and often those origins are in other languages as well as from other times. For a classicist the essence of translation is the rendering

of Sappho by Catullus, the way in which ‘Phainetai moi keinos isos theoisin’ becomes ‘ille mi par esse deo videtur’ and thence is driven on into centuries of personal poetry and prose about the feelings of a lover in the presence of a beloved. But the argument for keeping open the literary trade routes must go beyond the purely critical, well beyond the chain that links Propertius to Ezra Pound and Sappho to Swinburne.

One reason for our reviewing a translation is simply to open eyes to things not visible in any other way. We like to find books that tell us of worlds we do not know, or have forgotten or been encouraged to forget. As well as keeping our minds at home, we can be encouraged to send them abroad. As well as the domestic present there is the foreign past. In recent months, for example, the TLS has noted the Hungarian Gyula Krúdy’s Life is a Dream, translated by John Bátki and reviewed for us by George Szirtes, reminding us of the dreams of a nation, forgotten when the First World War took three-quarters of its land away. We also reviewed Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key, a reminder that in the 1930s the Nazis were sometimes only at the edge of human stories; and also his The Death of the Adversary, the story of a Jew in love with Hitler.

We noted German Sadulaev’s I Am a Chechen!, a novella of personal testimony and exotic mythology, with a hero who is half Russian and half Chechen in a conflict that translation helps us both to understand and to keep in our minds. We praised a translated reissue of Khirbet Khizeh, a novel based on a Jewish soldier’s own account of the eviction of a Palestinian village in 1948. For 60 years this story of the day the ‘ownerless property’ of orange growers was destroyed, its owners driven away in trucks, their houses tattooed by machine guns, lived on only in Hebrew; in 2008 the grim lyricism of S. Yizhar’s prose was translated into English; and in 2011 it was newly published in England, encouraging our reviewer Toby Lichtig to predict for the book the international audience it had always deserved.

The Bulgarian Nobel Prize-winner and much-translated writer, Elias Canetti, wrote in German. But Deyan Enev’s Circus Bulgaria, the result of a life spent half under communism and half in its aftermath, had to be translated from Bulgarian. As our critic, Julian Evans, put it, Enev’s work is here now to ‘revitalise’ those of us ‘tired of too many well-groomed, linear, consequential and contained Anglo-Saxon narratives’. To ‘revitalise’:

that is one of the essentials of the translator’s art. Translations of Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude revitalised readers and writers of the English novel in the 1970s and 1980s. That was not just because of the style that became known as magical realism, important though that was, but because of what it described, what it said.

In translations we may also find literary techniques we have forgotten or never known. We noted this year, with admiration and some bemusement, The Piano Cemetery by the Portuguese writer, José

Luís Peixoto, ‘a novel of inner marathons’ based on the life of a Benfica Olympian in 1912 who lived next to a house of abandoned keyboards. Peixoto, concluded Madeline Clements, has ‘an extraordinary way of perceiving’, one that is ‘enhanced in Daniel Hahn’s fine and sensitive translation’.

One way of assisting translated literature is to recognise better – both financially and critically – those who translate it. Payment for translation is often poor. Critical recognition is too often absent, sometimes because the reviewer prefers to ignore it (the British have a better record here than the French) and often because the reviewer does not know the original language.

A powerful virtue of translation into English or Spanish is to find readers in Britain, America and Spain for books that for various reasons appeal less at home. This year the TLS noted the publication history of Bernhard Schlink’s hugely successful novel and film treatment, The Reader, noting how Schlink was known at home only as a crime novelist and how the The Reader was judged in Germany to be too soft on the Nazis. Reviewing a later book by the same author, The Weekend, Julian Preece judged his style to be even ‘possibly better suited to English’.

Translation from languages with few readers to those with many is an important way of spreading a story, a fact, a message, a style. But like almost every aspect of this subject, the benefits are laced with dangers. The novelist Tim Parks warned in the TLS this April that writers have begun to seek an international readership to the neglect of one close to home. The rewards of celebrity abroad may come at the expense of the very literary distinctiveness that originally attracted readers to the Dutch or the Danish or the Egyptian Arabic. Kafka and Beckett may tell of essential human values; but the ability to travel far from home, for words as much as wine, is not the only test of quality. A campaign for translated literature should beware of promoting prizes and subsidies only for those that meet the demands of internationalism.

It is worth asking too whether the responsibility for reviewing translated literature – and other works deserving extended critical attention – needs to be spread more widely. In October 2009 there was a conference at Princeton during which, alongside the now ritual abuse of newspapers and TV for abandoning literary criticism, there were distinguished voices asking whether the ‘mainstream media’ had, in fact, undertaken this task longer, and for less profit, than might have been expected. Perhaps universities – and their presses – need to work harder to produce and market places where the good can be recognised. That will require respect for journalistic independence as well as academic rigour. The internet age offers enormous possibilities. Those who care for the traditions of translation must act as well as complain about the inaction of others.

Peter Stothard

A Brief History of Intercultural Awareness Julian Evans , writer and former Chair of the English
A Brief History of Intercultural Awareness Julian Evans , writer and former Chair of the English

A Brief History of Intercultural Awareness

Julian Evans, writer and former Chair of the English PEN Writers in Translation Committee, navigates the translation trail from sixteenth-century Spain to the present day

A Brief History of Intercultural Awareness Julian Evans , writer and former Chair of the English

In the dry, brownish town of El Toboso in La Mancha,

early morning and late afternoon, the streets are full of sheep, trotting tangily past with a clangour of bells; the descendants of those same sheep that a sixteenth- century knight of fiction once rode into with his lance, believing them to be an army of his mortal enemies who only looked like sheep because a sorcerer had changed their shape. To a twenty-first-century city-dweller the sight is still simultaneously prosaic and enchanted:

the contemporary urban eye sees a herd of sheep as a remote, inscrutable quantity, and the herdsmen who pause, smoke, and watch expressionlessly for stragglers as outlandish as that distant fictional figure.

El Toboso is real, ancient and ordinary, but it too has its elements of fancy. Another of its sights is the casa de Dulcinea, the restored farmhouse of the ‘empress

of La Mancha

mistress of my most hidden thoughts’

... – accolades bestowed by a lanky, complex, deluded hero on a woman who didn’t exist. As if to pay further tribute to the power of that hero’s imagination, a couple of streets away and across the square from the church of San Antonio Abad, at the Instituto Cervantes is a library of many editions of the novel in which he appears. They are here because the institute’s curator once had the idea of asking the internationally famous to donate

a copy of the Quixote to its collection. In its first-floor showcases you can see signed copies that once belonged to the actor Alec Guinness, to Mrs Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Benito Mussolini and others.

Among the ideas that Miguel de Cervantes’s novel continues to stir into being – what constitutes reality, the attraction and repulsion of unfamiliarity, how vital to us as humans the made-up elements of reality are

– is also an interplay in our everyday lives that often goes unacknowledged. But if we tend to behave as though we live in a purely factual world, our curiosity about the world and its sensations confirms our need for non-factual input; our impulse to absorb the world’s otherness by seeing, listening, reading for ourselves has a strong component (as for Quixote) of the might- be and the not-yet known and the emotions that go with them. In order to know, to make sense, to quell our fears, we tell ourselves stories (as Quixote did) and consume the stories of others.

This absorption is never exclusively factual. For instance, we feel the settings, narratives and characters of films, plays or novels to be authentic (or not) on aesthetic rather than objective grounds; we feel different places, cultures and people to be imbued with a romance of difference. Why is there no alternative to the word ‘exotic’, when we know it to be the most abused of clichés? Postmodernism has not relativised our understanding to the point where we see everything as constructed, subjective, fictional; but our curiosity is a yearning to bring the ‘outside’ (‘exotikos’) inside by whatever means are at our disposal. Storytelling is about both gaining more knowledge and reconciling our desires and fears of otherness. Recent research at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, has suggested that we don’t just tell stories to ‘present’ and make sense of ourselves: we also ‘adopt’ the stories of others as though we were the protagonist.

In literary terms, it is routinely asserted that in Britain (and often the anglophone world as a whole) we are resistant to this wider curiosity; that islands are traps, and we are intrinsically insular; that, linguistically, our

sense of superiority and self-sufficiency as English- speakers makes us less receptive than the owners of other languages and cultures. Is it so?

If it is, it wasn’t always. Before passing on from the Quixote, at the Castilian university town of Alcalá de Henares, in the house where Cervantes is supposed to have spent his boyhood, there is another library, of first editions of his novel. Though he died a year after the second volume was published (in April 1616, the same month as Shakespeare), he had lived long enough to see his Quixote become the first international bestseller in fiction. The first translation had appeared in 1612; others took the novel to France, Belgium and Italy. But that earliest translation, by Thomas Shelton, was into – you’ve guessed it – English, beginning a British relationship with this quintessentially Spanish novel that deepened through the eighteenth century and fundamentally influenced its writers – Tobias Smollett, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne and the rest.

Translation’s role in establishing the ‘most central novel’ in world literature is thus itself central and enduring (the Quixote’s most recent English translation, a superb version by Edith Grossman, came out as recently as 2004). It might even be argued that anglophone readers have had more access to the Quixote and to sixteenth-century Spain than Spanish readers have, for, re-translated from time to time, our Quixote never gets marooned in one century, while his Spanish- language double becomes ever more archaic to modern Spanish readers.

In fact, literary translation’s ability to regenerate its sources, over and over again, driven each time by new language and imagery, lends it a particularly renewing perspective. Turning books outwards to other cultures, growing and reviving their appeal, translation helps to pilot literature through space and time. And not only that: Harold Bloom, echoing the professor at Erasmus University, has pointed out that Cervantes’ novel ‘so contains us that, as with Shakespeare, we cannot get out of it.’ For that crucial invention of ourselves, Cervantes’ translators continue to deserve some of the credit. The books we read in translation from day to day may be more modest in their claims to greatness, but translation’s proposal is still an expansive one. It humbly offers to facilitate our curiosity; it also wants, to borrow the title of English PEN’s recent anthology, nothing more nor less than to make the world legible.

Yet such intercultural traffic, we know from experience, doesn’t come out of nowhere. The willingness to be curious, as child psychologists tell us, needs to be stimulated by attention and example. From the 1980s to mid-1990s the readership for translated work in the UK declined to a point of stagnation. The ambitious British Centre for Literary Translation had opened in 1989, but it was perhaps ultimately our revival of interest through pivotal historical events (the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Soviet Communism; the Balkan wars; middle-East conflict; 9/11) combined with a revolution

in news-gathering that tended towards the personal and the narrative – citizen reporting, blogs, social networking – that jolted us to look outwards again.

From 2000 to 2002 I travelled through Europe, on a meandering Quixote-like course, to record some radio programmes on the rise of the European novel. In the BBC’s commissioning of the first series and its re-commissioning of the second were signs of a change in anglophone attitudes. Maybe the programmes themselves changed a few more attitudes; but in terms of reader numbers our curiosity continued to need stimulus. In these circumstances, in 2004, English PEN’s Writers in Translation (WiT) programme decided to expend its main energy and funding on helping to promote and market translated literature. As deputy chair of the WiT committee at its foundation, I had a hand in that decision, for which there was a clear rationale. By supporting the promotion and marketing costs of a translated title – so often at the bottom of the publishers’ heap of priorities – with an emphasis on staging readings and events with authors and translators, you build both readers and readers’ curiosity; you reassure publishers that there is a viable market for translated fiction and non-fiction (rather than just ‘a good cause’ to be ministered to); and you create leverage by which the funding programme itself becomes more widely known, attracting new clients and collaborations to the process. Writers in Translation’s reputation today, after six years of operation, suggests that it has to some degree accomplished all those things, and gone a long way towards redistributing readers’ and publishers’ literary priorities.

The vitality of all literature rests on an insistence: that we question historical experience, seeking the individual in the communal and the communal in the individual. That search is bound for inconclusion, because the sense of who we are is never fixed, but a constituent part of our engagement with a changing world. At the most personal level, a book is a work made by an individual about his or her world for another individual; as much as a metaphor, it’s a request from writer to reader: Here I am, as a human being. Do you recognise anything? Are we both human beings? (The Quixote, by the way, is a supreme example of that request for recognition. In the ingenious knight’s delusions we find, are entertained by, and forgive our own.) At a collective or communal level, a book is something different: a form of awareness, a signifier, a cultural specificity, that its text both conserves and seeks to communicate. Translation takes that awareness beyond its own specificity and makes it part of our intercultural traffic through linguistic empathy.

Theories of translation need not, perhaps, concern us overmuch here. But what cultural weight does that intercultural awareness, and the work of translation that facilitates it, have? First, it opposes the surly borders thrown up by concepts of ‘national literature’; it creates relations between writers and readers that dissolve not only literary barriers

but barriers of economics, politics, nationalism and cultural materialism. Being European (for instance) becomes not about living in the shrunken simplifications of euro-Europe, dependent on a ready-made cultural Europe of cappuccino and city-breaks or a political Europe whose ideals and ambitions are principally economic, but about sharing a reality with readers in Estonia, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, or Sweden. In that experience lies the profound promise of relations and understanding. Through such explorations we understand, for example, that others want and need the freedoms we have – as we have seen nightly in recent TV broadcasts from Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya, although anyone who had been reading Naguib Mahfouz, Ahdaf Soueif or Alaa al-Aswany would already have known very well what journalists in Cairo and Benghazi have been telling us. We also understand that we must not lose our own freedoms through complacency, political misdirection or fear. These are vital human and political matters; to all of them translation is essential.

Is it possible to measure intercultural awareness? There are social and cultural conditions that make it more likely: the extent and effectiveness of language teaching, the possibility and levels of travel/emigration, the outwardness or lack of it in schools’ teaching of geography, history and literature, the inclusiveness or provincialism of the prevailing political and media climate. Yet even in the absence of healthy levels of most of those conditions – as in the last decade in the UK – a healthy landscape of literary translation can produce a healthy level of ‘awareness without borders’. In Britain in the last ten years or so our own landscape has changed almost out of recognition, with the revival of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the introduction of the Man Booker International Prize and the annual Sebald Lecture on the Art of Literary Translation, the arrival of a new generation of more experimental small publishers, abetted by new technology, and the blooming of a thousand translation blogs.

This evolution is one to which PEN’s Writers in Translation programme has contributed through both its funding and initiatives, including its online World Atlas and collaborations with other agencies. Writers in Translation is reactive, as grant-giving bodies tend to be, but in the energy of its reactions – in particular its energetic participation in the planning and realisation of marketing campaigns for every book it funds – it is widely acknowledged to have added value and influence to the UK translation scene. Its insistence on the mutual value and visibility of translator and author has helped improve the standing of translators. Its willingness to reflect on its own activity, and to seek to operate outside its comfort zone and that of translation generally, has helped produce flexible strategies to support a wide variety of books and situations. It has worked not only with publishers, authors and translators but with festivals, libraries, book fairs, conferences, schools and external agencies to

reach new readers and enthuse existing ones. Marked against these criteria, it has made a significant impact.

How much WiT might be capable of leveraging our awareness further is a question to which its committee must continue to address itself. One of the programme’s requirements is that a funded title’s content and intention conform to PEN’s Charter. While this may be interpreted more widely in future, the other rule of engagement – that both title and translation must show literary excellence – must not. There remains more that can be done, and some ground to make up. A secondary feature of the programme has been its sample translation and reader’s report scheme: basically the provision of a synopsis, report and English-language sample of a book that has not yet found a UK publisher, which is then made available free to publishers. So far the sample translations commissioned by WiT have generally not resulted in English publication of the book in question. A reason, if not the reason, for this failure is that the programme has not established its brand as a source of worthwhile, innovative texts as well as it has established itself as a marketing funder of energy and judgement. Another area in which the programme might expand its activity is among the UK’s constituency of refugee and migrant writers, poets especially, who have no access to the usual publication channels in their own language.

It is, of course, absolutely vital above all that Writers in Translation continues to operate, as it can exceptionally well within English PEN’s embrace, as a respected champion of literature beyond national and linguistic borders and beyond conventional literary expectations. In the diversity of its constitution – writers, translators, publishers, literary journalists, scouts and agents – it has become a benchmark for critical judgement, independence and commitment in the UK translation scene, free of the prejudices and partis pris not just of insular publishers, provincial politicians and trivia-hungry media but of all special- interest groups – including perhaps even translators! However it changes in the future, it must retain that disinterested passion.

I don’t want to end on a moralistic or triumphalist note; and there is one further annotation to be made to the brief history of intercultural awareness I’ve attempted here, which offers us an opportunity to calculate the consequences of dismissing or denying the value of that sort of understanding. It takes us back to the first-floor room at the Instituto Cervantes at El Toboso. Here, among the showcases and donated copies of Cervantes’ novel, there is a single, green-bound, bulky volume that is an exception to all the other editions in the library. It is not an edition of the Quixote, as all the others are, but of the German epic poem Das Nibelungenlied, pointedly sent in its place and dedicated to the Cervantes Society in El Toboso by the German Reichskanzler in his own hand, ‘A Hitler, 1. Juli 1933’.

Julian Evans

David Shook Destination of Choice Occupation Hammock; Any bar with Víctor Terán; Nightclubs in Malabo with
David Shook Destination of Choice Occupation Hammock; Any bar with Víctor Terán; Nightclubs in Malabo with

David Shook

David Shook Destination of Choice Occupation Hammock; Any bar with Víctor Terán; Nightclubs in Malabo with
Destination of Choice Occupation Hammock; Any bar with Víctor Terán; Nightclubs in Malabo with Recaredo Silebo
Destination of Choice
Hammock; Any bar with Víctor
Terán; Nightclubs in Malabo with
Recaredo Silebo Boturu
Isthmus Zapotec,
David Shook; a.k.a. Tekwani (Nahuatl for tiger, shark,
maneater; literally “habitual eater of people”)
Other Activities of Interest
Editor of online broadside Molossus; competitive
foosballer; sponsored representative of Oregon
Wild Hair Moustache Wax

David Shook’s commitment to translating and publishing minority voices has taken him on many intriguing – and dangerous – journeys

Translation offers the young writer the same benefits Creative Writing programmes do, often for considerably less money. One offers a diploma, neither much guarantee of future income. I’ve learned both ways, and while I am proud to have worked with several poets of international reputation during my master’s programme, I think I have learned at least as much from Octavio Paz, from José Saramago, from Tedi López Mills, Víctor Terán, Mario Bellatín, Francisco Hernández and many others. Translation is a course in understanding the blurred boundaries between craft and genius, in the flexibility and limitations of syntax, and in the core tone of the work. Translation is as old as literature, an important teacher, especially since the beginnings of Modernism. That master’s programmes don’t require it is a short-sightedness that I suppose is attributable to an increasingly internationalised but visually communicated media culture. Monolingualism is a poor excuse; cribs have their own set of teachings to offer. Our Babelic delusion is just that.

My efforts as translator, poet and editor have centred on the idea that literature in translation is essential to an informed transnational dialogue, that minority voices like that of Isthmus Zapotec poet Víctor Terán deserve attention – and that once received, stand up to critical analysis and even receive popular acclaim. In early 2010 this proved to be just the case, when the Poetry Translation Centre sponsored the Mexican Poets’ Tour, featuring Terán’s work in my translation alongside work by poet-translator pairs Coral Bracho/Katherine Pierpoint and David Huerta/ Jamie McKendrick. The three-week tour featured dates in major cities of England and Scotland, and exposed Terán to a major international audience for the first time, something especially significant because of the low cultural status of indigenous languages and literatures in Mexico. As poet David Huerta explained in an interview with BBC4, the indigenous literatures of Mexico are quite distinct from the Spanish-language tradition of the majority, increasingly visible but often considered sub-literary by the Mexican establishment.

Since late 2009 I have edited Molossus, an online broadside of world literature, with a special emphasis on literature in translation, often from the perspective of the literary translator. The site features reviews as well as original content, such as our recent interviews with translators including Jeffrey Yang, Mark Schafer, Sudeep Sen, Pascale Petit, Ilya Kaminsky and Jamie McKendrick. In addition to serving the practicing translator, my hope is that the site might promote the translator and their work to a broader literary and intelligent mainstream audience. One current initiative, which should launch in 2011, is our companion webisode series Lit Minute, which will primarily feature literature in translation. Our small production team includes several of Los Angeles’ best young TV writers and producers, and early titles include Ugly Duckling Presse’s recent 5 Meters of Poems, an accordion-style fold-out poetry collection by Peruvian Vanguardist Carlos Oquendo de Amat, in Joshua Beckman’s and Alejandro de Acosta’s translation.

February 2011 saw the incorporation of my non-profit Molossus Productions, a boutique publisher of world literature in translation. Our first title is the Mexican writer Mario Bellatin’s novella Shiki Nagaoka – profiled in the New York Times in late 2009 – which uses translation as a narrative strategy to authenticate a false biography. Molossus Productions will use a primarily-electronic distribution system, marketing titles to both mainstream and specialised audiences across platforms – including Kindle, Nook and iBooks, with secondary hard copies produced in limited runs at a slight premium and an exclusive lettered run of signed copies. The Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles is supporting our launch by bringing Mario Bellatin to Los Angeles, and similar events are being planned in other major US cities.

Our second title is a collection of poetry by the Equatoguinean poet Marcelo Ensema Nsang, a Claretian priest imprisoned and tortured under Macías for his social activism. To accompany that, I’m also producing a documentary about Ensema Nsang, using my on-the-ground hunt for the poet as the starting point for a story about translation, poetry, the life of the artist in society, and a portrait of one of the world’s most unusual and unusually repressive places. Other projects to come include Tecuani, a series of poetry chapbooks by indigenous Mexicans, edited by Víctor Terán, and including work from Isthmus Zapotec, Zoque, Yucatec, Wixáritari (Huichol) and Mazateco.

Critical defence and promotion of literary translation are important, but even more so, in my view, is an emphasis on just how enjoyable literature in translation can be, in both its creation and its consumption. Translation is a great democratiser, allowing anyone to study with the best writers in the world. I encourage all master’s programmes in the UK to include it in their curricula so that they might avoid the provincialism and cliquishness that the more developed American MFA community is often guilty of. Good translators must be good writers, even if they do not write themselves, and it is high time we pay them the praise they deserve for their often invisible work.

I leave Los Angeles tonight for Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to produce my documentary about Marcelo Ensema Nsang, motivated to take an 8,000+ mile trip of considerable cost and potential danger because of the power of Nsang’s verse. He writes,

it’s not possible to step on the flight of bats or to steal the blind song of the barn owl …

In response to those impossibilities, I suggest that it is a miracle of equal power to be able to read and engage with literatures from other languages and cultures. Indeed, translation is a necessary and achievable miracle, increasingly important in our globalised world. I recommend its practice to all.

David Shook

Found in Translation Geoffrey Taylor , director of the Toronto International Festival of Authors, shows how
Found in Translation Geoffrey Taylor , director of the Toronto International Festival of Authors, shows how
Found in Translation Geoffrey Taylor , director of the Toronto International Festival of Authors, shows how

Found in Translation

Geoffrey Taylor, director of the Toronto International Festival of Authors, shows how literature in translation can bridge festival communities, reach far-flung audiences and boost the translation of books into English

Found in Translation Geoffrey Taylor , director of the Toronto International Festival of Authors, shows how

Our author events started in June 1974.

By October 1980 we had inaugurated what is now our signature event: the International Festival of Authors (IFOA). From the very beginning of the festival, works translated into English were an integral part of the programming. Since those early years we have presented over 7,500 writers from 100 nations. 60 per cent of these scribes were from outside Canada. And of those, at least half were from countries where English is a second or third language.

Canada is officially a bilingual country; in practice, however, it is a country that speaks not two languages but hundreds. Currently 47 per cent of Canadians consider English their second language. Once you learn that over 50 per cent of the population was born outside of the country, this seems only logical.

Thanks to Toronto’s multiculturalism, we have been able to attract a great variety of linguistic groups to our venues. We have presented events in dozens of different languages over the years. We have found that currently it is the second generation of new Canadians, and later ones, that are looking for the stories of their parents’ homelands. This has invariably meant that this new generation, and in many cases a new generation of readers, is interested in and needs works in English. This has resulted in the vast majority of our events being presented in that language.

Most editions of the IFOA have had a theme of sorts. Last year we focused on mystery and thriller


writers, and not too long ago we had an in-depth look at graphic novels. In past years it has been a country-of-focus such as Denmark, Japan, Sweden, Germany, Hungary, Scotland or Ireland. In 2011 the IFOA will examine works in translation. This programming focus aims to bring new works of literature from a wide range of international and national authors to Canadian audiences with the purpose of sparking discussion on the benefits and challenges of literary translation.

This focus on translation evolved from a stand-alone festival that we presented in June 2010, Found in Translation. This festival highlighted authors whose works originated in a language other than their native tongue. Held over three days, the festival featured events in English, French, Spanish, and Japanese. Authors who participated included Laura Alcoba (Argentina), Kebir Mustapha Ammi (Morroco), Ying Chen (China), Louis-Philippe Dalembert (Haiti), Wayne Grady (Canada), Andreï Makine (Russia), Tierno Monénembo (Guinea), Gilda Piersanti (Italy) and Ryoko Sekiguchi (Japan). Our lead partner on this project was the Consulate General of France with support from The Japan Foundation, Istituto Italiano di Cultura, the Conseil de la communauté marocaine a l’étranger, Bureau du Québec and others. Events were held both within the different cultural communities as well as in the heart of the city at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. Hosting these events throughout the city, helped reiterate the importance of building communities through translation.

This mini-festival paved the way for our theme for 2011. By embedding the Found in Translation

festival within the IFOA we hope to gain a cross- over audience from our main festival. The IFOA aims to convey the importance of literary translation as a foundation for cultural exchange through a wide range of events including readings, round tables and talks. The focus also aims to open doors for those who have not yet been discovered in Canada. Also, the festival hopes this focus is a spring-board for more translated works.

Translation allows for both unique interpretation and a broader audience than a work written in just one language. It also means that many versions of one work can exist. For example, Pablo Neruda’s poem ‘ Me gustas cuando callas ’ has been translated as ‘I Like for You to be Still’, ‘I Like You When You Are Quiet’, ‘I Like You When You Are Still’ and ‘I Like it When You’re Silent’. These are just a handful of the numerous renditions that are available, and English readers will of course favour one translation over another for reasons of personal taste and understanding.

Similarly, translation gives us access: access to material we may never have been able to read or understand without the translation. A number of years ago a group of authors was discussing books at the IFOA and the conversation turned to the merits of a new translation of Homer that had just been released. A member of the group turned to Sir William Golding to ask his opinion. His reply was that he had not read the new release, but that it was unlikely to be as good as the ancient Greek version. This goes to show that although we may lack the skills to read much of the world’s literature in its original voice, translation allows us to experience at least one interpretation of a piece.

Translation is a vehicle of access and awareness. The original creator of a work provides a glimpse of their characters’ familial situation, their community and what political, economic or social issues may be affecting their characters at a given time. While not every nuance or saying can be translated, an effective translated work includes a local take on characters while maintaining the original feeling or message of a story. As a result, translation increases readers’ awareness of shared human emotion and experience. It allows readers to explore new worlds and cultures. The role of the translator is to provide us with the best approximation of the author’s voice so that it also reflects the world in which we live.

This reflection can be seen throughout time as the languages, words and phrases that we are most frequently touched by trickle into daily usage: words like déjà vu , orang-utan, assassin or doppelg ä nger . Even one of the languages that seems most distant from English, that spoken by the Inuit, has provided us with the word ‘kayak’. In fact, there is a wealth of such languages that we have scarcely begun

to understand and truly appreciate: the urban legend that the Eskimo have many more words for snow then we do is just a misunderstanding of the structure of the Eskimo-Aleut languages. (Through the use of suffixes, their vocabulary seems unlimited.) Even confusion over words like Eskimo adds to the discussion. Most recent textbooks will tell you there are no Eskimos, that they are called Inuit or ‘the people’. That said, thousands of Yup’ik speakers who consider themselves Eskimo would disagree. All of these examples open us up to an entirely new interpretation of language and meaning to be explored through the understanding of translation.

It is often asked how non-native speakers can participate in English-language festivals. The answer is quite simple: their works are translated into English. This hints at just how many great foreign works there are that we will never be able to experience.

Last year marked the start of an ongoing collaboration between five of the world’s top literary festivals, in a partnership called the Word Alliance. The IFOA, Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Bookworm Beijing literary festival, Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin and Melbourne Writers Festival joined together to share their high-calibre presentations of international authors and to facilitate dialogue between their countries’ best writers. The IFOA and its collaborators hope their partnerships will encourage the discussion of new translation opportunities for the hundreds of authors they present on their stages. The Word Alliance will be announcing the addition of more festivals including non-English language festivals in the not-too-distant future.

Globalisation and instant media have given us the impression that we have a partial understanding of the world’s cultures. However, until we know each other’s stories, we are condemned to think of the world in sound bites and left wondering if we have missed something. A good translation of a good work of literature provides us with a window on to a culture that can never be closed. It is our hope that by providing access to translations through our festival programming, the readership of translated works will increase and thus the opportunities for translators will too. To have more, and in some cases better, translations would create more bridges of understanding that could lead to the best principles of enlightenment.

Geoffrey Taylor

A Small Country in the South Pacific
A Small Country in the South Pacific

Jean Anderson, Director of the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation, asks: shouldn’t this small country focus primarily on the translation of writing from its closest neighbours?

A Small Country in the South Pacific Jean Anderson , Director of the New Zealand Centre

The New Zealand book market is a small one,

and publishers here have as their prime objective, quite understandably, the publication and promotion of New Zealand books. Where literary translation is concerned, the initial response has been that it is of no concern to the local market, neither as regards support for the translation of our writers, nor as a factor in ‘importing’ work from other languages. The exception to this is in the area of children’s books, in which a great deal of translation is done from and into Pacific languages. This recognises the importance of preserving the cultural heritage of community groups that have migrated here principally since the 1960s and 1970s. Other than this, two small publishers, Gecko Press and Small World, specialise in translated children’s books.

For adults, the situation is a lot less promising. Currently, support for translation and publication costs must come from the source countries, several of which do have funds for this purpose. However, it would seem that most publishers are not aware of these. There are very few literary translators in New Zealand, and they tend to have a low profile compared with those working in the commercial translation sector. Literary translations here, with just a handful of exceptions – a half-dozen titles – are self-published (probably another half dozen). This is an estimate of the total number of works of translated adult literature ever published in book form in this country.

At government level, there is as yet little recognition of the role of translation as an important element of cultural diplomacy, although a recent initiative (2005-2007) saw the publication of a selection of New Zealand poetry in Russia and of Russian poetry in New Zealand – to some acclaim among afficionados of the genre.

It would obviously be an overstatement to claim this as a breakthrough. There are some small signs of change

on the horizon, however. The main Arts funding body, Creative New Zealand, set up a special fund in late 2010 specifically to provide support for the translation of New Zealand writing into other languages. While the sums involved are modest, it is at least an acknowledgement of the strategic importance of translation in promoting our national literature. A further initiative in 2011 has seen the Publishers’ Association of New Zealand aim to provide publicity for this new fund at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and perhaps to provide materials in the target language to improve accessibility.

Unfortunately there is no corresponding local fund for the translation of foreign-language works into English for publication in New Zealand. While the point of view that publishers in Great Britain or the United States will ‘take care’ of market needs for translations into English, and that such books can be distributed here once they are available, is perhaps understandable given the size of the local market, it nevertheless perpetuates something of a misunderstanding of New Zealand’s place in the world.

To put it simply, readers here do not have the same interests or literary tastes as the American or British market. This may seem like a generalisation, but it should give us pause. New Zealand is a small country in the South Pacific. An increasing proportion of our population is of Pacific origin, and while the active field of translating children’s literature is testament to the flow and exchange that can happen between languages, it seems strange that there is no perceived need to support this same cultural exchange at the level of a more mature readership.

Wellington-based Huia Books is, to some degree, an exception to this rule. While they specialise once again in children’s literature, either written or translated into the indigenous language, Maori, and in fiction and non-

fiction by Maori writers in English, their list also contains a small number of translated works of adult fiction, for example, Patricia Grace’s Potiki, translated from English to Maori, and Tahitian writer Chantal Spitz’s now equally classic Island of Shattered Dreams. But the key word here is ‘small’. An Auckland publisher, Little Island books, is showing interest in translations of Pacific writing, and two university presses, in Auckland and Wellington, have made minor forays into the wider field, as have a handful of literary reviews (notably Landfall and Poetry New Zealand). However it is very much the translators’ initiative, both in approaching a suitable publisher and in securing funding, that drives these occasional projects.

Exceptionally, in 2007, the French Embassy sponsored a month-long festival designed to highlight New Caledonian culture and provide an opportunity for New Zealanders to sample some translated works from our nearest French- speaking neighbour, chiefly poetry and dramatic pieces.

We should not forget that some of New Zealand’s closest neighbours are not English- or Pacific language- speaking, but Francophone. French Polynesia (Tahiti) has a small but active group of writers whose work would certainly appeal to other Pasifika peoples, but that audience cannot currently access these books because of the English-French divide; and New Caledonia (Kanaky), with more than twenty indigenous languages, is united on the literary level by the language of French colonisation, but separated from a potential anglophone readership in the region.

While translations from the wider world of literature remain important, the Pacific should, arguably, be our first area of interest. In the past, Australian efforts, through the Pandanus imprint at Australian National University, to bring the works of these more ‘local’ writers into English have eventually foundered as funding has been withdrawn. Currently a small number of academics are working to help Pacific literatures to cross this divide, but that remains an uphill battle.

The founding of the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation, Te Tumu Whakawhiti Tuhinga o Aotearoa, at Victoria University of Wellington, has provided a focal point for the development of a higher profile for literary translation. Although some elements of academia remain unconvinced of the scholarly and/ or artistic value of literary translation, the setting up of specialist postgraduate degrees in the discipline at Victoria University in 2010 has gone some way towards a recognition of the skills required.

The Centre hosted its inaugural international conference in December 2010, attracting high-quality proposals from scholars and practitioners from over twenty countries. Keynote speakers were Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Lawrence Venuti and Paulo Britto, and a number of foreign Embassies added their support to that of Victoria University.

The conference provided an important opportunity to create links with translators and academics from around the world, and work on editing a collection of essays by

participants is currently underway. It is hoped in this way to strengthen the community of scholars and practitioners in the Pacific region in particular, but with extensive links into the wider world of literary translation. Given modern communications technology, there is in fact no reason why translators in, say, the Philippines or New Zealand, could not readily work with colleagues – or indeed publishers – around the globe.

Here we come to the crux of the problem. How can we get publishers to come to the party? How can we move past the financial bottom line? Should we even be thinking this way? The economics of the process are quite rightly a vital consideration for the publisher, and presumably no translator or writer wants to see a ‘successfully’ completed project jeopardise the existence of the publishing house. And without proper funding, the publisher cannot commit to effective marketing – and yet another ‘important’ book can fail to make an impact, thus perpetuating the vicious circle of translations perceived as a costly burden.

Sadly, it is hard to see past the financial aspect of the dilemma. Can publishers with a small local readership find a way to connect to international markets more easily? Is the ebook the answer? Will online publishing make room for a bigger number of more diverse texts?

It is difficult to imagine now what the publishing scene might look like in another decade or quarter century. The speed of technological innovation has already brought us to the point of having to reimagine the book: while some physical form will no doubt remain, fiction is becoming increasingly virtual. Perhaps, from the point of view of those with a stake in translated literature, these technological developments are positive and point, not to ‘the death of the book’, but to a brighter future. The question then becomes, How to get the maximum advantage from these innovations? The ebook is arguably a means by which the product of creative minds – wherever their geographical and linguistic roots may be – could reach out through a much more ethereal medium, and much more rapidly and inexpensively, to a truly global readership. For this to be possible, however, literary translation will need to come into its own. Unless we become a planet of English speakers (or Chinese speakers, why not?), there will be no world literature without translation.

We could adopt a pessimistic stance, and see recent Google initiatives as either impinging on the fundamental rights of the creator, or AmazonCrossing focusing only on the translation of best-sellers, at the potential expense of all those undiscovered gems … Or we could be more optimistic – perhaps unusually for the literary translation community – and suggest that if Google, Amazon, Kindle and the other components of this emerging technological network do in fact become some kind of vast ‘reading-machine’, then surely that machine can only increase the need for an appreciation of our work, especially if it creates a space for the dissemination of lesser-known literatures which might then be issued with a lower financial risk for the publisher …

Watch this space.

Jean Anderson

Photo:Garima Jain Many Languages, One Literature Namita Gokhale , co-director of the Jaipur Literary Festival, reflects

Photo:Garima Jain

Photo:Garima Jain Many Languages, One Literature Namita Gokhale , co-director of the Jaipur Literary Festival, reflects

Many Languages, One Literature

Namita Gokhale, co-director of the Jaipur Literary Festival, reflects on the role of literary festivals in a nation where language, culture and literature exist in a constant state of translation

‘Should a language that is still restricted to 6 per cent of India’s population, an English-educated elite, be invested with such global representational power in literary and cultural terms? What does it mean that the world reads and believes that it comprehends ‘India’ through Rushdie and Roy rather than Kamleshwar (Hindi), Ambai (Tamil), or Qurrutalain Hyder (Urdu)? These questions are important ones and have necessarily animated the critical discussion. Fortunately, good translations and scholarly editions of ‘bhasha’ or indigenous language literatures are beginning to make their appearance and are beginning to challenge sanctioned ignorance of these literary languages and traditions.’

Priyamvada Gopal, The Indian English Novel:

Nation, History and Narration

Photo:Garima Jain Many Languages, One Literature Namita Gokhale , co-director of the Jaipur Literary Festival, reflects

While Midnight’s Children was a watershed which had a huge impact on how the world viewed Indian writing, Salman Rushdie’s magical prose also transformed the way Indian writing looked at itself. Although some critics saw it as a valorisation of the ‘post-colonial exotic’, Pico Iyer’s famous essay The Empire Writes Back described it as ‘a call to free spirits everywhere to remake the world with imagination,’ opening up ‘a new universe by changing the way we tell stories and see the world around us.’ Saleem Sinai’s voice reclaimed the language of the Mumbai streets, bringing the spoken sounds of India into English literary usage.

My first novel, Paro: Dreams of Passion , was published in 1984. There were few quality English language publishers in India at the time, and being published ‘there’ and receiving the offshore validation of the western world was an important rite of passage for aspiring writers. The first of the ‘sari rippers’, Paro , published by Chatto & Windus, received the full ‘twice-born’ treatment – yet its non-squeamish use of Mumbai patois still puzzled those Indians who equated good books with the Queen’s English.

Now, Indians have accepted and appropriated English as an Indian language, using it in the easy style of films like Jab We Met . Several important international publishers have taken root in India, including Penguin, Harper Collins, Picador, Random House and Hachette. Many of these, such as Penguin, Harper Collins and Random House, have accepted publishing in the Indian languages as part of their mandate.

Indian writing in English has now found its place in the world. Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, Kiran Desai, Aravind Adiga and others have refracted powerful, personal images of their homeland through their works. Vikas Swarup’s Q&A was adapted into the film Slumdog Millionaire and won eight Oscars. Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City, Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea of India, and Ramchandra Guha’s India after Gandhi all interrogate Indian realities using different voices and perspectives.

This was the climate in which we began the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2006. Of the 18 invited writers, two didn’t turn up, and the festival began with 16 writers and audiences of 40 to 50 people per session. That year, and every year after, people came, listened and argued. While setting up the festival, we tried to establish that the main intention of this event was to showcase Indian literature. In the first few years we had to fight for this ground; to explain to academics and the media that if we had a great poet or writer from a tribal part of India, he or she deserved exactly the same space as the biggest names in the world. Even quite recently this was not the prevailing view, as there was a rather insecure condescension and disdain reserved for the ‘vernacular’.

In the nineties, Rushdie had made a contentious comment on Indian literature, claiming that both fiction and non-fiction by writers working ‘in English’ was proving a more important body of work than that produced in the so-called ‘vernacular languages’. Khushwant Singh added to the controversy by stating provocatively that ‘vocabulary in all Indian languages is comparatively limited; English is a richer language and has a larger market.’ When Rushdie came to Jaipur in the third year of the festival, writers in the Indian ‘bhasha’ languages were still hostile to him on this count, but he was enthused as he listened to new Indian voices. The Diaspora writers, the so-called international names, also have an emotive need to remember the sound of their own languages. It’s a subtext no bilingual writer can completely erase.

Over the last six years, the phenomenal success of the Jaipur Literature Festival has convinced me of the acute need for a space of simultaneous interpretation:

interpretation of the contradictory and often conflicting realities of India and South Asia. Jaipur’s platform for the shared South Asian languages, such as Urdu, Nepali, Bangla and Tamil, led to even more engaged levels of debate on literature and society in regions that are fractured by distinct political identities and conjoined by linguistic and cultural identity. For example, the Jaipur session on Sindhi writing in 2010 brought both Muslim writers from Sind Pakistan and Hindu Sindhi litterateurs together to celebrate and reclaim their common language and literature. The Hindi word for translation is ‘Anuvad’. An allied word, ‘Sethubandhan’ implies the building of bridges,

and that was how the Sindhi sessions, conducted trilingually in Sindhi, Hindi and English, reached out to the local, national and international communities.

India is, and always has been, a ‘bahubhashit’ multilingual society. The Vedas, the earliest remembered expression of our literary culture, record a moving prayer which urges invoking the Gods in many languages. Today, with 22 national languages, 122 regional languages and 1,726 mother tongues, India is engaged in an act of constant, ongoing cultural and literary translation.

Like democracy, translation must seek equity. There should be no dominant bias towards the two languages, and the cultural cues and subtexts within the work need to be projected for effective literary translation. This is, naturally, not an easy process, requiring intensive dual-language skills and cultural knowledge. However, while it is generally easier to translate between cognate rather than non- cognate language clusters (Marathi to Gujarati is easier than Marathi to Mizo, for instance), the connecting language for translation in the Indian literatures still tends to be English. The existence of this ‘middleman’ language is a mixed blessing:

while making space for more translations, it can sometimes also result in distancing in the translation process, a second level of distortion.

India has had a peculiar hierarchy of languages. On the surface it appears plural, polyphonic, but between those many languages there has always been a clear dominant language. The aesthetic distinction between desi and margi, that is, between the classical and the folk styles, has been transmuted but not disappeared. At the top of the heap, historically, was Sanskrit – followed by the local median languages and then the folk tongues and dialects. Somewhere along the line, in the process of colonisation, English effectively replaced Sanskrit as the elite and aspirational tongue. As India found its own voice, and the national languages flourished in the supportive environment of the press, media and technology, the balance shifted back to the local ‘bhasha’ languages.

An important aspect of contemporary Indian writing is exemplified by the transformational Dalit writing movement. This literary articulation by the emergent, previously marginalised voices of disadvantaged castes is in part the assertion of a class struggle, a Black-Panther-style movement. There is also a tremendous outpouring of hurt and pain; a process of catharsis. Caste and community are sensitive issues in India. Every category feels badly treated and victimised by others, so there is endless potential for provocation, anger and conflict. The Dalit readings and panels at the DSC Jaipur festival last year discussed the rejection of mainstream Indian literature and the assertion of an alternative sensibility. Despite the inherent politics

and propaganda there were people weeping in the audiences, as the raw pain and hurt of these writers was immensely revealing to those of a cocooned, middle-class mindset. There was also a lot of media attention, in India and internationally, focused on these writers and issues.

One of the leading ideologues of the caste struggle, Kancha Ilaiah, wrote a moving editorial piece about how this was the first time that Dalit literature engaged with mainstream literary space and instead of feeling rejected found that they had a lot to give, and a lot to take from the experience too. He wrote in the Deccan Herald, ‘literary festivals teach how to connect oneself to social mass culture, if one is doing transformative writing. If it helps even a section of oppressors to identify with the viewpoint of the oppressed, writing becomes more meaningful. The Jaipur festival has shown the signs of such positive exchange of views.’ In India, because we feel so passionately about our literatures, it does provide a space for people to share problems, and anger is a very important part of the process. I don’t know where else in the world so much anger is associated with literature. It is valuable, because it’s a thinking anger; it’s a talking anger, not a stone-pelting anger. That’s the unique energy at Jaipur – the buzz in the air, the passionate enthusiasm and curiosity of people who are trying to figure themselves out in the midst of challenges and change.

South Asian Literary space is redefining its borders. The Pakistani segment at Jaipur is an important part of the literary dialogue. The Karachi literature festival was a resounding success. The Bhutan literature festival, where the youngest democracy in the world is learning to use language to assert and to understand, has entered its second year. An exciting literary festival in Nepal is being planned.

Another crucial aspect of literary tradition resides in the oral heritage. It is assumed that a society which is not literate in modern terms is illiterate. This is clearly not true. Such fragile and endangered cultures have a continuity of ancient oral literatures which, though intangible, have been mindfully nurtured and passed on from generation to generation. Most of these are now sadly facing extinction. One can’t simply record, archive and store them, as this would render them static. Oral literatures are precious things and to be effectively transmitted they must be understood, contextualised and valued. In a space like Jaipur, or other places where they are respected and showcased, the process of transmission becomes possible – not necessarily to genetic heirs, but intellectual and cultural heirs: people who want to learn and take these stories forward.

In most cultures today, writers who are not exposed to at least some formal education might find it difficult to articulate their talent within a tradition.

But we in India collectively inhabit the miraculous plasma of a vibrant oral literature: a continuously improvised and reinterpreted dramatic literature which constantly revalidates its understanding of that tradition. That is the many languages, one literature trope, and the environment which Jaipur is rediscovering.

After many millennia of complex stratification, Indians are emerging into an individuated understanding of themselves. It is a beginning for women to be given new spaces, for people from suppressed castes and repressive backgrounds to struggle for equity and equal opportunities. There is an immense amount of suffering and corruption and cynicism, but it is still a new India, fighting for its voice through different languages and literary traditions. I say ‘voice’, but in India we would never speak in one voice; rather we would speak in the manner of what is called jugalbandi , where two musicians perform together within classical structures but with variations which are completely improvised in that moment.

Modern India exists in a constant state of translation. The simultaneous worlds of the internet and the impact of new technologies have made this process easier. To quote a great Indian writer and poet, A.K. Ramanujan: ‘By a curious perversity I read Tamil constantly in the Kannada area, Kannada in the Tamil area, studied and taught English in India, and India and Indian languages in the US.’ In Ramanujan’s fictional autobiography the protagonist, an Indian with an American wife teaching history at a college in Iowa, recalls his childhood. ‘In my early years, I spoke Madras Tamil to Amma. I switched to Mysore Tamil with our Iyengar housemaids who cooked for us. Outside the house, I spoke Kannada with friends. Upstairs in his office, Appa conversed in English … Thus upstairs-downstairs, inside-outside, I grew accustomed to three languages.’

While Indians live in many languages, they are rarely aware of this plurality. I conclude with a tribute to the ‘curious perversity’ of our complex literary culture and the conviction that this spontaneous and accepting multilingualism will persist, and flower to greater glory, in its upstairs-downstairs, inside-outside trajectory.

Namita Gokhale

‘For Wales: See England’ Wiliam Owen Roberts , winner of the 2009 Wales Book of the
‘For Wales: See England’ Wiliam Owen Roberts , winner of the 2009 Wales Book of the

‘For Wales: See England’

Wiliam Owen Roberts, winner of the 2009 Wales Book of the Year Award, tells the story of a language and literature that have been successfully fighting suppression, and even extermination, for centuries

‘For Wales: See England’ Wiliam Owen Roberts , winner of the 2009 Wales Book of the

On the eve of the Second World War, the intellectual and author Georges Duhamel bemoaned the fact that French books were no longer being translated and sold elsewhere in Europe. He felt that the French spirit was in peril, and that the voice of his culture was not being heard in other countries. He also made the point that culture and economics have always walked hand in hand. ‘The French book has always opened up the way for our dealers in brandy, champagne, or silk stockings.’ The English had a similar attitude, and it’s significant that the British Council was set up in recognition of the importance of ‘cultural propaganda’ in promoting British political and economic interests abroad. Thus these days it directs most of its efforts towards China and India (where Germany’s Goethe Institute is also very active) as in the twenty-first century, these are the countries with burgeoning economies. Aesthetic considerations go hand in hand with a nation’s economic interests. You could argue that any author who takes part in such a project is a sort of secular missionary, whether he or she is aware of that or not.

Unfortunately, the position of authors from countries where minority languages are spoken is rather different. Often, the linguistic minority has been conquered and exists within the borders of a larger nation state, like the Welsh in Britain or the Bretons in France. Concerted attempts were then made to suppress and eradicate their languages, Matthew Arnold describing the aim of such a policy in Wales in the nineteenth century as ‘to render homogenous the linguistic differences between England and Wales.’ This was seen as desirable for the sake of administrative convenience and cultural cohesion

and was usually enforced through legislation banning the use of the native language in schools and all other public and official settings such as courts of law. In time this creates a psychological condition where the native population loses its sense of identity, internalises the values of its oppressors and comes to hate its own culture.

Luckily this process was only partially successful in Wales. Welsh speakers still have their own literature and culture even though it is little known elsewhere. Wales’s idea of itself as a nation has been fostered over many centuries through a long and rich poetic tradition sustained by a home-grown aristocracy. Indeed, our country’s bardic tradition until the fifteenth century is richer than any other European country. We have a poet of world class in Dafydd ap Gwilym (1320–1370), whose work has been translated into several languages. He is still not fully acknowledged as he should be, though: I would argue he’s a better poet than Chaucer. The language of the Welsh poets was used to its highest effect in the sixteenth century for a translation of the Bible, published in 1588. Along with most European countries, our most important book is a translated one.

The Acts of Union in 1536 and 1542 joined Wales politically, economically and culturally to England. The indigenous ruling class re-located to London and became anglicised, and the fate of Welsh-language- literature – in a country without a single university – was left in the care of the petite bourgeoisie. Colonies do not benefit from the energy of historical currents, becoming instead stagnant backwaters, to the detriment of their literature – which in the case

of Welsh literature meant becoming timid and overtly religious, with folkish undertones. From the sixteenth to the twentieth century, the history of European literature is that of the ruling class, the bourgeoisie – which reached its apogee with Modernism at the beginning of the last century. This is the movement which has mapped the European imagination and gone deepest into its psyche, but it did not really penetrate the fabric of Welsh-language literature until the second half of the twentieth century, much to our cultural impairment.

The other major barrier to be overcome is the international image of Wales. For years, the entry for Wales in the Encyclopaedia Britannica read:

‘For Wales: See England.’ When the poet Chris Meredith and I toured Southern Germany with the British Council in 1995 we quickly learnt the advisability of beginning our sessions by locating Wales on a map of the UK for our audience, and by the end of the week, we had perfected a fifteen- minute introductory précis of the history of Wales and its literature to put our own work in a more developed context. After all, having lacked any political representation in Europe since 1418, how is an emerging nation to represent itself?

Until the successful Devolution of 1997, Wales was ruled exclusively from Westminster. Only now is Wales beginning to emerge, tentatively, as a country in its own right. In this brave new post-colonial world, we’ve looked to other small countries for inspiration as to the best way to foster our publishing industry, to present and publicise our literature in translation to an international readership. Iceland, for instance, with a total population of just 300,000, has a healthy book industry that is sponsored by the government. We used this blueprint in Wales to lobby Assembly Members for increased funding for Welsh authors. The campaign proved successful and the increase in funding has had a very beneficial effect, energising a previously dormant sector of the arts.

Translation is an all-important tool for projecting our literature globally. To this end the Wales Literature Exchange, based in Aberystwyth, was established in 2001 with the simple but challenging brief of facilitating the translation of Wales’ literature, and then promoting it internationally. The Exchange has done excellent work on a small budget, working with foreign partners and publishers, participating in international book fairs as well as other events. It has succeeded in its brief with a very wide range of books. As the native publishing industry is made up of many small publishing houses, only very limited resources are available for publicity and promotion, although this is, encouragingly, starting to change, and in recent years there has been a limited international dimension emerging. Nevertheless, the role of the Welsh Literature Exchange in this respect is extremely valuable and given the excellent work it does, it fully deserves further support.

Some promising developments notwithstanding, in this corporate age it is still more beneficial for a Welsh-language writer to have his or her book translated into English and placed with an English publisher in London, in order to take advantage of the marketing resources and expertise there. The danger is, European translators may then work from the English text. This is far from ideal, and something of a paradox, but until we in Wales achieve an international presence, it will remain a pragmatic option.

The changing attitude of London publishers towards Welsh language literature is in itself interesting. Traditionally, due to a sense of cultural superiority, there was not much interest shown in any minority literature, Welsh included. In the 1930s Rosamond Lehmann, favourably reviewing a novel by Kate Roberts, one of our foremost short story writers, referred to this English ‘incuriosity’ about Welsh- language literature. Things have slightly improved in this regard, however, as English attitudes have evolved. The days of empire are long over and culture is much more pluralistic and not so resistant to other voices. The world is shrinking, allowing ‘the other’ to become just another– equally valid – perspective, rather than something strange and alienating.

On a less positive note, the publishing world has been increasingly at the mercy of market forces. Economies of scale inevitably militate against minority voices. The attitude says, give the audience more of what they know (and what the publishers know will sell). The leap of imagination needed to embrace translated works from minority languages is something most commissioning editors, with a constant eye on the bottom line, are becoming reluctant to make. London publishers are not actively seeking out Welsh-language writers. Scottish and Irish writers have fared much better, but that I think, is because they write in English.

This brings us back to Georges Duhamel: the danger is that literature doesn’t any longer play a part in the exchanging of commodities: it becomes a commodity, nothing less, nothing more, along with brandy and silk stockings, its value measurable only by the volume of its sales. To counter this increasing philistinism, minority cultures must battle unashamedly for subsidy and support, in both the commissioning of new literature, and its subsequent translating. I believe the Welsh Assembly Government has a clear role to play in this, and we need to convince them of the value of our literature and the economic benefits that could accrue from its flourishing. It’s still early days here in Wales and it will take years before a representation of our literature in translation reaches the world directly, unmediated by the English publishing world. But the foundations are in place, and I feel optimistic that we can build on them.

Wiliam Owen Roberts

Nicky Harman Destination of Choice A place where everyone reads literature in translation! Occupation Translator Languages
Nicky Harman Destination of Choice A place where everyone reads literature in translation! Occupation Translator Languages

Nicky Harman

Nicky Harman Destination of Choice A place where everyone reads literature in translation! Occupation Translator Languages
Destination of Choice A place where everyone reads literature in translation! Occupation Translator Languages Chinese, English
Destination of Choice
A place where everyone reads
literature in translation!
Chinese, English
Nicky Harman
Other Activities of Interest
Evangelist for literature in translation; Translator
Mentor; Translator in Residence at the Free Word
Centre; co-founder of Paper Republic; promoter
of Chinese writers to publishers; (occasional)
writer about translation

Nicky Harman has been behind a range of innovative translation projects and is now one of the first Translators in Residence at the Free Word Centre in London

I translated my first novel about a decade ago and that personal milestone set me off on a road which I’ve never wanted to turn back down. However I very soon realised that being a translator was not a matter of sitting at home and waiting for the book contracts to come. Then, as I searched for work, I got involved in some activities which not only shed an interesting light on the world of Chinese-to-English translation – they changed it.

In the spring of 2008, the first Sino-British Literary Translation (SBLT) course took place (in a hotel) on the bamboo-clad slopes of Moganshan, near Hangzhou, China. It was organised by Penguin China (Jo Lusby), supported by Chinese and British government funding and the Arts Council England (ACE). Valerie Henitiuk of the British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT) Summer School also provided input. In brief, the week-long workshop sessions consisted of small groups of students, working together with a Chinese author (or an English one for the English- to-Chinese groups) and an experienced translator as workshop leader, to produce a translation of an extract of the author’s book collectively. Interspersed with these sessions, there were presentations and discussions led by publishers and literary agents on the publishing world, copyright and contracts and other related topics.

The first SBLT course brought together a group of Chinese-to-English translators, both beginners and the more experienced, from all over the world, and had all the fizz of excitement that you would expect from such a new venture. In short, it was inspirational. So far, so good then; but at the end of a week we all went our separate ways.

Nevertheless, an initiative grew out of the first SBLT course which proved extremely important to Chinese-to-English translation and to me personally. Eric Abrahamsen, an American living and working in Beijing, had already set up the website Paper Republic ( Its aim was to provide a blog and discussion space for translators, as well as to tickle the taste-buds of those all-important publishers who might then commission translations. After SBLT 1, and with the encouragement of Kate Griffin of ACE, Eric and I applied successfully for an ACE grant to develop Paper Republic.

Chinese literature in English translation is a tricky area for publishers. Few of them are familiar with Chinese fiction. Almost none can read the works in the original language. They are therefore dependent on finding a competent, trustworthy translator. Not surprising, then, that they have sometimes been wary of taking the plunge. The injection of real cash in the form of the ACE grant allowed us to provide publishers, as well as other translators, with informative articles and discussions, profiles of translators, and of Chinese authors and their works. As we filled out the website, we also built up a network of contacts in the

publishing world. We took ourselves to the London Book Fair in spring 2009 and the Frankfurt Book Fair in the autumn of that year, introducing the website to yet more publishers and agents. It was a hugely educational experience, both for us as translators and for those we talked to.

When the year’s grant was up and I was writing my final report, I began thinking about what we could do next. It seemed obvious that we should be encouraging more graduates in Chinese into the translating world. Meanwhile someone else had had the same idea and acted on it: with the aid of funding from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Danny Hahn at the Translators Association has set up a mentorship scheme for translators who are starting out. This scheme pairs a beginner up with an experienced translator who supplies support and encouragement over a period of six months or so. The first two to be mentored were chosen from the BCLT Summer School, at which I was a tutor, and are working respectively from French to English and Chinese to English. Anna Holmwood, for whom I am a mentor, has just landed a contract to translate her first novel for Virago, and I’ll be able to support her through that process.

Another new initiative in which I am involved is the Translator Residencies at the Free Word Centre, London. I will be one of two Translators in Residence, and in my case, there will be a special focus on Chinese-to-English translation. That said, I have taken as my brief to de-mystify translation and make it fun; all the events I am organising are designed to include non-Chinese-speakers, and indeed non-translators. We will cover all age groups, in a series of free events which range from story-telling in Chinese and in English for children, workshops for adults on translation and Chinese cooking, on translating Chinese classical poetry (with the aid of a literal translation for those who don’t read classical Chinese!), listening to and translating Chinese rock music lyrics (also with the aid of a literal translation) … right through to a series of free lectures, for instance on ‘The Translation of Conflict’.

Literary translators may work in isolation but, certainly in the case of Chinese literature, they also have a wider role to play as ‘mediators’. I hope it will be clear from this short piece that the situation for Chinese-to-English literary translation is more positive now than it was just a few years ago. We can claim some success in making Chinese fiction accessible to publishers in the West, both through our own efforts and thanks to the support we have received from fund-giving organisations, agents and publishers. The old cry, ‘We’d love to publish more Chinese work in translation but we can’t find a translator’, while still sometimes heard, is heard less often.

Nicky Harman

Commercial 30


Awaiting News at the Dock Jon Parrish Peede , director of Literature Grants at the National

Awaiting News at the Dock

Jon Parrish Peede, director of Literature Grants at the National Endowment for the Arts, asserts the value of literary translation and identifies new ways for translated works to travel as the publishing industry evolves

Awaiting News at the Dock Jon Parrish Peede , director of Literature Grants at the National

When the last instalment was due, the smelly docks

of the New York City harbour were teeming with everyday citizens eager for news from the voyagers. Unable to wait any longer, they supposedly called out to the arriving ships: ‘Is Little Nell dead?’ Such was the appetite for the serialised works of Charles Dickens across the pond in 1841. Of course, we as readers, writers, and publishers know those glory days are no more. If we did not know this fact so confidently, I would not close this preamble with a reference to the thousands of American middle-schoolers, college students and so-called ‘grownups’ who packed bookstores at midnight more than 150 years later to find out if young Harry Potter had survived his evil tormentors. Though both The Old Curiosity Shop and Harry Potter introduce us muggles to foreign words, neither is a work in translation. But these British imports function here in the US like the best works in translation: they transport us to places we have never been, to live among people we have never known, to comprehend our world in a way we had not comprehended it previously.

As Director of Literature Grants from 2007 to 2011 at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the US government’s arts funding agency, I had the privilege of overseeing more than $6 million in annual funding for translators, writers, poets, presses and journals, and literary organisations and festivals. Since 1965, the NEA has helped to sustain the field of translation by supporting book releases, promotional activities and translation-focused conferences and organisations. For thirty years, the agency has also awarded grants to translators for self-selected projects. This cultural investment comes to more than 300 fellowships for works from more than 65 countries and 55 languages,

varying from Arabic to Zapotec. Having served eight years in various leadership roles at the NEA, I can attest that the agency is rooted in a long-standing commitment to translation that continues unabated.

Though it is estimated that only two to three per cent of new titles published annually in the US are literary translations, these books have been of great significance to the world of American letters and have profoundly shaped our cultural perspective over the past half century. Here one might think of the influence of French critical theory on academic scholarship, but in fact I am referring to the effect of literary works on Dr. Johnson’s ‘common reader’, the general citizen. Consider the political impact of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, published in Dutch in 1947 and published in the US in 1952. The short life of Anne Frank came to stand for the undignified death of millions. Even now, her words are a barrier to those who would deny the Holocaust. Or consider Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, which was smuggled out of the USSR and published in Italian in 1957 and in English in 1958. Pasternak won the Nobel Prize in 1958, despite the government’s ban on the book in his own country. Albert Camus’s The Stranger (French, 1942; US, 1946) had an equally powerful effect on American readers, and especially undergraduates, that lasts to this day.

Non-European literature in translation also influences American writers and readers. Again, this is particularly true in the case of sociopolitical novels. Awarded the Nobel Prize in 1982, Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude was published in Spanish in 1967 and in English in 1970 with a translation by National Medal of Arts recipient Gregory Rabassa. Having sold more than 10 million copies, the novel

helped to open the door for the US publication, and attendant commercial success, of the work of other Latin American masters, such as Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa. In Asia, Chinese author Mo Yan’s novel Red Sorghum (originally published in 1987), which was made into a popular film, was brought into English with support from a 1993 National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship awarded to Howard Goldblatt. Travelling in the other direction was Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club (1989), which gave China a view of its history not yet fully explored in its own novels.

Several years ago, I learned first-hand about the impact of US government-funded literary exports during a lunch with a cultural attaché from Romania. She described how, during the Cold War, travelling State Department artists and Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts fed artistic creativity behind the Iron Curtain; and how different it was for her own students after the fall of communism – when American consumerism gave them the tasteless television show ‘Baywatch’ and other vulgarities of the entertainment marketplace. She longed for the high quality of our earlier exports. Now, alas, our government engages in markedly less literary and book-centered cultural activity abroad, except for occasional projects such as the excellent international poetry anthologies published by the NEA’s International office. If the NEA budget was dramatically larger, I would advocate for a Literary Voice of America that included several canonical works that do not shy away from acknowledging the failings of democratic states, such as John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. There is a reason totalitarian regimes ban books, filter the internet, suppress speech, and curtail the free expression of ideas. They know that words are knowledge, and that knowledge is power. Good governments do not fear the judgment of good books, because they are unafraid of investing of power in their citizens.

The power structure of the publishing world will be utterly transformed within a few short years: more books will be read as ebooks than in print; between a third and half of author royalties will be derived from electronic, video, and audio sales, and platforms that combine these formats; physical bookstores will decline grossly in number and dramatically in market share. Lastly, book reviews in newspapers and mass audience magazines will continue their sharp decline, to be replaced in influence not by magazine-like websites such as Slate or Salon, but by prominent niche blogs such as the translation site Three Percent, or the Poetry Foundation’s blog, Harriet.

While there is understandable concern about the attention span of a generation encouraged to communicate in 140-character bursts, the migration from print to digital platforms carries great promise for translation. The funding portfolios of foundations and cultural agencies should certainly include forward-looking print publications and innovative, digital-born ones; and they should be publications

that both value literary content and use emerging technologies to present and discuss it. If we are to nurture, sustain and ultimately increase the audience for translated literature, then we must encourage both traditional and fresh ways of supporting translators and presenting their work. We must be mindful of the fact that emerging audiences gather information in new ways and have different consumer profiles from their predecessors. A large-scale study, carried out by Roger Bohn and James Short (How Much Information), found that Americans spent 11.8 hours a day consuming information, and that 55 per cent of the information bytes were delivered via video or video game platforms. Enhanced ebooks – digital books with other media embedded – should find a welcoming home among the younger generations that already sustain the video gaming industry.

If you love hardbacks like I do, you may think that these enhanced ebooks aren’t for you. But have you ever read a book that you loved dearly, but in truth you weren’t even sure that you were pronouncing the name of main character’s village right, much less her name? Have you ever wanted a map at hand while you read Homer? As readers, particularly of historical works, we often want enhanced text even if we don’t use that term. We don’t want to wade through footnotes that crowd the pages, but would appreciate hyperlinked place-names and embedded pronunciation guides. In many ways, translation could prosper as digital books gain market share, just as the Web’s global reach has allowed the site Words Without Borders to gain a readership unequalled by previous translation-focused publications. Likewise, few publishers print bilingual editions because of the expense in paper and shipping as well as the mixed response of book buyers to such formats, except in the case of poetry. A bilingual ebook on the other hand has fewer costs, and as electronic works evolve, there is the possibility of offering a bilingual ‘on/off option’ not unlike the closed-captioning option in video and television. Where translation meets technology, form and function align.

As individuals, we read for pleasure. We read to daydream; to escape our lives for a moment. And of course we read to educate ourselves, develop skills and advance our careers. We read to evaluate options before taking action. As societies, we read for many of these same reasons, only with more emphasis on practical application. For the Global Translation Initiative to have a meaningful impact, it must address our needs both as individuals and as societies. The initiative must find a way to establish a greater understanding of the practical societal value of reading literature in translation, in addition to its intangible, intrinsic value, which has long been acknowledged but is less and less visible in the marketplace.

Jon Parrish Peede

A Revolution in Words Mark Thwaite , digital marketing manager at Quercus Books, led the online

A Revolution in Words

Mark Thwaite, digital marketing manager at Quercus Books, led the online marketing campaign for one of the best-selling translated books of recent times. Here he challenges the notion that books in translation are ‘difficult’ to read or to market

A Revolution in Words Mark Thwaite , digital marketing manager at Quercus Books, led the online

These days, I have the rather grand job title

of Digital Marketing Manager for Quercus Books and MacLehose Press . By a rather crooked pathway, a good part of what I do on a daily basis is to use the internet to market books, many of which are titles that were first written in another language. In August 2010, I began work on a new Flash-based website to promote Stieg Larsson, m . This was followed by m , a new type of web forum dedicated to fan-fiction, with an active blog.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the biggest-selling books of the past few decades (the first to sell over a million copies on the Kindle; sales have reached over 50 million worldwide). Curiously, Larsson is precisely the kind of author that we used to be told could never sell well in the UK: dead, and with a funny name. But it would seem the British public is just a tiny bit more sophisticated than that: they have been buying Stieg by the bucketload.

Alongside creating a new Larsson website, the main purpose of my job is to improve the Quercus site, make a MacLehose Press site and, crucially, create an impressive and extensive online presence for the whole of our business. Web 2.0 means, to me, that we can never presume where our potential audience is, nor where it sources its information. We need to cast our net wide. This is a multi-channel universe and, if we want to reach readers, we need to work across it. The reality is – and the number of superb blogs dedicated to fiction in translation proves the fact – that there

is a considerable constituency of readers out there who are interested in challenging books and books in translation; there is also an (arguably different) group of readers that is most certainly not discouraged from buying a book because the author has a ‘funny name’. The difficulty is reaching these readers. This has long been the challenge for publishers who have traditionally relied on printing, hoping and dreaming that word of mouth will lead to success.

The internet, however, allows us to do mouth- to-mouth, peer-to-peer marketing directly. There are hundreds of blogs out there with hundreds of thousands of readers. They are telling publishers what they (and their followers) want to read. We just need to learn to listen harder and respond more quickly; we need to engage.

When I started my job at Quercus & MacLehose Press we merely had a website. Now we have a daily-updated blog, three separate Twitter feeds, a YouTube channel, a Flickr account and a Facebook page. We’re also growing our presence on, LibraryThing and Scribd. In addition, I launched three dedicated websites and our first web viral and worked with Momentum Pictures to create a dedicated iPhone app for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo . All this can and should be done by publishers to help market foreign fiction titles. The internet is a massive archipelago of related islands – perfect for niche publishing – but only by being all over it can we hope to catch the readers who are hiding away in some of its more obscure corners.

My own love affair with translated fiction started in my teens when, rather dazzled by a slightly older, devastatingly pretty and fearsomely well-read goth – a girl, in fact, who wouldn’t be out of place in a Larsson novel – I began, at her suggestion, reading Emile Zola. Thérèse Raquin hooked me straight away. Germinal shocked and moved me and Nana kept me up late at night: I was soon reading my way through the entire Rougon-Macquart series. I’m not entirely sure now why they enchanted me quite as much as they did. No doubt decadence plus realism plus compelling plotting was the heady mix that held fast my teenage attention, but I do remember, quite distinctively, loving the Frenchness of them. The fact that Zola was a French writer was de facto proof that he was more exotic and exciting than dull old Dickens or turgid, Tory-beloved Trollope!

To be honest, I haven’t entirely renounced this view. I can’t help but be a bit more excited by the idea of a novel from the Icelander, Jón Kalman Stefánsson, than by another dose of North London miserabilism from Tony Parsons. Moreover – and with my marketing hat on – I think it is this very exoticism that is increasing the appeal of such books. Perhaps even Edward Said would allow me just a little sales- based Orientalism if it helped me shift a few books that went on to undercut the ideas I used to help promote them.

Somewhere between my late-teenage infatuations and my postgraduate delusions of grandeur – and probably somewhere around the time I first read Said – the internet appeared. My first proper job was as a legal librarian, but within months I’d been taken on by I started work for them from the moment they began trading in the UK.

After five years at Amazon, learning how to use the internet from inside one of the most successful online operators, I decided to take leave of my Slough-based American masters and make my way home, back up North, in the hinterlands of Manchester. Beyond geography, I had one small dilemma: the publishing world is based predominantly in London (yes, we have fine publishers like MUP and EUP based outwith the capital, but publishing – and trade publishing especially – remains an extremely London-centric business). A Northern job meant a techie or online job, for sure; in any case, not a book-related one. Could I really cope with a non-biblio nine-to-five? And just how on earth was I going to keep getting free review copies?

Like so many bloggers after me – but, serendipitously, few before me – I decided that the best way to maintain my publisher contact list and to keep those proofs flooding in was to set up my own literary website. was launched in October 2003. The world did not shift on its axis; but I was thrilled.

Initially, I envisaged ReadySteadyBook as being a mini-Amazon, reviewing books across different genres. Within days, however, I realised that this was beyond me. Around 500 books are published every week in this country. Not only could I not cope with the amount of books that were being offered to me for review: I had precious little interest in most of them. Blogs work when the blogger involved has some degree of passion for his or her subject. I had no passion for most books in most genres, but I did have a huge passion for what I had been told were difficult books in translation. Unfortunately, not only had I been told that no-one wanted to read ‘difficult books in translation’; I had also been told that they certainly didn’t want to read a blogger writing about these ‘difficult books in translation’.

So, it is fascinating for me to note that ReadySteadyBook began to pick up readers, and

very many readers at that. And it did so the more

  • I wrote about the ‘difficult books in translation’

that no-one was supposed to care anything very

much about. I could always gain a few more hits by declaring, once again, how dreadfully overrated

  • I considered Ian McEwan to be. Sustained growth,

however, was only possible when I talked about authors like Proust and Sebald, Borges and Kafka, Josipovici and César Aira.

  • I kept writing and I kept reading; and my blog grew until, at its height, it was receiving upwards of 8,000

unique visitors a day.

Following the success of my blog, I went on to become Managing Editor of The Book Depository’s website. When I started working with them five years ago they were turning over £12 million a year; when

  • I left them earlier this year turnover had increased to

£70 million. Not all of that was due to me, but online

sales and marketing techniques (a blog, a targeted monthly newsletter, innovative use of Twitter) certainly helped raise the company’s profile.

After four years with The Book Depository, and over a decade in bookselling, I decided that I should cross the Rubicon and become a publisher. Sadly, yet unnecessarily, publishing is in the doldrums at the moment: unsure of what to do with ebooks and still nervous about online culture, it seems to have forgotten its greatest strengths. The internet revolution has largely been a revolution in literacy, in words. Publishers are good with words, are perhaps the guardians of words, and should be there to protect and promote aggressively those who can wield words most movingly. Working with the world’s best writers requires innovative use of a worldwide forum and, it seems to me, the Web is the perfect platform for us to strive for excellency and to save literature.

Mark Thwaite

Go Dutch! Mireille Berman , Head of International Literary Projects at the Dutch Literature Foundation, celebrates

Go Dutch!

Mireille Berman, Head of International Literary Projects at the Dutch Literature Foundation, celebrates the Go Dutch! promotional campaign of 2010 – a project that introduced UK audiences to the wealth of Dutch literature available in translation

Go Dutch! Mireille Berman , Head of International Literary Projects at the Dutch Literature Foundation, celebrates

Both British and Dutch commentators seem to

believe that hardly anybody in the UK is interested in translated literature. It is a fact that there are few translations on the market there: a measly two or three per cent of published literary works are translations. This makes a sharp contrast with other countries such as Germany, Italy and France, where this figure is above 50 per cent. In the Netherlands, more than 60 per cent of published books are translations.

We are quite aware of how difficult the task is. For publishers and foundations like ours, trying to promote Dutch literature abroad means competing with all the other fascinating literature in the world:

Chinese masterpieces, poetry from Kyrgyzstan, Italian classics, deep Baltic reflections. With such great works on offer, who cares about modern Dutch literature, in which we have recently seen a tendency to dive deeper and deeper into a Calvinist guilt complex populated by lonely farmers in endless flatlands?

The prevailing wisdom in both the UK and the Netherlands is that it would be simply impossible to create an audience for Dutch literature in the UK. We are full of admiration for the small band of brothers that dares to try anyway; and especially those who have met with some success, such as Philip Gwyn Jones, Stuart Williams, Christopher MacLehose, Daniela de Groote and Gary Pulsifer. This brave vanguard has done a great job, but the overwhelming impression remains that where translated literature in the UK is concerned, we are working against the grain.

In 2010, the Dutch Foundation for Literature presented a promotion project called ‘Go Dutch’. In cooperation with Jonathan Davidson from Midland Creative Projects and with the help of UK publishers, venues, festivals and bookshops, we organised a series of events with Dutch writers here in the United Kingdom. Our aim was to enhance awareness of Dutch literature and increase its visibility. Before we began, we wanted to get a better hold on just what the obstacles were to bringing translated literature into the UK. One of the main problems, in our eyes, was that foreign literature seemed to be perceived by many there as alien and unfamiliar. Our impression was that British people often refer to the insular mentality of their countrymen, their ‘fear of all things foreign’. And so for such an audience, the presentation of foreign literature as ‘a window on to the world’, for example, would be counter-productive: it emphasises the distance, and confirms their impression of foreign literature as strange and hard to grasp and therefore unattractive.

This applies to readers, and therefore also to festival directors and literary programmers, who all want to fill their halls with an attractive programme. We needed them, but they were hesitant to invite our ‘exotic’ Dutch authors with their unpronounceable names. They were afraid that nobody would turn up to their readings, and anyway, they weren’t sure a Dutch author’s English would be up to scratch. Thus our most obvious and important partners, whose collaboration was crucial to the success of our project, considered our authors problematic, hard to promote.

We decided instead to point out connections, to underline the similarities rather than the fact that this was literature from across the Channel. We selected Dutch authors who dealt with recognisable themes and issues; writers with excellent English who we knew were great on stage. The variety of events was enormous, ranging from a talk at the Hay festival on the adventures of Frank Westerman climbing Mount Ararat to a reading club in Essex whose members discussed with Tommy Wieringa the adventures of his hero Joe Speedboat.

Jonathan Davidson knew the literary infrastructure in the UK well, so he could pick out the festivals and literary venues that might be persuaded to programme a Dutch author. He also helped us get support from Arts Council England, and so we were able to help the venues with extra costs and make a website in English that introduced the authors and told people who was appearing where. Most importantly, we tried to bring Dutch and UK authors together on the same stage and let them talk to one another. We didn’t want to present the Dutch authors as representatives of an intercultural exchange, but rather as sharing a common goal with their British colleagues: to get more people at the grass-roots level reading good books.

We avoided any mention of ‘windows’ and ‘worlds’, of ‘cultural encounters’, or ‘getting in touch with foreign literature’. Rather, we presented our Dutch writers simply as interesting authors with an original point of view that was recognisable for UK readers; as if they were authors who just happened to be from the Netherlands. This way, the fact that they were Dutch was an added extra; instead of an obstacle, it became a bonus.

We pointed out the themes the authors were writing about and suggested good combinations with contemporary British writers. So, at the Manchester Literature festival, ‘our’ Surinamese-Dutch Cynthia McLeod talked with Dorothea Smartt about the treatment of colonial heritage in their work. Toon Tellegen delighted forty Scottish children with his tale of the elephant who ate a whole cake (all by himself, no sharing), which left them in awe and confusion and not because Toon is Dutch. We also presented journalist Joris Luyendijk, who talked with Index on Censorship director John Kampfner about the struggle for objectivity as a reporter.

We simply presented our writers as fascinating authors, who need to be discovered and translated not because they provide an insight into that strange, unknown land called the Netherlands, but because they had something to add to an understanding of important issues that also play a role in UK society. We told everyone involved that these authors have intriguing and original things to say, that they offer a surprising point of view – which is not necessarily a Dutch point of view.

So, to increase the availability of translated literature in the UK, you have to be smart and find the right people; you have to point to the common themes, not to the exotic. And if you publish or programme a series of events, keep up with current affairs and hot topics of interest in the UK. Don’t bring out a series of classics from one single country, but a great book about, say, the colonial experience, which just happens to be a Dutch experience too. Programme a series of events about childhood memories in literature and ask Dutch writer Otto de Kat to take part. And who knows? You might even find that our Calvinist guilt complexes and lonely Dutch farmers actually have something in common with your gloomy protestant tales of lonely British farmers ...

The communication between cultural institutions and UK publishers and festivals depends very much on the occasion, on the author involved, on the event that is planned and, last but not least, on the people who are in charge. There is no standard or formalised process for this communication, and usually there are so many parties involved that improvising and going with the flow is the most important technique to master. There are a few things to keep in mind, however, such as ensuring that an author’s books are available when you plan an event. This means it is vital that the publisher knows about your plans at a really early stage.

Like everything else in the publishing world, a lot depends on personal contacts. If I know a certain publisher or festival director quite well, I will work with him or her more closely and share my plans, my hopes and my doubts.

Cultural institutions should not be ‘part of the publishing furniture’, but should be actively engaged whenever it is appropriate and useful. Publishers absolutely know how to find them when there are possibilities to cooperate in production, translation or promotion of a book; cultural institutions should in turn come up with fresh ideas that add something the publisher can’t provide. These institutions should remember that they can be helpful and supportive but are not essential in the publishing process. Unpretentiousness and modesty is an essential asset.

Mireille Berman

Unlikely Encounters David Del Vecchio , owner of Idlewild Books, looks to a thriving future for

Unlikely Encounters

David Del Vecchio, owner of Idlewild Books, looks to a thriving future for independent booksellers as larger chain stores around the world are being forced to shut down

Unlikely Encounters David Del Vecchio , owner of Idlewild Books, looks to a thriving future for

Three years ago, I opened Idlewild Books, a small

independent bookstore in New York City where the books are organised by the country of their setting. Reading had always been a part of my life but I had no previous background in either bookselling or publishing. I’d always enjoyed reading books set in other countries, especially those I travelled to, but I’d never consciously thought of these books as ‘international literature’; nor did I think of novels originally in other languages as ‘literature in translation’.

Before opening Idlewild I spent a year building a list of titles by country, apprenticing in a couple of bookstores I liked and meeting with publishers and others in the book industry. When the store finally opened, it quickly became popular with travellers who like to read, and as a venue for events on literature in translation.

Idlewild’s footfall doesn’t just come from people planning a trip or looking for non-American fiction in particular; about half our customers on a given day are people who live or work in the neighbourhood, or shoppers who just happen to be passing by and are looking for something to read. Many are unaware of our speciality and browse our tables of new releases and ‘staff picks’ the same way they would browse the tables in any bookshop. They don’t seem particularly confused by the fact that the latest books by Peter Carey and Patti Smith share table space with a couple of new books we like from the German author Jenny Erpenbeck and an Urdu-language writer named Qurratulain Hyder. The latter two sell just as well in our store as books by English-language writers in part because we recommend them, but also because they have enticing covers and compelling descriptions on the back.

That may sound obvious, but I mention it because I am often struck by what I see as a tendency among both big publishers and organisations dedicated to promoting literature in translation to view these works as being very different from literature in general. While I strongly support efforts to bring more foreign literature into English, and to promote the books that have already been translated, I don’t think readers make much of a distinction or that publishers, booksellers and others should promote these books any differently.

The typical reader doesn’t think about translation

I sometimes read defensive remarks by American publishers and reviewers that they don’t give more attention to translated works because Americans won’t read translations. On the other side, campaigns and organisations promoting translated literature often suggest that the most interesting thing about a particular book is the fact that it is a translation.

After three years working in a bookstore where translated works are mixed into the inventory on every shelf and table, my sense is that the overwhelming majority of our customers don’t have positive or negative feelings about translation. As long as the book in their hands is in English, they don’t seem to think about it. The main exceptions I have observed have been among academics, or when there is a well-publicised new translation of a nineteenth-century French or Russian classic; but these are instances in which the customer is excited to read a translation. Three of the most popular novels in our Vietnam section are by Graham Greene, Marguerite Duras, and Duong Thu Huong – and although we frequently recommend all three to people

who are looking for a good book that is set in Vietnam, rarely does the customer’s final choice seem to be based on whether the book originated in English, French or Vietnamese (although they may be more personally drawn to an English, French or Vietnamese point of view, which makes perfect sense).

  • I don’t want to undervalue the importance of translation,

or the exemplary work that translators do: I believe that an excellent translator is an artist. I simply disagree that

a reader won’t read a book because it is a translation.

  • I would therefore question the strategy of promoting a

book on the basis that it has been translated, and of

suggesting we should read it as a means of bridging cultures or expanding our horizons. Most people don’t read books because they’re good for them, or to affirm their common humanity. They pick up books that seem enjoyable or interesting.

Sometimes a book’s foreignness is a selling point

While I don’t think the fact that a book was originally written in Swedish or Japanese is a major influence on readers’ choices, the fact that it comes from Sweden or Japan might be. But this presents more opportunities than challenges. Many of us read to escape, or want a book that takes us somewhere – either for pleasure, or to learn more about the place in question. Whenever a country is in the news, Idlewild sells more books from that country because people become curious about it. Mysteries and thrillers that are set in foreign cities appeal to many readers because of the foreign setting: the fact that the book is set in Rome, or features a Swedish cyberpunk heroine fighting neo-Nazis, makes it exciting. Whenever we attach a shelf talker to a book in the store that says the book created a sensation in France or was banned in China or reveals the dark side of modern Japanese youth, sales of that book spike. Of the mysteries that sell well from our Italy section, some are by Italian writers, and some are by American writers, but our customers don’t seem to regard them differently.

Sometimes a book’s foreignness is beside the point

One of the pleasures of being a bookseller is entering into conversations with readers who don’t know exactly what they’re looking for, and helping them find the perfect book. I recently recommended the Russian classic Oblomov to a customer who was looking for a book for her dilettante brother; and sold a wonderful Hungarian novel called Skylark, about a dutiful couple whose lives unexpectedly become more exciting when their spinster daughter takes a trip, to a woman whose youngest daughter had just moved out of the house. Neither of these customers asked for something foreign, but the books they ended up with seemed just as appropriate for them as an American book might have been.

Younger readers may be more open to translated literature than older readers

The majority of our customers are in their twenties and thirties – the store is located in a neighbourhood with lots of offices – and seem to have very different browsing

and buying habits than previous generations. Our older customers will frequently ask for the latest book by a famous author or for something they saw reviewed in the newspaper or a magazine. Our younger customers don’t seem as familiar with authors or the latest ‘big books’ and are drawn more by striking cover art, books that seems quirky or unusual, or anything that we highlight with a blurb. They also almost never buy hardbacks.

There are certainly downsides to these trends – it’s easier to sell cartons of the latest media-driven bestsellers to customers who follow book reviews – but they present opportunities for translated literature as well. Because younger readers are less attached to celebrated authors, and seem less influenced by reviews in the mainstream media, they are often more willing to take a chance on an unknown foreign author or something that looks unusual. And because the small presses that specialise in translated literature mostly issue new books as paperback originals than as hardcovers, these books are more likely to appeal to our younger customers than the latest $28 hardcover by Philip Roth or Jonathan Franzen.

Independent bookstores represent one of the best entry points for translated literature

Since Idlewild opened three years ago, three Manhattan branches of Barnes & Noble (America’s largest bookstore chain) have closed. Earlier this year, Borders (the country’s second-largest bookstore chain) filed for bankruptcy. While all bookstores must adapt in the face of digitalisation and other trends, smaller independent stores may be better positioned to weather these changes than the giant chains that have dominated retail bookselling for the past decade. Over the past three years, New York has actually seen more independent bookstores open than close.

To survive, these independent bookstores will have to offer customers something they can’t easily find online or in a chain store. The front tables in most chain bookstores feature the same handful of heavily promoted bestsellers that can be found everywhere (and that ever increasing numbers of customers buy or download from Amazon). The indispensable independent stores are the ones where you not only find interesting books that you haven’t seen before, but where the staff is well-read and can make personalised recommendations.

The two questions I am most frequently asked by other people in the book industry is whether I think there is a strong market for literature in translation in the US and if I believe there is a future for independent bookstores. My answer to both questions is the same: literature is literature, there is always a market for great books, and the independent bookstores that continue to thrive will be the ones that connect readers to experiences they are unlikely to encounter elsewhere.

David Del Vecchio

‘Important and useful’ Polly McLean , translator and founding director of The Funding Network, challenges philanthropists

‘Important and useful’

Polly McLean, translator and founding director of The Funding Network, challenges philanthropists to take literary translation seriously

‘Important and useful’ Polly McLean , translator and founding director of The Funding Network, challenges philanthropists

As a literary translator, I am familiar with the

challenges of a field in which Arts Council support is diminishing, and in which commercial pressures on publishing are making it ever more difficult to produce literature in translation. As someone who has been involved in setting up a crowd-funding organisation (The Funding Network), I am also familiar with some of the concerns that influence philanthropic decision-making.

Why does literature in translation merit philanthropic support?

Firstly and most importantly, because translated literature is under grave threat in the contemporary marketplace. In France, fifty per cent of books published are translations from other languages. In Britain, we know that figure is between two and three per cent. The hegemony of Anglo-American language and culture is partly responsible for this, but our particular market conditions are also to blame. It’s no secret that the combination of increasingly powerful booksellers, online retailers, supermarkets and ebooks is squeezing profits and discouraging risk-taking among publishers. Retailers exert a great deal of influence on the kind of novels that succeed, through their reserving of prime retail space for ‘3 for 2’ books. This then creates a vicious circle in which publishers’ marketing budgets are focused almost exclusively on those books. Translated novelists tend to make it into this bracket only if they are already household names. We can see, therefore, that relying on market forces to produce a broad range of literature in translation is a hiding to nothing.

The continued vibrancy of international literature in


is doubly

under threat



result of recent

and forthcoming cuts to the Arts Council. Translation specialists Dedalus and Arcadia have gone on record to say that the continuation of independent publishing is endangered by the cuts, and also that many of the foreign novelists published in the UK today would be lost to an English-speaking audience if it weren’t for publishers like them. This is a very serious issue: unless a broader funding base is found, it is possible that contemporary authors of the calibre of Dostoevsky, Kafka or Balzac might no longer find their way to an English readership.

The reason this is important doesn’t lie only in the intrinsic value of top-class fiction. We also hope that by reading great international literature, readers broaden their perspective on other parts of the world, question their prejudices, become aware of the suffering of others and possibly even take action. Also, literature gives the reader a particularly personal insight into foreign worlds. When we read contemporary master Tahar Ben Jelloun, for example, the actual experience of living under a repressive North African regime is brought home to us with a power unimaginable in newspaper reporting. Similarly, The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi (which I translated in 2009) brings the sexuality and rage of a Taliban fighter’s wife alive in a way that I certainly haven’t come across in other media. Finally, literature opens our eyes and hearts to the relationship between past and present – I challenge anyone to read Zola without questioning contemporary capitalism, or to emerge from Primo Levi’s astounding If This Is a Man unchanged in their bones by the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. Literature, then, offers us a visceral taste of lives lived in countries a million miles from our own physically, psychologically, spiritually and linguistically. The effect of this is impossible to measure, but surely merits support.

What are the main obstacles to the philanthropic support of literature in translation?

Perhaps the biggest barrier is that international literature tends to be seen as something read largely by left-wing middle-class intellectuals. It’s important to remember that funders are usually considering various proposals against each other – and it is easy to see that the intellectual needs of a relatively privileged segment of the population might not compete well against activity groups for illiterate young people in inner city estates, say, or musical equipment for prisoners or people with learning difficulties.

Secondly, I’m not sure that philanthropists understand the extent to which literature in translation is under threat. Are they aware that the commercial and statutory funding situation is such that there’s a real possibility that contemporary masters such as Saramago will no longer be published, and future geniuses comparable to Murakami or García Márquez might never become accessible to English readers? It seems to me that one of the contributing factors to this lack of awareness might be the publication of some fairly mediocre international fiction in English. Readers, and the philanthropists amongst them, might be forgiven for surmising that if endless kooky French relationship dramas and depressing rural Scandinavian tableaux are getting through, we needn’t worry too much about what’s being left out.

Finally, though it might seem rather crass to say so, many philanthropists fund the arts because of the name recognition it affords. To a certain kind of philanthropist, endowing a theatre space or a gallery procures a degree of glamour, stature and kudos that is hard to resist. Books, however, are more mercurial, less visible beasts. Reading generally takes place in private, and publishing houses tend not to be public locations. Some philanthropists do still start publishing houses – notably the admirably discreet Sigrid Rausing in the case of Portobello Books – but not in the same numbers as they support university departments or exhibition spaces.

Each of these obstacles contains within it a possible opportunity. With regards to the class and access issues, a few organisations devoted to world literature have created innovative projects that bring in more marginalised parts of the population. For example, the Translation Nation scheme sends established literary translators into primary schools to work with children for whom English is a second language. Research has shown that support for bilingual children results in these children outperforming their monolingual counterparts (R. Sneddon, University of East London), as well as becoming more engaged in writing and speaking in English. Translation Nation thus sees bilingualism as a potential advantage rather than a disadvantage. These benefits have clearly appealed to its funders, the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Mercers Company and the Arts Council. Similarly, last year the Arvon Foundation launched their Gulbenkian-funded Mother Tongues

project, in which 16 Portuguese-speaking young people from Norwood School in South London were coached in creative writing in both Portuguese and English. In both examples, the social and academic benefits to the children involved are very tangible, and there’s also the side benefit of the next generation being exposed to the delights of literary translation, thus potentially nurturing the long-term health of the profession.

Moving on to the quality and profile of the literature that does make it into English, it is incumbent on publishers to ensure that they only publish truly important, thoughtful books, and get them out to mainstream readers. We desperately need more translated bestsellers like The Reader, which tell distinctive stories in pacy, accessible prose (and preferably get made into films!). Publishers must avoid thinking of literature in translation as a highbrow, niche market, and search out foreign language books with mass appeal. Stieg Larsson is the obvious success story here – so successful in fact that he is no longer even thought of as a translated author. I am not advocating the dumbing-down that has afflicted much of the domestic publishing scene recently, but a celebration of challengingly diverse subject matter and style that does not fit our stereotypes of obscure, slow-moving foreign literature. I know it’s a controversial notion, but not only must publishers find great foreign novels, they must also avoid publishing mediocre ones. Every tedious translated tome gives the whole field a bad name. Similarly, every incompetent or clunky translation reflects badly on the entire scene, and publishers would do well to follow Gallic Books in having new translators mentored by an experienced professional if they wish to invest in the development of the next generation.

Finally, it seems to me that there’s room for rather more glamour in the world of translated literature. The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is making a step in the right direction with its Taittinger-sponsored reception. I would hazard a guess, however, that there’s also a philanthropist out there who could be persuaded to put his or her name and money to a high visibility prize for socially important, politically orientated literature in translation. The prize money might kill two birds with one stone, by going to the publisher rather than the author or translator, and being directed to marketing the book to a large and mainstream readership.

If we are serious about securing funding for translated literature from private donors and grant-making trusts, we need to decrease the number of mediocre books published in translation; prioritise important but accessible fiction; publicise the currently imperilled state of foreign literature in translation; make international literature both important and useful to marginalised groups; and provide opportunities to raise the profile of books in translation. Not a modest to-do list, but an achievable one, particularly if we are able to bring interested philanthropists on board.

Polly McLean

Translation and Reciprocity Ivor Indyk , founding editor and publisher at Giramondo Press, seeks to strengthen

Translation and Reciprocity

Ivor Indyk, founding editor and publisher at Giramondo Press, seeks to strengthen the international translation community through collaborative projects and initiatives

Translation and Reciprocity Ivor Indyk , founding editor and publisher at Giramondo Press, seeks to strengthen

Although the commissioning and writing of a

literary translation is usually a straightforward affair, the creation of a durable infrastructure which will ensure longer-lasting relationships between authors, translators, publishers, and beyond them the countries involved in translation exchanges, is much more difficult to achieve.

The Writing and Society Research Group at the University of Western Sydney is possibly unique in that it brings together expertise in translation (Chris Andrews, translator of Roberto Bola ñ o and César Aira), authors who have been the subjects of translation (Gail Jones, Nicholas Jose, Alexis Wright, Mireille Juchau and Catherine Rey, who is notable for writing in French in Australia), and a publisher, Giramondo, with a commitment to translated works. The fact that our activity in these areas is underwritten by a university is of great importance – not simply because it pays our wages, but because the administrative capability, the intellectual legitimacy (as far as funding agencies are concerned) and the international outlook necessary for a sustained participation in literary translation come more easily from a university than from commercial or corporate entities.

It is therefore ironic that, in Australia at least, literary translation is not recognised as a legitimate field of research by the academy. Translators can claim their essays about translation, or about their translated authors, as research output; but they can’t do the same with the published translations themselves, no matter how highly regarded they might be. On the other hand, creative writing has been recognised





research by






common to overlook or ignore the role played by the translator, but the value that is placed by the academy on the transmission of writing from one culture to another will make it more and more difficult to sustain this attitude of neglect.

Authors in our group have been translated into many European languages as well as into Chinese and Thai. The translations published by Giramondo, particularly in HEAT magazine, originate in an equally wide range of languages, including Slovenian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Russian, Danish and ‘Sjetlin’. In translation itself, the Group’s expertise lies in French, Spanish (particularly South American writers) and Chinese. We have a writer in residence exchange in Germany with the Goethe-Institut and the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin. Because the university is located in Western Sydney, the Group is particularly responsive to the language groups from which the emerging writers in our region are descended, including Arabic, Farsi, Vietnamese, Turkish, Greek, Urdu, Hindi and Chinese. Australian culture draws much from an immigrant tradition; and such a culture should provide a hothouse for the production of literary translators. But the money and the jobs are in commercial translating and interpreting, not in literary translation. We have a strong sense of belonging to a place which is rich in linguistic and literary resources, the development of which would require capital investment on a scale we can only dream of.

In the meantime, we take our opportunities where we find them. We set up initiatives in the hope that they will strike a chord with our collaborators,

since reciprocity is at the heart of literary translation both as an individual art and as an enduring joint effort between organisations and countries. It was on this basis that we organised a symposium on literary translation at the Hughenden hotel in Sydney in October 2010, featuring keynote speakers Esther Allen, Marcelo Cohen and Olivia Sears, as well as Australian translators from Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Vietnamese and French. In the absence of infrastructure, you bring people together and trust that their encounters will bear fruit. Of course, there is a necessary and inevitable delay between that first gesture and the echoes that answer it.

Our relationship with China offers another example of this process and the attenuations it often suffers. Here the dream of capital investment touches the ground, for Australian iron ore and coal are much in demand for the building of Chinese cities. With funding from government agencies, where there is a trade incentive, a cultural programme is likely to follow. But you have to remain wary of the agency’s priorities. Last year, on the back of earlier initiatives in Shanghai and Beijing, our group applied for funding for a Chinese-Australian literary symposium to be held in Chengdu. The application was made to the Australia International Cultural Council, which operates under the auspices of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – and was rejected by them, on the grounds that the symposium offered only limited public diplomacy benefits. It’s true that a gathering of 30 writers, translators, editors, critics and publishers around a table, discussing the ins and outs of Chinese and Australian literature and the role that might be played by translation, isn’t going to have any immediate diplomatic impact. You’d notice a difference though, in 20 years time.

Those earlier initiatives might, with hindsight, be dated back more than 20 years, to Nicholas Jose’s term as cultural counsellor at the Australian Embassy in Beijing from 1987 to 1990. The relationships he established then with the younger generation of Chinese writers and artists has had an enduring effect on Australian culture and continues to provide the basis for literary exchange between our two countries. But the immediate stimulus for our present activities was the invitation to Gail Jones to take up a residency with the Shanghai Writers’ Association, in 2008, as part of an international programme the Association was then inaugurating. During her residency two of Gail Jones’s novels, Sixty Lights and Sorry, were published in Chinese translation by the Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House, and the period in Shanghai also provided material for her new novel Five Bells.

In return, in May 2009 we invited the Vice-President of the Shanghai Writers’ Association, Ye Xin, a prominent novelist with a strong following among

Chinese readers in Australia, to Sydney. In March 2009, the Group had been one of the sponsors of the Chinese-English Literary Translation Course, organised by Jo Lusby of Penguin China, and held in Suzhou, on a model provided by the British Centre for Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia. The line-up of sponsors for this week-long training workshop gives an idea of the complexity – and the cost – of collaborative projects designed to build supporting infrastructure for literary translation:

on our side the University of Western Sydney and the Literature Board of the Australia Council; on the British side Penguin, the University of East Anglia, and the Arts Council of England; on the Chinese side the General Administration of Press and Publications. The project allowed us to bring four Australian literary translators (including Bonnie McDougall and Jane Pan), as well as the Australian novelist Julia Leigh, on to the course.

Julia Leigh’s novels The Hunter and Disquiet were subsequently taken up for translation into Chinese by Shanghai 99 Readers’ Culture, a Shanghai-based publisher which specialises in the publication of contemporary fiction from the US, the UK and Europe. Peng Lun, who was responsible for the acquisition of foreign titles for Shanghai 99, had been invited to Australia in 2008 as part of the Visiting International Publishers programme funded by the Australia Council for the Arts, and was therefore already familiar with Australian literature. He also agreed to the publication in Chinese translation of Carpentaria, the novel by the Indigenous author Alexis Wright, which had been published in 2006 by Giramondo. Carpentaria won almost every major Australian literary award in the year following its publication, including the prestigious Miles Franklin Award. Alexis Wright has a Chinese ancestor; but in addition, the Indigenous sense of the land portrayed in Carpentaria held a particular appeal for her translator Li Yao, who found resonances with the landscapes of Inner Mongolia. The publication of both Julia Leigh and Alexis Wright in Chinese was subsidised by the Literature Board of the Australia Council.

I visited Beijing with Alexis Wright in March 2010 – we were both guests of the Australian Embassy’s annual Australian Writers’ and Publishers Week, during which the Embassy organises public events, visits to Australian Studies centres in Chinese universities and literary festivals, and a roundtable discussion between Chinese and Australian publishers. The sponsors for these events were the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Copyright Agency Limited, the Bookworm bookshops, Michelle Garnaut (whose M on the Bund restaurant provides the venue for the Shanghai Literary Festival and a legendary gathering point for English-speaking expatriates) and the Literature Board of the Australia Council. It was during this visit that I met up with Patrizia van Daalen, the foreign rights acquisition

officer at Shanghai 99, whom we subsequently invited to Sydney on a publishing visit funded by the Australia China Council. There is a high degree of interest in the Chinese market from Australian publishers, and some trade in the other direction, usually of Chinese bestsellers which have aroused international interest.

That was the status quo when, late in 2010, the Chinese consulate in Sydney suggested to the Literature Board of the Australia Council that a Chinese literary delegation visit Sydney late in 2011. The approach was made on behalf of the Chinese Writers’ Association and the Chinese Ministry for Culture. Ironically, their proposal for a three-day symposium of Chinese and Australian writers, editors, translators and publishers, echoed the one we had put up to the Australia International Cultural Council some months before, and which the AICC had rejected as having insufficient public diplomacy benefits.

The Chinese proposal also resonated with a project I had been party to in 2003 when ten Australian poets were paired with ten German poets in Berlin and spent three days in different cultural locations translating each other’s poems. This was a big- ticket item, and involved funding from UNESCO, the German lottery, the Australia Council and the Department of Foreign Affairs. It had been organised by Europe’s poetry translation maestro, Thomas Wohlfahrt, whose Literaturwerkstatt Berlin counts among its achievements not just the translation workshops between poets from widely different language groups which form part of their annual ‘poesiefestival’, but the Literature Express, which for six weeks in 2000 travelled across Europe from Portugal to Russia, with over 100 writers joining the train in different cities along the route to read their work in its original language, and have it read, in turn, in translation. We can’t do that sort of thing from Australia; we’d need a boat to travel around our region. Naturally we grabbed the Chinese opportunity when it was offered to us.

The reason I have been conscientious in mentioning sponsors while detailing the threads of association which underpin these collaborations in the field of translation, is to stress just how much money they require. Most of the sponsors are government agencies or government-funded institutions. It is hard to see how it can be any other way, given the scale of the undertaking and the fact that literary translation is, properly speaking, a matter between cultures and countries, however much it depends on individuals.

Ivor Indyk




Maureen Freely Occupation Novelist; translator; Languages journalist English, Turkish Name Maureen Freely Other Activities of Interest
Maureen Freely Occupation Novelist; translator; Languages journalist English, Turkish Name Maureen Freely Other Activities of Interest

Maureen Freely

Maureen Freely Occupation Novelist; translator; Languages journalist English, Turkish Name Maureen Freely Other Activities of Interest
Occupation Novelist; translator; Languages journalist English, Turkish Name Maureen Freely Other Activities of Interest Professor at
English, Turkish
Maureen Freely
Other Activities of Interest
Professor at the University of Warwick

Destination of Choice

Anywhere and everywhere

Maureen Freely, translator of Orhan Pamuk, gives a special insight into the internal dialogue of a translator and her ‘constant companions’ – the questions she carries from book to book

When I first took up translation, people who knew me as a novelist told me I was mad. They advised me to concentrate on my own work instead of serving someone else’s. While I saw their point, I was never in any doubt that it was the right thing to do. It did not particularly bother me that I was not yet able to articulate the dreams then lighting my way: for a novelist, this is normal. Write it first, and analyse it afterwards: that had long been my method, and when I sat down in 2003 to translate Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, it never occurred to me to question it.

Eight years on, I question almost everything about the way I work, and even more, I question the fractured way in which we understand the work of literary translation in general. All too often the tone is set by those who see it as a largely technical exercise, a linguistic transfer to be effected within a tight time- frame by a bookworm in an armchair. But we who practise literary translation insist that it is not an engineering feat but an art: translators wishing to do justice to a great poem or a great novel will need to pay attention not just to its surface meanings, but its voice, its tone, its style, its music and its allusions.

But how far is too far? What is the point at which translators should stop taking liberties? Is a translation that reads like a translation more faithful to the original? What exactly does it mean to be faithful to an original? Is it being faithful to an author’s intentions or to the cultural conventions of the language in which he or she writes? These questions are now my constant companions. I take them with me into every new translation, and every new sentence. I use them not to reach a final, unassailable position. Rather, I deploy them as guards against solutions that are too narrow or extreme. For me, the golden rule of translation is that there is no single solution.

But to succeed at translation is to be surrounded by people who are not inclined to be so open-minded or playful. This is particularly the case in countries like Turkey, where every aspect of language and discourse is politically charged, and where writers wandering into areas marked by the state as off-limits can expect harassment, prosecution and even death. Orhan Pamuk was already controversial when I began to work with him. Though partly due to various public statements he had made on freedom of expression, this was mostly due to his growing popularity in the West, a privilege many thought him to be abusing, if only because he had not used it to enhance Turkey’s image abroad. But with Snow, set in a remote Turkish city cut off from the outside world by a blizzard, he seemed almost to be courting controversy. In this Dostoyevskian political drama, he had taken everything that had gone wrong in Turkey over the previous forty years and compressed it into three days.

When it came out in Turkey, readers could hardly describe how it hit them. Though each maligned group was quick to claim offence, there was a reluctance to address the larger picture it painted, of a state that maintains its power with violence and enforced

silence. Its dark core bristled with danger. I wanted to get closer to that danger. And when I was close enough to hear it, I wanted to translate it.

Did I succeed? If this and subsequent translations went on to become part of the larger controversies around Pamuk, was it because I’d let myself be led by a novelist’s instincts, or was it because Turks were by and large unfamiliar with, and suspicious of, the tradition of literary translation, viewing it as yet another insidious western import? And what of the many who told me they thought Pamuk’s work read better in English than in Turkish? Did they mean to insult the author, or were they implying that I had doctored his words, reshaping them for western consumption? Did they genuinely believe what one columnist said, that Pamuk wrote for one person and one person only, that this person was me, and that he brought his books to me when he had finished them and I told him what to do? I have no answers to these questions. I list them here to give a sense of the dimensions of the world in which I now live.

It is often forgotten that translators are not just cogs in the machine: we are involved in the transmission of world literature from the beginning of the process until the end. We read widely, always hunting for new voices. When we find them, we talk to publishers, write reports, do everything in our power to get them placed. We steer the books through the publishing process, help to publicise the book and the author. If our authors run into political difficulties, in their own countries or elsewhere, we stand up for them. Back at home, we join translators’ associations, and through these associations we work to bring translation to larger audiences. Through this work, we enter conversations with translators from other languages and other parts of the world. We read their translations and reflect on them, and when we return to our own work, we take those words and conversations with us.

In my own case, that work might well be a translation, but it is just as likely to be a novel of my own making. When I think back on Snow, what I remember with most gratitude are the days when I was able to sail so close to its dark core that I could hear it whispering. I was changed by what I heard, not just as a translator but as a novelist. And as I went on to translate other books by this author, my education continued.

So if I had to go back in time, to argue again with the friends and well-wishers who wanted to save me from a bad career move, I would of course have much to say about the importance of literary translators in the larger scheme of things. I would acknowledge the political and commercial realities that shape our world and our work. I would defend and try to illuminate the art of literary translation. But most of all I would want to describe translation as a privilege that has released me from the prison of my own language and literary culture. Question by question, sentence by sentence, it has drawn me into the larger conversations of world literature.

Maureen Freely

Professional 46


Britain’s Crisis of Language Learning Michael Kelly , professor of French at the University of Southampton,
Britain’s Crisis of Language Learning Michael Kelly , professor of French at the University of Southampton,

Britain’s Crisis of

Language Learning

Michael Kelly, professor of French at the University of Southampton, reveals the disturbing implications for a society that is increasingly dependent on the linguistic capabilities of other countries

Britain’s Crisis of Language Learning Michael Kelly , professor of French at the University of Southampton,

Britain’s crisis of language learning is shared

by other English-speaking countries. We have been complacent about the advantages of having the international lingua franca as our native tongue. But we are now beginning to realise that these advantages are accompanied by some serious drawbacks. We are increasingly dependent on the linguistic expertise of a lot of other people in order to make our way in the world. And we are dependent on their benevolent intentions towards us, which cannot be taken for granted in a politically volatile and economically competitive world. Our culture of linguistic dependency leaves us more vulnerable all the time.

The decline of language learning in British schools has crept up over the last 15 years or so. In the early 1990s, the creation of the European Single Market sparked widespread enthusiasm for languages. This was reflected in England and Wales by the inclusion of a modern foreign language as a foundation subject in the national curriculum that was created by Kenneth Baker’s Reform Act of 1988. The ill-advised removal of languages from the core for 14-16 year olds in 2002 precipitated a collapse of language learning in English schools to around half its previous level in pupils aged 16. In Scotland, a language had not been made compulsory at 16, and take-up was already smaller than half the age group. But the decline has been correspondingly less marked there.

On the other hand, numbers of students taking a language at A level have remained remarkably steady, at around 35,000 a year over the past eight or

nine years. Similarly, the number of undergraduates studying language degrees at university has changed little, with even a small increase in the last couple of years to around 29,000. The number of linguists has not increased in line with overall increases in A level and university entrance across all subjects. But the small language elite is not getting any smaller.

It is likely that the stability in numbers at A level and university represents a continued interest in languages among the more academic students. It may also reflect a social divide, since it is noticeable that there has not been a corresponding decline in languages in the independent schools sector. And at university level, language degrees are increasingly concentrated in the more prestigious universities.

Most universities nonetheless offer opportunities for language learning to students of other subjects, whether as an elective part of their course or on an extra-curricular basis. And the number of students training to be language teachers on postgraduate courses has recovered from its recent dip, from 1,700 to around 1,900. This is encouraging, though it should give us pause that British-educated graduates now account for less than half of trainee teachers.

The picture for languages is dark but not hopeless. The real challenge is for policy-makers, and the general public, to recognise the importance of languages for students at every stage of the education process. This is the aim of the recently launched campaign for languages called ‘Speak

to the Future’. The campaign identifies five key objectives which could transform Britain’s capability in languages.

Firstly, it is vital that every language should be valued as an asset. Many languages are used in the homes of UK citizens, not just the mainstream European languages. It would be a significant step forward if policy makers and citizens became more aware of how this ‘language rich’ context provides a valuable resource for social cohesion and economic success.

Secondly, all children in primary school need a coherent experience of languages. They will benefit from being introduced to the learning of other languages and cultures at an early age, when their learning capacity is very strong. And learning other languages also carries the benefit of helping children to develop a better understanding of how their own languages work.

Thirdly, every child should leave secondary school with a basic working knowledge of at least two languages including English. This will equip every school leaver to live and work in a global society where confidence in learning and using other languages is a major advantage.

Fourthly, every graduate should be qualified in a second language. Whether they have been educated in the UK or have come from elsewhere to study here, they are future leaders in business, the professions, voluntary organisations, education and research. Having a second language will enable them to thrive and communicate confidently in a complex global society.

Lastly, the UK needs an increase in the number of highly qualified linguists. There is a growing need in this country and internationally for language professionals, especially English speaking interpreters and translators, and for teachers and researchers specialising in foreign languages and cultures.

Each of these objectives connects with the work of numerous organisations and individuals, and if pursued energetically could make a significant difference to this country’s linguistic capacity. But when considering the value of languages in enhancing every area of national and international life, it is important not to lose sight of the growing community of specialists, where languages are a central part of their business. They have skill sets of language and intercultural expertise that are indispensable to enable the UK to understand and communicate effectively with the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, in interpreting and translation, in language teaching and research, the UK has become increasingly reliant on overseas linguists. We are failing to inspire and educate highly qualified linguists

in sufficient numbers to meet the country’s needs. But at the same time we have the opportunity to capitalise on our knowledge of English, so often the lingua franca between countries, and to add value to that knowledge through a mastery of foreign languages.

A great deal more needs to be done to raise the profile of highly qualified and professional linguists. This is a major task, in which linguists themselves must play their part. They can draw attention to the need for specialists of many kinds, and to the wide range of careers and international opportunities that are open to them. Some specialists, including very senior linguists in European and international organisations, are working hard to spread that awareness; but their efforts need to be redoubled. Their work is amplified and supported in England by the Routes into Languages programme, in which national networks of interpreters and translators organise a bustling programme of master-classes, careers events and other outreach activities.

Languages are a very personal thing. They speak to the roots of our identity. And it is at the level of personal encounters and experiences that the students of today can be drawn to see themselves as the linguists of tomorrow. That is why personal contact with experts and hands-on experience of using languages in specialist processes remain the most effective ways of inspiring the next generation.

Although it is sometimes unfashionable to say so, the state must take some responsibility in addressing the country’s language deficit. The market alone will not help the UK to escape from its current language poverty. That market is an international one, and if UK suppliers cannot meet the demands, someone else will; and the weakest will go to the wall.

There is certainly a need for better information, to provide evidence of the high level of demand and poor supply of UK-educated specialist linguists. Robust evidence will be needed to argue the case for strategic intervention by business, government and public service employers.

The main argument for positive state intervention in language education is that employers cannot readily provide their employees with more than a basic level of language competence. Languages take time to learn, and in most cases the market requirement is on a shorter time-scale than language learning.

There are some cases where an employer might invest several months or more in intensive language training for key members of staff, but they tend to be limited to jobs for which British identity is indispensable. This might be the case, for example, in military or diplomatic postings. For other purposes, it is almost always easier for an employer to find a suitably qualified native speaker.

If British candidates are going to get jobs which require advanced language skills, it is difficult to see who, other than the state, can provide the necessary long-term investment. It would be highly desirable for business to play a stronger role in investing in languages, but outside certain specialised fields, investment is likely to achieve broader social aims rather than benefits to a particular company. For this reason, business is most effective in promoting languages when it joins in a partnership with the state, particularly in supporting educational institutions.

British people are no better or worse at languages than anyone else. We have some very committed and expert linguists. However, we also have less motivation and less opportunity to learn languages than countries outside the English-speaking world. As a result there are too many people complacent about, or frightened by, languages other than their own. The ultimate challenge for linguists is to address this debilitating combination of complacency and fear. Perhaps the message should be a very simple one: ‘Yes, we should learn languages.’ And ‘Yes, we can.’

Michael Kelly

Beyond the Text Olivia Sears , director of the Center for the Art of Translation, shows
Beyond the Text Olivia Sears , director of the Center for the Art of Translation, shows
Beyond the Text Olivia Sears , director of the Center for the Art of Translation, shows

Beyond the Text

Olivia Sears, director of the Center for the Art of Translation, shows how the Poetry Inside Out programme helps young people use translation to develop their critical thinking skills

‘Translation made me use words that I knew but did not say … made me think of other words with other people with different languages … Translation helped me learn how to say what I want to say … how to choose my words, and say what I mean for the people who read my poems to understand.’

From an interview with a Poetry Inside Out student, fifth grade

Beyond the Text Olivia Sears , director of the Center for the Art of Translation, shows

In the United States, where 30 per cent of students

speak a language other than English at home, the education system, motivated by the goal of raising test scores, has quickly made it a priority that all children speak and write only English in school. This puts students for whom English is a second language at a disadvantage they lag behind their peers in English ability and struggle in subjects across the board. Many lose confidence in their capacity to learn. Finally, they come to view their native language as an obstacle and a burden, and

may ultimately reject it.

Fast-forward to high school. Suddenly the education system pulls a switch: it’s time to learn a second language so that American students can become citizens of the world.

At the Center for the Art of Translation, we view a second language as an asset, not a liability particularly for students entering primary school. We first developed our education programme, Poetry Inside Out (PIO), to teach children to translate great poetry from Spanish into English, write poetry of their own and translate the poems of their peers. The programme has evolved to a point where it works with all students, regardless of their language background, and nurtures the next generation of readers and writers. Through PIO, students build their language skills, acquire complex cognitive tools, develop an appreciation of poetry, get a big boost in academic confidence, learn to view their first language as an asset and develop a creative voice.

In the Poetry Inside Out curriculum, students encounter great poems in the language in which they were written Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Vietnamese, Latin and many others and cultivate the practice of literary translation. Students then use these newly translated poems as inspiration for composing their own poems. The synergy of the two practices translating and composing poetry allows PIO’s participants to hone their linguistic sensibilities while building essential cognitive and literary skills and finding their creative voice. The poems and translations produced by participants in PIO reflect their profound responses to language, culture, society and themselves.

A PIO workshop consists of 16 lessons, taught once or twice a week, which focus on basic literary translation skills, on the craft of writing poetry (exploring figurative language and poetic structure and form), and on the performance of their work. The students’ writing is collected into a classroom volume, and the best poems are published in the Centre’s biannual Best of Poetry Inside Out anthologies. In our Spanish and Chinese curricula most students are translating from their home language into English, while in our World Poetry curriculum all students are given the instruction that enables them to translate, or imaginatively adapt, a poem from any of the 19 languages we incorporate.

Literary translation is an ideal teaching tool because it leads inevitably to a deeper understanding of the form and function of language. Translating poetry, in particular, brings students into the closest possible relationship with the text, in part because attention to syntax, grammar, vocabulary, rhythm, nuances and colloquialisms (in both languages) is vital to the process.

We discovered that such a cross-cultural curriculum has the potential to transform students’ and teachers’ engagement with language, literacy and literature. According to classroom teachers (surveyed before and after the workshops), PIO increased students’ understanding of syntactical differences between languages, raised vocabulary and comprehension and boosted awareness of the possibility of multiple interpretations. In addition they reported that students gained confidence in their ability to write poetry, using figurative language, sensory images and their imagination to portray ideas or emotions. One teacher writes that the skills they acquired were ‘transferred into other realms of literacy as well, sharpening their skills as writers and readers.’

In the words of PIO artistic director John Oliver Simon, ‘There’s something about the translation process that subtly transforms not just kids’ writing abilities, fluency and confidence, but the way they approach language, that central human endeavour.’ They learn that languages can’t be mapped on to each other word for word: ‘Students translating a Verlaine poem from French into Spanish or English (their choice) instantly saw that French and Spanish are closer to each other than either is to English, and they were able to explain why. The words they chose to translate the rain-sound conveyed in French by “bruit” were as various as “patter” and “chapalateo”.’

This kind of realisation is significant in this age of standardised testing, where kids are taught that

there is a single correct answer yes or no, black



right or

wrong. In

PIO, students learn

early on that there are many right answers so

long as they can defend the choices they make. As Marty Rutherford, the director of research and dissemination for the PIO programme says, ‘To give kids the awareness that a well-reasoned answer is more “true” than a so-called “right answer”: This is a life skill that serves us all.’

Students also begin to understand that meaning extends beyond the text. One seventh-grader from Oakland, California, suggested that it is not enough to know the words on the page. ‘To really translate a poem you need to know something about the poet: who are they, how old are they, where do they come from, why did they write this?’ The process of translating poetry reveals a new level of complexity in reading, demanding deep thinking about even the most basic word choice and context. This will extend to students’ reading and understanding of the world generally.

Nowadays we accept the idea that translation is an act of interpretation; so for young students, learning to translate means learning how to read critically. A fourth-grade PIO student describes the process like this: ‘When I translate a poem I look for what the author is trying to tell us, but you have to figure it out. You need to look at all the words and what they mean. It’s like a riddle.’

Reading and translating renowned world poets provides continual inspiration for the students. Repeated exposure to great poems allows students to experience form, function, structure, and imagery, and acts as a foundation for their own writing. The poems they encounter create a kind of master-class or tutorial. As another former Poetry Inside Out student explained, ‘In the process of translation, one comes to know a poem so well, so intimately as each word is pondered, considered and wrestled with that a little bit of the author’s brilliancy is rubbed into the translator, and one understands, even if it is unconsciously, something more about language and poetry.’

Teachers report that after many lessons of translating others’ work, students are ‘bursting to express themselves to write.’ Students become inspired to write their own poems and have fellow students read and translate them; it allows them to see themselves in a new light, with greater possibilities. As one fifth- grade student in a bilingual immersion school wrote, ‘When we saw what artists and Latino poets wrote we thought we could do those things … we could be like them.’

Over the past decade, PIO has worked directly with more than 5,000 elementary and middle school students locally and nationally through residencies that take place during the school day. With the crisis in education showing no signs of abating, we see an urgent need to reach more schools

and students, particularly children

in schools

in deprived areas whose needs are not being addressed.

We continue to serve students through our residency model while broadening teacher training and dissemination of the programme. Locally, we are developing a larger, more diverse cadre of instructors and increasing the number of residency school sites. Nationwide, we are expanding our efforts to offer professional development to classroom teachers through partnerships with experienced professional organisations (such as Teachers & Writers Collaborative in New York City) and educational research institutions that care as deeply as we do about the quality of implementation.

Our hope is to spread the programme far and wide, beyond all borders. We intend to create an online resource centre for classroom teachers and instructors, including lesson plans, worksheets, downloadable poem pages, an anthology manual, glossaries and background materials on the history and grammar of the languages. Longer-term goals include creating moderated message boards and a Student Writing Gallery to showcase top-notch work.

The Centre also envisions packaging the curriculum in a series of fun and educational workbooks aimed at both teachers and families, as we have seen first-hand that the benefits of Poetry Inside Out are personal as well as professional. Providing exercises for use at home will more closely engage parents with their children’s work, as well as help bridge the language gap in multilingual homes.

We haven’t forgotten our original mission: to promote translation and nurture new writers and translators, and of course readers. We have the opportunity to teach new generations that already bridge cultures in their own lives, that understand translation and that will read and enjoy poetry and maybe even buy books (in whatever form they are available to the next generation). Indeed, the first PIO Instructors, Michael Ray and John Oliver Simon, wrote an article entitled: ‘Poetry Inside Out: Using Translation to Create Literary Fanatics.’ Truly one of the greatest uses of translation.

Olivia Sears , with Martha Rutherford and John Oliver Simon

Amanda Hopkinson Occupation Professor of Literary Translation at Manchester University and UCL; LiteraryTranslator (fiction; poetry; testimony)
Amanda Hopkinson Occupation Professor of Literary Translation at Manchester University and UCL; LiteraryTranslator (fiction; poetry; testimony)

Amanda Hopkinson

Amanda Hopkinson Occupation Professor of Literary Translation at Manchester University and UCL; LiteraryTranslator (fiction; poetry; testimony)
Occupation Professor of Literary Translation at Manchester University and UCL; LiteraryTranslator (fiction; poetry; testimony) Name Amanda
Professor of Literary Translation at
Manchester University and UCL;
LiteraryTranslator (fiction; poetry;
Amanda Hopkinson
Destination of Choice
How about in Xanadu with
In a Persian
paradise with Rumi
the Bengali
Ghare-Baire with Tagore…or
digging cabbages with Voltaire…
French, Spanish, Portuguese
Other Activities of Interest
(Spoken: Italian, German)
BCLT director 2004-2010; festival director of Notes
and Letters, (King’s Place, October 2011); writer;

journalist; interpreter; founder/chair of PEN Writers in

Translation, 2004-2010; current member of English

PEN Board and the Writers in Prison Committee

Amanda Hopkinson outlines how an interest in politics and human rights opened the door to an incredibly diverse career as a translator

Translation and interpreting came very closely bound up together in my adult life. My arrival as a student in Mexico City coincided with the infamous assault on a street protest in autumn 1968. On descending from the Greyhound among the tanks positioned at street corners, at first I wanted to stand and stare. Fortunately, a couple of other students forced me down between two parked cars before the firing started. They were the ones who took me out to the University City – under Occupation – and introduced me to student leaders and human rights lawyers.

During my studies at Berkeley I hitchhiked back to Mexico whenever I could, maintaining contact with student activists, political prisoners and the handful of lawyers willing to represent them. On graduating,

  • I returned to Mexico and began visiting Lecumberri

Prison and forwarding reports to Amnesty in London. My daughter was born while I was working there, and was a great distraction to the guards whenever I wanted access to a ‘reserved’ political prisoner. When

  • I returned I became involved in the Latin American

Human Rights Committees, and spent eight years as editor – and translator – of the magazine Central America Report. Three anthologies of writing from the region resulted and as military dictatorships

began to fall, I happily translated more literature and fewer testimonies. It was a relief to become involved in translating works of imagination rather than the unimaginable horrors of the secret detention centres, torture chambers and extra-judicial executions.

As more children joined the family, so did the output of literary translations. Those were then joined by writing and broadcasting on Latin American culture, most often literature and photography. Invited to Brazil through the British Council, I took a crash course in Portuguese and ended up translating authors as entirely different as Rosa Mendes, Paulo Coelho and José Saramago. They came in the wake of the Central American series, and of Argentine authors such as Ernesto Sábato, César Aira, Ricardo Piglia and Sergio Bizzio, as well as Mexicans including Carmen Boullosa, Elena Poniatowska and Juan Villoro. More recently,

  • I have taken on co-translating French thriller-writer

Dominique Manotti with Ros Schwartz – a new genre

for me, with a particular political and psychological twist of Manotti’s own.

In addition, and to support my four children, I had always held down a variety of jobs. As the youngest went to school in 2000, I took a post as the Arts Council’s first International Literature Officer, making my first task that of reviving the defunct Independent Foreign Fiction Prize with the enthusiastic collaboration of the Indy’s literary editor, Boyd Tonkin. Since 1997,

  • I also held the position of Senior Research Fellow in

Comparative Cultural Studies at Cardiff University. Early in 2004 I was appointed Director of the British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT), founded by UEA Professor WG ‘Max’ Sebald. At this point I gave up the other posts and moved to live and work in Norwich.

What particularly interested me at this time was the apparent mismatch between the wealth of different languages used at home (and in schools, where children at London primaries speak 347) and the near demise – through successive governmental demotions – of language teaching. Whenever different communities arrive, there is a brief period when demotic culture can flourish in many more genres than most of us are familiar with: the Mother Tongues tour organised by Modern Poetry in Translation (and supported by the Arts Council when I worked there) was testament to that vibrant tradition of rhetorical oratory and epic poetry. The next generation, when it turned to literature, almost exclusively writes English fiction. Yet a language other than English can be spoken in the home for generations, and few of these newer languages have been included at school, where learning any second language is now optional before the age of 14.

With Arts Council funding, it was possible to launch Sarah Maguire’s Poetry School at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Somali, Kurdish, Palestinian, Shona or Croatian poets worked with literal translators and anglophone poets to achieve a new readership. And with seed funding from Bloomberg, the first new English PEN committee for decades was born. Called Writers in Translation, it helps translate samples of works in need of English publishers and supports these in publicising works with themes relevant to PEN, and in bringing over and touring their authors. Our PEN Recommends stamped on the cover is now a seal of approval guaranteeing promotion.

From 2004 to 2010 the BCLT worked hard with partners and fellow organisations to raise the profile of literary translation. In this, the media was instrumental, and – after working for 25 years in the sector – it was a shock to find literary translation hailed as ‘the happening thing’ by poet and presenter Ian Macmillan. In tandem, it was important to raise the profile of BCLT founder Max Sebald, through hosting two conferences at Cambridge and UEA, and speaking at many more. The final Sebald Lecture on the Art of Literary Translation during my time at the BCLT, delivered by Will Self on Sebald’s own writing, was the most oversubscribed to date. A final undertaking at the BCLT was – at the third attempt – to obtain an Honorary Doctorate to add to the OBE awarded last year to translator Anthea Bell. With that it felt that literary translation had truly come of age.

Amanda Hopkinson

Contributor Biographies 56



  • Amanda Hopkinson

Amanda Hopkinson is professor
of Literary Translation at Manchester University and UCL, and was director of the British Centre for Literary Translation for six years. She is a translator from the French, Spanish and Portuguese, most recently of three novels by Dominique Manotti (together with Ros Schwartz), including Affairs of State; of Rage by Sergio Bizzio (2009); and of The Notebook by José Saramago (co-translated with Daniel Hahn, published 2010). Amanda Hopkinson co-founded the Writers in Translation committee of English PEN in 2003, and served as its first Chair until 2008.

  • David Del Vecchio

David Del Vecchio is the owner
of Idlewild Books, an independent Manhattan bookstore specialising in travel and international literature organised by country. Before opening Idlewild in May 2008, David spent ten years working for the United Nations, most recently as a press officer for refugee programmes in Africa and Latin America.

  • David Shook

David Shook’s poetry, translations
and criticism have appeared in Oxford magazine, Poetry, PN Review, World Literature Today and elsewhere. A chapbook of his translations from the Isthmus Zapotec of Víctor Terán is available from the Poetry Translation Centre,

and his work also appears in the anthologies Oxford Poets 2010 (Carcanet) and Initiate (Blackwell). His translation of Mario Bellatin’s

Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose for Fiction is forthcoming. David Shook lives in Los Angeles, where he edits Molossus. He is currently guest editing the Joyland Consulate.

  • Geoffrey Taylor

Geoffrey Taylor has directed the
International Festival of Authors at the Harbourfront Centre for six years. He is also an advisor for the Humber School of Creative Writing, an inaugural member of the Word on the Street (Toronto) Advisory Council and a founding member of the Word Alliance – a partnership between the world’s top literary festivals. He has also served as a jury member for the Toronto Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Awards and the Amazon First Novel Award.

  • Ivor Indyk

Ivor Indyk is founding editor and
publisher of HEAT magazine and the award-winning Giramondo book imprint, in which capacity he has commissioned and published many works in translation. A critic, essayist and reviewer, he holds the position of Whitlam Professor in Writing and Society at the University of Western Sydney. He has written a monograph on David Malouf as well as essays on many aspects of Australian literature, art, architecture and literary publishing.

  • Jean Anderson

Jean Anderson teaches French
language and literature at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, where she founded the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation in 2007. Since becoming interested in the field in 2004, she has translated five books into English, co-translated five into French, and published over 100 shorter pieces in various anthologies published in Canada, the UK, New Zealand, France and the USA. She is currently working on a Tahitian novel to be published in New Zealand.

  • Jon Parrish Peede

Jon Parrish Peede was director of
Literature Grants at the National Endowment for the Arts, the US government arts funding agency, from 2007 to 2011. In this role, Peede funded the nation’s leading literary translators, fiction writers, poets, non-profit presses and journals, and literary organizations and festivals. He is a former university press editor and magazine journalist, and co-edited a collection of essays on Flannery O’Connor.

  • Julian Evans

Julian Evans was deputy chair
and chair of English PEN’s Writers in Translation committee from its foundation until 2010. He is the writer and presenter of BBC Radio 3’s twenty-part series on

the European novel, The Romantic Road, and a winner of the Prix du Rayonnement de la Langue Française from the Académie Française. His most recent book is Semi-Invisible Man: The life of Norman Lewis.

  • Mark Thwaite

Mark Thwaite is the digital marketing






MacLehose Press. He




Founder and Editor of one


the UK’s most respected and





  • Maureen Freely

Maureen Freely is a writer, translator, professor at Warwick
University and a member of English PEN. She is perhaps best known for her translations of the work of Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. Her latest novel, Enlightenment, is an exploration of the persecution of writers in Turkey and was published by Marion Boyars in March 2007.

  • Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly is professor of French
at the University of Southampton. He is director of the UK Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies and plays a leading role in developing public policy on languages and cultural diversity in the UK. He was a member of the Nuffield Language Inquiry and is Editor of Synergies Royaume Uni et Irlande which publishes work on language and culture, and an Associate Editor of the journal French Cultural Studies, which he helped to found.

  • Mireille Berman

Mireille Berman manages
international projects to promote Dutch literature at the Foundation for Literature in Amsterdam. She developed the Go Dutch! campaign in the UK, together with Jonathan Davidson, director of Midland Creative Projects. She previously worked as an acquiring editor at several literary publishing houses.

  • Namita Gokhale

Namita Gokhale is an Indian
writer and publisher. She is also co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival and member secretary of the recently established programme Indian Literature Abroad (ILA), which seeks to promote and translate literary works from the 24 major Indian languages into six UNESCO languages.

  • Nicky Harman

Nicky Harman translates
contemporary Chinese literature and has also taught translation at Imperial College London. She has translated a number of prize-winning authors, ranging from Xinran to Hong Ying, Han Dong and, most recently, Zhang Ling. She translates both fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose. Nicky wants to de-mystify translation and make it fun in her new role as translator in residence at the Free Word Centre.

  • Olivia Sears

Olivia Sears is founder and
president of the Center for the Art of Translation, a non-profit organisation promoting international literature and translation through programmes in publishing (Two Lines), teaching (Poetry Inside Out), and public events (Two Voices). She is also a poet and translator of Italian literature.

  • Sir Peter Stothard

    • Sir Peter Stothard is editor of the Times Literary Supplement and President of the Classical Association. He is the author of On the Spartacus Road:
      A Spectacular Journey Through Ancient Italy . From 1992 to 2002 he was editor of The Times.

      • Polly McLean

Polly McLean is a freelance
translator from the French, whose recent credits include This is Not the End of the Book by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière, and the Goncourt-winning The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi. She won the 2010 Scott Moncrieff prize for her translation of Laurent Quintreau’s Gross Margin. She is also a co-founder of crowd-funding organisation The Funding Network.

  • Wiliam Owen Roberts

Wiliam Owen Roberts has worked
as a script editor and writer for HTV and is now a freelance writer for television and a novelist. His second book, Y Pla (1987) is set in Wales, the Near-East and Europe in the fourteenth century, and was translated into English by Elisabeth Roberts as Pestilence in 1991. His latest novel, Petrograd (2008), was winner of the 2009 Wales Book of the Year Award and the ITV Wales People’s Choice Award.

60 English PEN English PEN works to promote literature and human rights. From defending the rights

60 English PEN

English PEN works to promote literature and human rights. From defending the rights of persecuted writers to promoting literature in translation and running writing workshops in schools, English PEN seeks to advocate literature as a means of intercultural understanding, promoting the friendly co- operation of writers and free exchange of ideas.

English PEN’s Writers in Translation programme works to increase access to writing from around the world by developing audiences and infrastructure for international literature in translation. We currently promote between 6-8 translated books a year through the Writers in Translation grants scheme and events programme. Our aim is to celebrate books of outstanding literary value, dedication to free speech and intercultural understanding.

English PEN’s Writers in Translation programme is supported by Bloomberg.

The Free Word Centre is an international centre for literature, literacy and free expression. It aims
The Free Word Centre is an international centre for literature, literacy and free expression. It aims

The Free Word Centre is an international centre for literature, literacy and free expression. It aims to push boundaries to promote, protect and democratise the power of the written and spoken word for creative and free expression. It brings together organisations across literature, literacy and free expression to enhance their work and the profile of their sectors.

The Free Word Centre is a national resource, with strong links to associates and partners throughout the UK and internationally. The centre, in its landmark building in Farringdon Road, provides attractive office space and venues for public events, including a hall, lecture theatre with screening facilities, meeting rooms and a café.

Free Word is supported by Arts Council England, London and the Freedom of Speech Foundation, whose parent company, Fritt Ord, is based in Norway.

Copyright 2011 © English PEN and Free Word under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright 2011 © English PEN and Free Word under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs

You are free to reproduce any text in this report for non-commercial use provided that you credit the title of the report ( Taking Flight: New Thinking on World Writing by English PEN and Free Word) and the individual authors that you quote.

PDF version available online at

You may be interested in the following:

The Girona Manifesto on Linguistic Rights, PEN International Bibliodiversity, Publishing & Globalisation

Copyright 2011 © English PEN and Free Word under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs


English PEN and Free Word would like to thank all essay contributors and participants at both International Translation Day and the Literary Translation Centre. We’d also like to thank the following partners and sponsors for their support:

Bloomberg, Dalkey Archive Press, The London Book Fair’s Literary Translation Centre and all its partner organisations: Arts Council England, British Centre for Literary Translation, British Council, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Literature Across Frontiers, the Translators Association and Words without Borders.

The following people also played an integral role in producing this report: Brett Biedscheid, Ollie Brook, Rachel Buchanan, Emma Cleave, Stephen Escritt, Shreela Ghosh, Kate Griffin, Daniel Hahn, Jonathan Heawood, Sophie Hoult, Martin Riker and Mazin Saleem .

Copyright 2011 © English PEN and Free Word under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs