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Esther Allen at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Esther Allen—brilliant translator, champion of international literature, director of the Center for Literary Translation at Columbia, and advisory board member of Open Letter—has an interesting article in the International Herald Tribune about Frankfurt and the To Be Translated of Not To Be report she edited.

But when you come to Hall 8, you have to line up for a metal detector. And once in, you hear and see only one language – this is the English-language hall. I never got over to Hall 8 this year, but during last year’s fair I wandered by to say hello to some American publisher friends and was struck by how lavish the stands are. The stands in Halls 5 and 6 are spiffy, but in Hall 8 it’s immediately clear that a great deal more money has been spent. This is where the sellers are.

The English-speaking world buys so little at the fair and pays so little attention in general to writing in other languages that it doesn’t even keep statistics about the percentage of books published in English that are translations. The figure of 3 percent, often bandied about, is almost certainly high.

When I was in Iowa for the 40th Anniversary celebration of the International Writing Program, Eliot Weinberger insisted that this 3% figure was grossly exaggerated and that the real number is closer to .3%. (And that we should change the name of the blog.) He said that the 3% figure includes any book with an ISBN, and that if you only look at nationally distributed titles (which I think is a fair criteria), there’s probably only 300 works of translated literary fiction published every year. (I have a feeling he’s right about this.)

All of this—in combination with finding out that I missed some awesome salsa dancing with the Catalans—is awful depressing, so I’m done blogging for today.



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