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Translation as Literary Ambassador

Last year around this time, Larry Rohter wrote this amazing piece about the mission of Open Letter and the need for literature in translation. Which did wonders for our reputation and subscription program, and was one of the coolest pieces of publicity we’ve ever received.

Well, as the holidays roll back around, Larry has another piece on international literature, this one looking at “translation as literary ambassador.” It’s a nice, lengthy article, and one that hits on a number of issues, from funding for literature in translation, to Amazon’s involvement in international literature:

Among foreign cultural institutes and publishers, the traditional American aversion to literature in translation is known as “the 3 percent problem.” But now, hoping to increase their minuscule share of the American book market — about 3 percent — foreign governments and foundations, especially those on the margins of Europe, are taking matters into their own hands and plunging into the publishing fray in the United States.

Increasingly, that campaign is no longer limited to widely spoken languages like French and German. From Romania to Catalonia to Iceland, cultural institutes and agencies are subsidizing publication of books in English, underwriting the training of translators, encouraging their writers to tour in the United States, submitting to American marketing and promotional techniques they may have previously shunned and exploiting existing niches in the publishing industry.

“We have established this as a strategic objective, a long-term commitment to break through the American market,” said Corina Suteu, who leads the New York branch of the European Union National Institutes for Culture and directs the Romanian Cultural Institute. “For nations in Europe, be they small or large, literature will always be one of the keys of their cultural existence, and we recognize that this is the only way we are going to be able to make that literature present in the United States.”

And in addition to talking about various Dalkey series, we even get a mention:

With limited budgets and even more limited access to mainstream media, foreign cultural agencies have also come to look upon the Web as an ally in promoting their products. They spread the word not only through sites of their own, Catalonia and Romania being typical examples, but also by using American sites established specifically to champion literature in translation.

One such site, with the tongue-in-cheek name Three Percent, was founded by Open Letter, the University of Rochester’s literary publishing house, and specializes in literature in translation. It has become a lively forum to discuss and review not just that subject but also the craft of translation. Another site, Words Without Borders, founded in 2003, publishes books in translation online and also provides an outlet where translators can offer samples of their work in hopes of interesting commercial publishers.

Overall, it’s an interesting piece that does a great job laying out the issues and bringing attention to the various groups working to increase access and appreciation for literature in translation.



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