More translated books by women are on their way

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Just 29 percent of all the translated books published in the United States between 2008 and 2017 were by women authors.

Using the Translation Database, Chad Post, director of the University of Rochester’s nonprofit, literary translation press Open Letter, assembled the numbers. Publisher’s Weekly now supports and hosts the database, which Post founded. It offers 10 years of information on the translation book market—a first for an industry that has long lacked reliable data.

The translation market in the United States is already small—only 3 percent of books published here are translated books. And Post calls the figure of 29 percent of that 3 percent “stunningly bad,” especially given that the majority of book buyers and publishing industry employees are women.

It’s possible make a difference, says Post. The most active translation presses are mostly publishing books written by men. “And given their overall market share, if these 10 presses had more balanced lists, the overall gender gap would be nearly eliminated,” Post wrote for Publisher’s Weekly last October.

Based on his own experience at Open Letter, Post attributes at least part of the disparity to a “systemic problem in the publishing industry.” Book agents, and even translators themselves, tend to try to convince presses to publish a book by calling it a “classic” when the author is a man, says Post. They’re less likely to do so when a woman wrote the book. And influential publications—”tastemakers,” as Post says—review books by men more often than those by women.

But Post is optimistic. Last year, for the first time, the publication numbers for men and women translators was equal. And he hopes heightened awareness by people connected with the publishing industry will help, too.

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Open Letter offers two country-specific women writers series, one for Denmark and another for South Korea. Funding from the National Endowment of the Arts will also support the publication of six new works in the Open Letter Books Women Writers Series:

  • The Endless Summer, by Madame Nielsen, translated by Gaye Kynoch (Denmark)
  • Ma Bo’le’s Second Life, by Xiao Hong, translated by Howard Goldblatt (China)
  • the easiness and the loneliness, by Asta Olivia Nordenhof, translated by Susanna Nied (Denmark)
  • Fox, by Dubravka Ugresic, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać and David Williams (Croatia)
  • American Fictionary, by Dubravka Ugresic, translated by Celia Hawkesworth and Ellen Elias-Bursać (Croatia)
  • Night School by Zsófia Bán, translated by Jim Tucker (Hungary)

The result? “We’re publishing more women authors than men this year,” Post says of Open Letter.

Source: University of Rochester