A New National Book Award and Another Strike for The New York Times

The National Book Foundation recently announced that it will now present a fifth National Book Award category, honoring a work of fiction or nonfiction that has been translated into English and published in the U.S. The inaugural award will join the other four categories—Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature—and be presented at the 69th National Book Awards Ceremony in the fall.

The decision to create the new award was made unanimously. Executive Director Lisa Lucas states that, “We want American readers to deeply value an inclusive, big-picture point of view, and the National Book Award for Translated Literature is part of a commitment to that principle. The addition of this award lends crucial visibility to works that have the power to touch us as American readers in search of broadened perspective.”

It’s truly wonderful news and I’m thrilled to see more support and resources going toward the promotion of literature in translation.

And the New York Times covered the exciting news and totally fucked it up.

The literature in translation community is a supportive and generous one and all of the increased mainstream recognition of translated works and the category as a whole is because of the passion and hard work of writers, translators, small independent publishers, and devoted booksellers. Which is why completely ignoring the Best Translated Book Awards, an award that has been around since 2007, was started by an extension of a small independent press, Open Letter Books, and gives out $20,000 in prize money (which is double that of the new National Book Award) literally makes no sense to me. Is it shoddy journalism? Was this article just written too quickly? I don’t know. (There are some other small factual hang-ups with this article that I’m choosing to not discuss.)

But maybe the author just wanted to focus on THIS award, you say!

The author discusses other literary awards: “Other literary institutions have also made efforts to highlight works in translation. The PEN America Center has given out a translation prize to highlight international works since the 1960s. In 2015, the Booker Prize Foundation recast its international prize…”

Why does it matter?

It matters because that wonderful community built this award. It was started by a small press and so many others have contributed to its growth and success. By not including it and instead putting off this weird tone where you write things like, “…there’s still a lingering perception that translated literature doesn’t sell well in the United States” and “When other major literary awards have expanded their geographic reach, there’s occasionally been a backlash…” it just makes for a really shitty, weird, poorly researched article. I’m not expecting the Times to be a translation cheerleader, but can we have a slightly better news write-up?

Now, I interned at Open Letter, have reviewed for Three Percent, and have been a supporter of literature in translation in ways both big and small, so I understand that this matters to me in ways that it might not to others, but this is twice now (in my recent memory) that the Timesbook coverage has really missed the mark. Remember when they alienated and enraged the romance community?        

Here’s a happy ending for you though. On Twitter, Lisa Lucas put out a call for a thread to “all the amazing publishers/magazines/awards who put out/champion translated literature!” and the responses are staggering. It’s a true testament to the breadth and depth of the literature in translation community and their support of one another.

This post was originally published on Book Riot.

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#WITMonth Stats

Earlier in the month I posted about the dismal percentage of published works in translation that are written by women and I promised more specifics for all of you data junkies. According to Chad Post, Publisher at Open Letter Books and keeper of the largest translation database in publishing, here are the numbers:

First off, the big one: For the data I’ve collected between 2008-20181only 28.7% of the translations in the database were written by women. That’s 1,394 titles out of a grand total of 4,849. That’s not great . . .

Here’s a list of the ten countries that have produced the most total titles written by women:

France 155
Germany 145
Sweden 84
Italy 64
Spain 64
Japan 62
Argentina 49
Russia 43
South Korea 39
Canada [Quebec] 38

Obviously, certain languages are at a disadvantage when you look at their authors by country of origin, so here’s the top ten by language.

French 236
Spanish 186
German 185
Swedish 88
Italian 67
Japanese 60
Russian 46
Arabic 44
Korean 39
Norwegian 37

And, here are the top ten publishers.

AmazonCrossing 194
Dalkey Archive 58
Europa Editions 47
Seagull Books 37
Other Press 28
New Directions 26
Open Letter 24
Atria 19
Feminist Press 17
Penguin 17

Check out the full post on Three Percent.

 

#WITMonth Recommendations!

August is Women in Translation Month, something that’s very near and dear to my heart. Why do we need a specific month dedicated to reading women in translation? The numbers alone are pretty bleak. The publishing industry as a whole publishes very few works of translation to begin with—the number that’s often cited is three percent, although it’s probably lower than that. But let’s stick with three percent—so only three percent of titles published in English are international titles written originally in a language other than English. Of that small percentage of books, 28.7% of translations published in 2008–2018 were written by women. I’ll post more specifics later but those numbers* are dismal, especially when considering some of the exciting and award-winning translations currently beloved by English reading audiences (think Elena Ferrante, Man Booker International Prize winner Han Kang, and Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexeievich.)

Want to add more works in translation to your #TBR pile? I recommend the following titles and authors to celebrate (and support!) women in translation: 

Recitation by Bae Suah

Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith, Bae Suah’s Recitation is a wandering and lyrical meditation on memory and language reminiscent of Sebald. Suah is one of the most fascinating writers in South Korea right now and her books are coming out at a rapid pace.

Her other titles currently available in English include A Greater Music and Nowhere To Be Found and North Station comes out from Open Letter Books in October!

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

“A very real vision of life after the Arab Spring written with dark, subtle intelligence, The Queue describes the sinister nature of authoritarianism, and illuminates the way that absolute authority manipulates information, mobilizes others in service to it, and fails to uphold the rights of even those faithful to it.” (back cover)

Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette. The Queue is this terrifying dystopian novel set in a non-specific Middle Eastern city under authoritarian rule. It’s powerful and startling. The author, Basma Abdel Aziz, is also an important activist and figure in Egypt right now and this is her first book translated into English.

Umami by Laia Jufresa

Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes. I haven’t read this yet but Umami is at the top of my list! The novel is set in Mexico City in a neighborhood with a cluster of five house named after tastes: Sweet, Salty, Bitter, Sour, and Umami. It sounds like an inventive and poignant novel about grief.

“A thoughtful, eccentric, and heart-wrenching interwoven story told from the Umami tells the stories of characters who are dealing with mortality, abandonment, and loss.” —World Literature Today

 

Looking for more? Check these authors out!

Clarice Lispector (Lispector’s been called Brazil’s greatest modern writer and the most important Jewish writer since Kafka.)

Josefine Klougart (Klougart has been hailed as one of Denmark’s greatest contemporary writers.)

Can Xue (A Chinese avant-garde fiction writer and literary critic. I’d recommend Frontier and The Last Lover.)

Dubravka Ugresic (Ugresic, a Croatian native now living in Amsterdam, was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 2016.)

National Book Awards 2016

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The National Book Awards were this week and they were amazing! Here’s the breakdown as far as the awards and I’ve highlighted a few of the most incredible moments from the evening:

Fiction: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Nonfiction: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (his speech here)

Poetry: The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky

Young People’s Literature: March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell (artist)

(See John Lewis’s speech here, it is a must-see.)

Three Percent & My Latest Review

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Three Percent is the translation blog hosted by Open Letter Books—it’s one of the best around for books and news in the translation world (and wider!) I’ve got my latest review on the site below:

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Pierce Alquist on Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, published in 2014 by AmazonCrossing.

Just a side note, that if you’ve been itching for more from Bae Suah since this one came out, there are THREE more forthcoming titles of hers making their way into English: A Greater Music (Open Letter, October 2016), Recitation (Deep Vellum, 2016), and The Owls’ Absence (Open Letter, ~2018), all three in translation by Deborah Smith. So get your reading hats on, because it’s about to get amazing out here.

Here’s the beginning of Pierce’s review:

It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has been widely overlooked. I’ve found this to be largely because Nowhere to Be Found is published by AmazonCrossing.

If you’ve overlooked Bae Suah out of some desire to punish Amazon, or because of a general indifference to the AmazonCrossing imprint, you’re only doing yourself a disservice. With three upcoming books translated into English—_A Greater Music_, The Owls’ Absence, and _Recitation_—Bae Suah will continue to establish herself as one of the hottest voices coming out of South Korea. list: Books from Korea named her as “one of the most risk-taking, experimental writers active in Korea”—and with the fiction that is coming out of South Korea right now (see: Han Kang and others), that is high praise.

For the rest of the review, go here.

 

Man Booker 2016 Longlist Announced

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The Man Booker International Prize 2016 Longlist was announced this week and the list is insane! The selections are incredibly on point, featuring the really exciting and dynamic work of Han Kang (review of The Vegetarian to come!), Fiston Mwanza Mujila, and Eka Kurniawan. I highly recommend Tram 83 from Deep Vellum, a new translation press that’s doing really great stuff. The heavy hitters are here too (Elena Ferrante if you haven’t heard of her) but they’ve got some strong competition.

 

From their website:

“The Man Booker International Prize is delighted to reveal the ‘Man Booker Dozen’ of 13 books in contention for the 2016 Prize, celebrating the finest in global fiction.

This is the first longlist ever to have been announced for the Man Booker International Prize, which has joined forces with theIndependent Foreign Fiction Prize and is now awarded annually on the basis of a single book. The £50,000 prize will be divided equally between the author of the winning book and its translator. The judges considered 155 books.

José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola) Daniel Hahn, A General Theory of Oblivion (Harvill Secker)

Elena Ferrante (Italy) Ann Goldstein, The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions)

Han Kang (South Korea) Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian (Portobello Books)

Maylis de Kerangal (France) Jessica Moore, Mend the Living (Maclehose Press)

Eka Kurniawan (Indonesia) Labodalih Sembiring, Man Tiger (Verso Books)

Yan Lianke (China) Carlos Rojas, The Four Books (Chatto & Windus)

Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Democratic Republic of Congo/Austria) Roland Glasser, Tram 83 (Jacaranda)

Raduan Nassar (Brazil) Stefan Tobler, A Cup of Rage (Penguin Modern Classics)

Marie NDiaye (France) Jordan Stump, Ladivine (Maclehose Press)

Kenzaburō Ōe (Japan) Deborah Boliner Boem, Death by Water (Atlantic Books)

Aki Ollikainen (Finland) Emily Jeremiah & Fleur Jeremiah, White Hunger (Peirene Press)

Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) Ekin Oklap, A Strangeness in My Mind (Faber & Faber)

Robert Seethaler (Austria) Charlotte Collins, A Whole Life (Picador)