Where Politics Can’t Stop Us
A funny thing happened on the way to isolationism. Some in the business believe there’s new interest in work from other languages.
I’m hopeful that some of what’s lost in the dynamics of vulgar nationalism can be found in translation.
Threatened with the un-American idea that we shouldn’t have people from “foreign” venues among us, Americans, it seems, may be waking up to the fact that we’re all foreigners here, united in world history’s grandest handshake.
And not just in the Newer World, either. In the UK–perhaps an early warning of the Brexitian crisis–The Bookseller’s Tom Tivnan and Felicity Wood were reporting a rise in revenue of 6.2 percent in translated books in the first part of 2014. At that point (about 19 weeks into that year), 112 translated books had been part of the Top 5,000 titles tracked, over 63 translated titles in the same period of the previous year.
At world trade shows this year, the “rights centers,” those big, noisy kasbahs in which books are bought and sold into new languages, have been growing fast, to the point that at the largest, Frankfurt Book Fair, we had sold out all 600 tables in its Literary Agents and Scouts Center, called the LitAg, some six months before the fair this year.
Tomorrow (Monday, November 20), we’ll have news at Publishing Perspectives of Wattpad phenom Anna Todd selling the first book of a new series rapidly into international territories, and it’s not even releasing until June 1.
The National Endowment for the Arts‘ translation fellowships in 2018 will award 22 new grants of $12,500 or $25,000 each for a total $300,000 to help defray the costs of translation from works in 15 languages and five continents. In fact, here’s a bright spot amid the crushing distress of “your tax dollars at work” in so many wrong places these days: since 1981, the NEA has awarded 455 fellowships to 404 translators working into English from 69 languages and 82 countries. NEA literature director Amy Stolls calls this “expanding the range of ideas and viewpoints.” And that’s how you build open doors, not walls.
Meanwhile, Vermont College of Fine Arts has announced what’s thought to be the world’s first low-residency international MFA program in creative writing and literary translation. Hong Kong author Xu Xi, a visiting faculty member, is helping to head up the new program. In a prepared statement about the new MFA, Xu is quoted, saying, “The literary world is global and writers need to broaden their perspective beyond their own borders through immersion in other cultures and languages, and through interactions with writers from other parts of the world.”
Do you know Three Percent? It’s Chat Post’s site and project, based at the University of Rochester, that’s the closest thing we have in the States to an authority on translated books. Post, always struggling for adequate resources of time and money, diligently tries to track and evaluate the work going on in this country in translation. He also publishes translation from Open Letter Books.
And he named the site for a guess. Over many years, it’s been estimated (no one can prove this) that US citizens’ reading lists tend to include, at best, three percent literature in translation. Although still in the anecdotal stage, there are signs of rising interest, even in the American readership, in work from other cultures.
Part of the credit goes to AmazonCrossing, the translation imprint of Amazon Publishing (that’s trade publishing, not self-publishing). AmazonCrossing has become the new powerhouse of translation, putting out far more titles per year than its closest competitor in that regard, the Dalkey Archive. And one of the things that AmazonCrossing’s editorial director, Gabriella Page-Fort, is talking about these days is that glowing connection between the political conditions of this ridiculous year and the chance to communicate with another culture.