Only a tiny fraction of fiction published in English is translated, and only about a quarter of that translated fiction was originally written by women. For some reason, fiction in translation by women remains as rare as black diamonds. And yet there are so many amazing women-authored books out there in the world – books we’re missing out on.
Women in Translation or WiT, is a global collaborative project to help remedy the discrepancy between the amount of works by women published in English translation, and how they are critically received. We think the publishing and reading community would benefit from translating more women. Remember what sparked the current boom in translated fiction? It was crime writing. Scandinavian detective stories made many readers overcome their reluctance to reach for anything genuinely foreign. Scandicrime broadened the audience for translated fiction. And now translated fiction written by women is poised to do the same. And not just Elena Ferrante – who has gathered a fan base of readers addicted to her stories of female friendship, as translated by Ann Goldstein. But also translated genre fiction of all kinds. Last February, the number 1 on Amazon’s US list of bestselling historical romance books was German novelist Corina Bomann’s The Moonlit Garden (trans. Alison Layland). That certainly suggests a lot of potential readers for translated fiction.
From literary fiction like Japanese-German Yoko Tawada’s new novel Memoirs of a Polar Bear (trans. Susan Bernofsky) to non-fiction like Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s Second-hand Time (trans. Bela Sheyavich) or graphic novels like Marjane Satrapi’s best-selling Persepolis (trans. Blake Ferris and Mattias Ripa), or genre writing like that of Argentinian writer Angélica Gorodischer (trans. Ursula K. LeGuin, Amalia Gladhart and Sue Burke), women writers in translation are primed to impress and enthrall readers of all kinds of books… WiT is all about making them more visible, and more plentiful in turn…
AUGUST IS WOMEN IN TRANSLATION MONTH!
What is WITMonth?
WITMonth stands for “Women in Translation Month,” and it’s a month in which we promote women writers from around the world who write in languages other than English.
When is WITMonth?
WITMonth is held every August.
Where does WITMonth take place?
WITMonth takes place anywhere and everywhere: bookshops, your library, your personal blog, your Tumblr, your Facebook, your Goodreads groups, your book club, and more. Please comment with additional suggestions.
Where did WITMonth come from?
WITMonth was founded by Meytal Radzinski on her blog (biblibio.blogspot.com). It was inspired by a fellow book blogger and started in August 2014.
Why do we need this separation? Why focus on women in translation?
Approximately 30% of new translations into English are of books by women writers. Given how few books are translated into English to begin with, this means that women are a minority within a minority. The problem then filters down to how books by women writers in translation are reviewed/covered in the media, recognized by award committees, promoted in bookstores, sent out to reviews, and ultimately reach readers themselves.
While imperfect, WITMonth gives many publishers the chance to promote their existing titles written by women in translation, while also giving readers an organized means of finding the books that already exist. WITMonth ultimately serves to help readers find excellent books.
What can I do?
Here are some ideas:
Readers: Read, discuss, and share books by women from all over the world. Suggest great translated books by women for your reading groups, buy great translated books by women for your friends, and use the #WITMonth tag on social media.
Booksellers and librarians: Make a #WITMonth table and promote your favourite books by women writers in translation, alongside newer releases. If someone is looking for some different recommendations, help guide them to some of the brilliant women in translation out there.
Bloggers and journalists: Talk about the issue! Look at your own stats and ratios, question your reading biases. Address the issue and help raise awareness.
Reviewers: Review new and backlist titles by women writers in translation, from all languages and from all over the world. Help bring these books to the public’s notice.
Publishers: Release your existing ratios and acknowledge any imbalances you might have. Try to find more of the brilliant women writers we all know are writing in all sorts of languages, all over the world. If you’re struggling, see the lists compiled by women critics and translators for LitHub.
Does WITMonth take into account trans/nonbinary authors?
Yes. While the word “women” is at the center of the “women in translation” project, the core idea here is to give voice to those who are often ignored. In this regard, WITMonth has been expanded to include transgender or nonbinary authors in translation.
How long WITMonth keep happening?
WITMonth will continue as long as the huge imbalance in publishing women in translation persists. Here are some great starting points:
- List of new books:
- LitHub ‘Women Writers We’d Love to See in English Translation’ series
Last year, LitHub published a series from around the world highlighting works by women—none available in English (yet)—which their contributors would love to see reaching an Anglophone audience. For example: http://lithub.com/10-slovak-women-writers-wed-love-to-read-in-english/
- Bookshops Love WiT!
Last year saw special displays and tables in bookshops in the UK, Ireland, the USA, the Netherlands and Germany. Look out for special events near you this August.
- The Warwick Prize for Women in Translation
The inaugural Warwick Prize for Women in Translation will be awarded on 15 November 2017 to the best eligible work of fiction, poetry or literary non-fiction, or work of fiction for children or young adults that has been written by a woman, translated into English by a female or male translator, and published by a UK or Irish publisher in the period from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017. The £1,000 prize will be divided between the writer and her translator(s), with each contributor receiving an equal share. In cases where the writer is no longer living, the translator will receive all of the prize money.
The prize aims to address the gender imbalance in translated literature and to increase the number of international women’s voices accessible by a British and Irish readership. A recent report by Nielsen Book showed that translated literary fiction makes up only 3.5% of the literary fiction titles published in the UK, but accounts for 7% of the volume of sales. If translated literature as a whole is underrepresented on the British book market, then women’s voices in translation are even more peripheral. The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, for example, was awarded 21 times, but was won by a woman only twice.
In the words of Maureen Freely, current President of English PEN and Head of English and Comparative Literary Studies at Warwick: “We’ve come a long way with the championing of world literature over the past decade, welcoming in a multiplicity of voices which have gone on to enrich us all. In the same period, however, we’ve noticed that it is markedly more difficult for women to make it into English translation. This prize offers us an opportunity to welcome in the voices and perspectives we’ve missed thus far.”
Where are the women in translation? by Alison Anderson
Briefing notes: Where are the women in translation? by Sophie Mayer
Kamila Shamsie: Let’s have a year of publishing only women – a provocation
And Other Stories to take part in Year of Publishing Women 2018
A women’s prize for translated books by Katy Derbyshire
Why we need a prize for women in translation by Susan Bernofsky
And the prize for women in Arabic translation goes to … no one? by Elisabeth Jaquette
Women in translation, part I: Fourteen countries by Chad Post