Not Lost: Why Some Independent Publishers Can’t Get Enough of Literature in Translation

On April 19th, The Millions announced the finalists for their ninth annual Best Translated Book Awards. Six titles from five Consortium publishers were included, from both publishers who produce solely translations and publishers who produce a wide variety of genres.

Not long ago, most of the books that made it to translation were classics. They were primarily novels and poetry from already well-known members of the literary canon like Dostoevsky, Camus, and Neruda. Nowadays, translations are no longer reserved for the classical elite. Many publishers are adding brand-new translations of contemporary novels and poetry to their seasons each year with enthusiastic response.

Why translations? Why now? Here’s what the publishers of our award-nominated titles have to say.

Biblioasis, publisher of Arvida (by Samuel Archibald, translated fromArvida the French by Donald Winkler), believes that translation is the lifeblood of literature. Literature that does not engage with other languages and linguistic traditions quickly becomes stale and irrelevant. Translation means more voices can have their time in the spotlightespecially voices that we don’t usually get to hear.

war so muchOpen Letter Books, publisher of Wphysics of sorrowar, So Much War (by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent), and The Physics of Sorrow (by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel) believes that making world literature available in English is crucial to broadening our cultural awareness, to helping us engage with others from all different experiences. In addition, widening accessability of literatures new and old helps maintain a healthy and vibrant book culture. War, So Much War and The Physics of Sorrow both capture sides of humanity inextractable from their original culture and yet still recognizable in ourselves.

signsAnd Other Stories, publisher of Signs Preceding the End of the World  (by Yuri Herrerawhose second work, The Transmigration of Bodies, publishes this Julyboth titles translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman), was founded out of publisher Stefan Tobler’s frustration at the lack of availability of great works of literature published in English. Publishing translationsspecifically, good translationsis so important to And Other Stories that many of their editors and staff members are also working translators. If you’ve read Yuri Herrera’s work, you’ll understand where And Other Stories is coming froma world where non-Spanish-speakers can never read his incredible words is a sad world indeed.

Coffee House Press, publisher of the 2015 literary darling The Story of My Teeth (bStoryOfMyTeethy Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney), sought out this revolutionary novel from a desire for their bookshelves (and their readers’ bookshelves) to more accurately reflect the wide range of voices and stories in the Americas. Voices of the Americas must by definition include non-English speakers. For Coffee House Press, translation is about dismantling a hierarchy in literature, of granting just as much weight to original English texts as to the words of non-native speakers. Translation is about expanding horizons, not limiting them.

load poemsHoly Cow! Press, publisher of Load Poems Like Guns, doesn’t typically publish translations, or poetry for that matter, focusing primarily on fiction and nonfiction from the Midwest. But when Farzana Marie, the editor and translator of the collection, presented her manuscript to Jim Perlman, the publisher at Holy Cow!, he couldn’t say no. Translating the collection brings the voices, joys, struggles, and triumphs of women living in the city of Herat, Afghanistan, thousands of miles, reaching readers who might never have known how much they needed it.

Culture, connection, compassion: that’s why we need literature in translation, now more than ever.

Find out where you can purchase Arvida; War, So Much War; The Physics of Sorrow; Signs Preceding the End of the World; The Transmigration of Bodies; The Story of My Teeth; and Load Poems Like Guns here on the Consortium website.

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