What kind of books get translated?
I’ve previously made the point that books that get translated tend to be ‘worthy’ literary fiction, the kind of books that win prizes – rather than the kind of popular books that most people actually read. This week I came across two separate articles that made the same point (and far more eloquently). Both are worth a read.
Booker prize winner Bernadine Evaristo, in her Goldsmiths lecture, talks more broadly about who gets published.
“This essay challenges all those who reduce novels by the global majority – for white people are not the world’s demographic majority – to being solely about “identity”, which for the most part they are clearly not. It’s lazy, patronising and low-level critical thinking. Of course some of these novels do interrogate identity, in particular the work of younger writers, but most of them do not.”
"This is for all the people who have written novels that have never made the transition into book form because they were not considered marketable, topical or mainstream enough, in spite of the brilliance of their writing and storytelling. The manuscripts from Caribbean-origin novelists that nobody was interested in picking up because Caribbean fiction hasn’t been in fashion since the Fifties. The novels by African writers that weren’t picked up because they weren’t about internal strife or the tragedy of brutalised street children.”
Then later the same day, I came across an equally eloquent piece of writing in the Worlds Without Borders newsletter by Haitian writer Évelyne Trouillot, translated from the French by Paul Curtis Daw. She asks:
Do publishers have access to books produced outside of a handful of great Western metropolises? Or do they consider only books originally published in places like Paris, Milan, or Madrid?
The hierarchy of nations affects the selection of books to a degree that should not be overlooked. Currently, at least in the case of Haiti, publishers generally choose from the corpus of books by Haitian authors published outside the country, specifically in France or Canada.
After the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, a number of Haitian books were translated. The catastrophe drew the eyes of the literary world toward Haiti and its writers. Translations, publications, and conference invitations multiplied. The tragedy automatically became an “added value” for Haitian literary production. Very often, publishers’ choices follow in that manner the wave orchestrated by the media after a disaster or a memorable event involving a given country.
Plenty of food for thought there, and it all feeds into the plans for the next publication from Kabaty Press – which I can promise will be a translation, and most importantly will be fun to read! Stay tuned for an announcement later this year.