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New Year, New Databases, New Numbers [Translation Decimation]

Now that 2010 is over, it seems like an appropriate time to post updated “Translation Databases”: and take a closer look at the state of literature in translation in the U.S. Not to give it all away, but things aren’t trending so well . . .

Before getting to the numbers, here’s the normal spiel: I only keep track of original translations1 of fiction and poetry published in the United States during the recorded times. No memoirs, no nonfiction, no children’s books, no reissues of long out-of-print titles, no paperback of previously released hardcovers. Just novels, short story collections, and poetry collections that were never before available to Americans.2

Also, by clicking here you can download spreadsheets from 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Clicking on the pages at the bottom will give you info on all translated titles by title, language, country, publisher, fiction publishers, poetry publishers, fiction vs. poetry, and pub month.

So, 2010 SUCKED.

Unless I went blind, or missed two months worth of releases,3 total number of new translations was way down. Like down by 40 titles, or 11%. This is not cool.

And this is the trend from 2008 to 2010 is a pretty steady decline, in spite of all the media attention paid to Bolano, to translation as a whole, etc., etc. Despite all the best efforts of all the best people who are out there championing international literature. This scares me.4

Here’s a breakdown of all three years across a few categories:

Total Titles: 317 (2010), 357 (2009), 362 (2008)

Fiction: 248 (2010), 285 (2009), 280 (2008)
Poetry: 69 (2010), 72 (2009), 82 (2008)

This is a pretty huge drop-off from 2008 to 2010 . . .

Languages:

2010: French (59), Spanish (48), German (35), Japanese (15), Arabic (14), Hebrew (14), Italian (14)

2009: Spanish (62), French (53), German (31), Arabic (22), Italian (21)

2008: French (59), Spanish (48), German (31), Arabic (28), Japanese (23)

Interesting the four languages are pretty stable (French, Spanish, German, Arabic), and that Italian and Japanese pop in and out . .

Publishers

2010: Dalkey Archive (22), New Directions (16), Europa Editions (16), Open Letter (9), American University of Cairo Press (8), Knopf (8), Archipelago (8)

2009: Dalkey Archive (19), New Directions (13), American University of Cairo Press (11), Europa Editions (11), HarperCollins (10)

2008: Dalkey Archive (12), American University of Cairo (11), Europa Editions (11), Host Publications (11), Penguin (10), Vertical (10)

Yay for indies/university presses! And this is remarkably stable as well . . . (Oh, and yay for us as well—finally cracked the Top 5!)

And since poetry tends to get masked in these numbers, here are the top poetry publishers:

Publishers (Poetry)

2010: Ugly Duckling Presse (5), Green Integer (4), Zephyr (4), Host Publications (4), Counterpath (3), Marick Press (3), Shearsman Books (3)

2009: White Pine (7), Green Integer (6), Host Publications (5), Black Widow (3), New Directions (3)

2008: Host Publications (7), Green Integer (6), Ugly Duckling (5), FSG (5), Black Widow (5)

Doesn’t surprise me that there’s a different set of publishers doing most of these translations. In fact, that’s kind of cool.

Anyway, there you are. I think I need some time to pull my head out of the oven, think this through, and analyze it before throwing out any more hypotheses.

(And at least 2011 is looking up . . . With only a few months of data, we’re already at 122 titles. That’s a good start, right? Right?)

1 Also don’t include retranslations even if they’re substantially different from the original. Sorry, it’s a personal choice, since the more this opens up, the more we slide down a slippery slope, the more work this becomes for me, the greater headache, etc., etc.

2 Even new arrangements of poetry are excluded. Yes, I get that some “selected poem” titles include a handful of scraps of never-before-translated-material, but this database is to examine what’s just now entering our culture, not the ten thousandth variation of Rilke’s poems and journalistic scribbles.

3 This is not impossible. So if you see something missing, let me know. (chad.post [at] rochester [dot] edu)

4 Not to be all doom and gloom, but this may confirm my worst fear, that with the financial collapse of 2008, a lot of presses went bust, or at least cut down the number of translations they were publishing as a way of cutting costs. To ramp up the hype on this “trans-pocalypse,” it could be a sign of the publishing industry’s rush toward mediocrity and “booklike entertainment objects,” such as anything by the Macaroni Assholes or about WikiLeaks.



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