You may have heard me rail about how strange it is that authors are so bad about crediting their fellow writers.
Consider this sentence: “The Washington Post says the special counsel is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice.” That’s wrong. The Post doesn’t say that, its writers do. The Washington Post–newly returned to us as a crucial journalistic voice, under the ownership of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos–has never written a single story. Neither has The New York Times. Nor the LA Times. Nor The Sunday Times, the Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, or your local medium of choice.
People write stories. They’re our colleagues. That Post piece is by four of them:
There’s that sermon, then. Go forth and #CreditWriters, amen.
Next, consider the difficulty that many in the business have had in crediting illustrators, too, of all the preposterous things. Part of the issue here is metadata fields. It became apparent at one point that templates didn’t always have a place to fill in the name of an illustrator on a book, which is ridiculous. The last thing the industry expected was illustrators? Really?
That’s never been an excuse for publishers who don’t put the names of illustrators onto the covers of books with authors’ names. Especially in children’s work, these gaffes cripple illustrators’ careers, making it incredibly hard for them to attract editors and design directors looking for new illustration work.
Many publishers are trying to address this, and we can applaud them. Consciousness is rising, thanks to the campaign led from England by the Seattle-born author and illustrator (and energetic dresser) Sarah McIntyre. #PicturesMeanBusiness.
So there’s that sermon. #PicturesMeanBusiness, amen and amen.
And here’s today’s benediction, my provocation for you. Let’s talk about translators. More to the point, let’s talk about them as much as we talk about the authors they translate.
That’s the position of the “new” Man Booker International Prize, and I salute it. I think you should, too. I’m calling it “new” because it’s just named its second winning set of an equally honored author and translator.
The organization in England likes to say this is the “evolved” format of the prize. From 2005 through 2015, the international edition of the coveted Man Booker Prize was given every two years for a body of work. Recipients included Alice Munro and Philip Roth. They’re no slouches. But in 2016, the new protocol was introduced: the prize hands £50,000 (US$63,000) to both the winning author and translator for a single work. And they split it. Evenly. Bravo.
Wednesday evening (June 14) when I talked to the winning Israeli author David Grossman and British translator Jessica Cohen from the Victoria & Albert in London just after they’d won, it was completely right to have them both to interview, and together. They won for A Horse Walks Into a Bar published in the States by Alfred A. Knopf.
Grossman had told me that writing his astonishing character, Dovaleh, a stand-up comedian in crisis, was like riding a rodeo horse, requiring him, Grossman, to just get out of the way. In some of our conversation that I didn’t get to report yet, Grossman told me:
“I like such harsh and not-yielding-easily characters. Because I always think that it’s me who’s not mature enough or intelligent enough to understand the character. I have to peel off layers of cataracts from my soul in order to be in total naked contact with the characters. I know now that it takes years to get to this point where I can be the really right distance between me and the character.”
Peeling cataracts from his soul. That’s the way this extraordinary author speaks to you in a conversation in English. Imagine what he does in his native Hebrew on the page.
That’s where translator Cohen comes in. A Horse is her fifth Grossman translation. She knows what to do with his voice, which is “always very challenging,” she told me, “always difficult…everything from biblical to extremely colloquial.”
Because the novel hands you a stand-up comic in meltdown, “There are jokes,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean it’s a funny book.”
And I asked Cohen if she writes her own work? She didn’t miss a beat:
“I do not produce my own material. I am a writer, because all translators are writers. But I don’t do my own original material. We translators get to tell other people’s stories.”
In my interview with the arch-agent Andrew Wylie today, he tells me that he senses, as many of us do, that more Americans are reading translated work now, partly in resistance to the era’s political isolationism. This is great. And as the work of publishers like Gabriella Page-Fort’s seven-year-old imprint AmazonCrossing shows us, translation today is publishing’s new token of internationalism, the best impetus of its moral importance during times of such surreal political peril.
When you read a translated work, and I hope you’ll read many, learn the translator’s name as well as the author’s. If both names aren’t on the cover, drop a tweet into the wild about it, let the publisher know that you’ve noticed and aren’t happy about it: call that publisher out.
When you speak about what you’ve read, always be sure to #NameThe Translator, and go in peace.
And as the congregation leaves the sanctuary, let me know: Why do you think people in publishing are so negligent about giving credit where it’s due? Surely we can do better. What do you think it will take?
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!