By Brittany Poulin, Account and Audience Development Manager at IPR License.
On Wednesday evening a few members from the IPR Team were lucky enough to attend a discussion on ‘The Art of Translation – Championing European Literature in the UK’. Held at the lovely Caravansérail – a French and English bookshop, gallery, and event space in the heart of Shoreditch in London – the venue was packed and buzzing with ideas and excitement for the panel discussion ahead.
The evening was chaired by the brilliant Daniel Hahn, founder of the Translators Association First Translation Prize. He is also a translator, with over fifty books to his name, and the winner of many awards including the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Daniel is the past chair of the Society of Authors and the Translators Association.
Daniel led a fast-paced discussion between four champions of European Literature in Translation, including Rosie Goldsmith (Director of the European Literature Network, Chair of the Judges for the EBRD Literature Prize, and editor of The Riveter magazine), Gary Michael Perry (Assistant Head of Fiction at Foyles), Lucie Campos (Head of the Books Department at the Institut Français du Royaume-Uni and editor at La Vie des idées) and Charlotte Ryland (editor of New Books in German).
This session was part of a wider discussion on literature in translation and, as appropriate for a translation conversation held on Europe Day, the evening’s topic was focused on celebrating European literature in the UK.
A few of the most key and interesting points made by the panellists include:
The Importance of Visibility for Translated Titles
As Gary Michael Perry well knows from his time at Foyles, one of the most important aspects to a translated title’s success is its visibility. When he found a position as a bookseller at Foyles Gary took ownership of the translated literature, which he found at that point in time pushed back into a corner, gathering dust and often returned to publishers after a few months of low sales.
After pushing for inclusion in the front window displays, and as the sector changed and interest in translated literature grows, these titles now have a prominent front display. This exposure has done wonders for sales, and the main focus of Gary’s role since he started at Foyles has been about increasing that visibility.
Foyles in particular, Gary said, is very good about letting staff push books that they love in space front of their shops; space which is competitive and valuable in all bookshops and most often viewed as real estate space for sale to publishers for their top titles.
Rosie Goldsmith (pictured left) agreed that visibility is crucial to the success of translated literature. When she first started working in earnest with works in translation, she despaired at the lack of visibility in bookshops. However, progress has now been made, she said, and while the statistics may not change a great deal, the numbers of people reading translated books has increased.
Another hot topic in increasing visibility is in review coverage. Members of the audience were concerned with the low appearance of translated titles featured on the book pages of newspapers.
While Gary maintained there are certain papers with decent coverage, though not as many as he would like, Rosie suggested that, as a journalist and reviewer herself, it is difficult to find papers to publish these reviews. This is not to say that reviewers should limit themselves to simply newspapers, she said, with a great number of talented bloggers providing phenomenal coverage through their own platforms.
Working with Authors and Translators
A tangible benefit to working with translated literature in Europe is the combination of authors and translators on marketing campaigns. The interaction and different value that each provides gives translated works an elevated platform, and all those in the panel agreed that while both author and translator each receives similar opportunities, they also step in where the other cannot.
The author’s ability to visit the country where their work has been translated, and interact with their new audience, is incredibly important. It can be difficult, however, to promote European fiction as it is a challenge to have the author present. In these cases, Gary stressed when the author is not able to attend these events, the translator is just as impactful when it comes to sharing details about the book and speaking to a new audience of people. Make translators as visible as the book, Gary said. Many of the books he has come to love are due to the translator enthusing about the work.
Festivals and Prizes
Lucie Campos knows very well the impact of prizes and festivals on the success of titles in translation. Alongside her roles at the Institut Français du Royaume-Uni and the La Vie des idées, she also runs the Beyond Words Literature Festival (14-21 May 2018).
Festivals give authors who may not have found great success in their own country, but who are hugely popular in another market following the translation of their work, the chance to interact with their new fan base. This also encourages a connection with similar types of writers in different countries, and to begin new conversations and ideas. The aim of these festivals, according to Lucie, is to help writers and translators who do want to engage with this other readership and world.
Awards like the Man Booker International Prize have always had a big impact for booksellers in literary translations, Gary said. This is due to the added visibility and also customers’ increasing interest of customers in translated work and in the author of the original work.
Rosie is the Chair of the Judges for the EBRD Literature Prize, and mentioned one of the functions of the prize is to draw attention to places where writing is much less visible to an English audience. The prize, which is split between the author and the translator, wants to shine a light on cultures less known in English.
One of the most important factors of the process, according to Rosie, is the selection of judges, who must have experience from all over the world, not just the UK. Another priority is to keep attention on the entire longlist of contenders, not just the winner.
Expanding Cultures through Translating Literature
The cultural significance of producing and selling literature in translation is not lost on Charlotte Ryland, as this plays a big part of her role at New Books in German, which began 22 years ago when a group of people were concerned that fewer and fewer German titles were being translated into English. One of the problems identified was a lack of linguistic skills among publishers since the war, when there were formally many German language speakers in other markets.
Now, with German language titles finding popularity again, Charlotte noted that the success of one book in translation helps others in its original country find traction. Another noticeable transition over the last few years has been the influx of those who both translate and write themselves. The writing and interpretation of second language German speakers has provided interesting perspectives and new ways of writing.
Have a Browse
Chair of the discussion, Daniel Hahn, also asked the panellists to each select two of their favourite titles in translation. The selection of titles can be found below.
The Impostor. By Javier Cercas. Translated by Frank Wynne. MacLehose Press. 2 November 2017. 432 pages
Compass. By Mathias Énard. Translated by Charlotte Mandell. Fitzcarraldo Editions 22 March 2017. 480 pages.
Death in Spring. By Mercè Rodoreda. Translated by Martha Tennent. Open Letter. 15 May 2009. 156 pages.
Take Six (Six Portuguese Women writers). By Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, Agustina Bessa-Luís, Maria Judite de Carvalho, Hélia Correia, Teolinda Gersão and Lídia Jorge. Edited by Margaret Jull Costa. Translated by Margaret Jull Costas. Dedalus Ltd. 23 February 2018. 252 pages.
Go, Went, Gone. By Jenny Erpenbeck. Translated by Susan Bernofsky. Portobello Books. 7 September 2017. 304 pages.
The Devil’s Dance. By Hamid Ismailov. Translated by Donald Rayfield. Tilted Axis Press.1 March 2018. 200 pages.
Memoirs of a Polar Bear. By Yoko Tawada. Translated by Susan Bernofsky. Granta Books. 2 November 2017. 256 pages.
Apple Cake and Baklava. By Kathrin Rohmann. Translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp. Darf Publishers Ltd. 2 April 2018.
You can read more about Brittany Poulin by going to our ‘Meet the IPR Team’ blog here.