Over the past few months, with the help of two fantastic interns, I’ve updated the Translation Database to include the sex of every author and translator in there.1 It was a brutal task, hunting down information about all of these people, scanning bios for gendered pronouns and then entering all of this into the database. But, now that it’s done, I can start running reports and provide specifics about the gender imbalance with regard to literature in translation.
It’ll be a few more weeks before I have everything sorted and organized, but when I do, I’ll post a huge, comprehensive report looking at everything from how many books by women have been translated from Spanish over the past seven years, to which publishers have the most balanced lists.
Because these reports are fascinating (well, fascinating and depressing), I’m planning on posting mini-updates here as I run them.
Right now, I’ve only completed two main reports: One that breaks down male vs. female authors (and male vs. female translators) by year and genre (fiction vs. poetry), and one that breaks down male and female authors by country of origin.
The results of the first one are pretty bleak. Between 2008 and 2014 there were 2,471 fiction translations published in the U.S. for the first time ever. Of those, 1,775 were written by men, compared to 657 by women, and 39 by men & women. In terms of percentages, female authors make up 26.6% of all the fiction translations published over the past seven years.
Poetry isn’t much better. Of the 571 books included in the database, 384, or 67.3% are by male authors. Only 169, or 29.6% of the poetry collections published during this period were by women.
I suspected going into this that there would be significantly more male authors published in translation than women, but I figured it would be more like a 60-40 split, not 71-27. That’s brutal.
Breaking it down by country is equally depressing. Female authors made up 50% or more of the books from only 14 of the 110 countries represented in the database. Here’s the complete list:
Armenia: 1 male author, 1 female author (50%)
Belarus: 2 male authors, 3 female authors (60%)
Costa Rica: 1 male author, 1 female author (50%)
Croatia: 4 male authors, 4 female authors (50%)
Ecuador: 1 male author, 1 female author (50%)
Finland: 10 male authors, 18 female authors (62%)
Latvia: 0 male authors, 1 female author (100%)
Mauritius: 0 male authors, 3 female authors (100%)
Myanmar: 0 male authors, 1 female author (100%)
Niger: 0 male authors, 1 female author (100%)
Rwanda: 1 male author, 1 female author (50%)
Saudi Arabia: 2 male authors, 3 female authors (60%)
Slovakia: 0 male authors, 1 female author (100%)
Wales: 0 male authors, 1 female author(100%)
That’s it. Here’s the breakdown from a handful of other notable countries:
Argentina: 60 male authors, 30 female authors (33%)
China: 76 male authors, 21 female authors (20%)
France: 253 male authors, 96 female authors (27%)
Germany: 146 male authors, 78 female authors (35%)
Italy: 134 male authors, 41 female authors (23%)
Japan: 118 male authors, 47 female authors (28%)
Russia: 97 male authors, 32 female authors (23%)
Spain: 114 male authors, 36 female authors (24%)
Sweden: 79 male authors, 47 female authors (36%)
At some point, I’m going to group these by region (Middle East, Southern Cone) and see how that breaks down. At first glance, it seems like the Scandinavian countries (Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden) might have the best balance. Adding those five countries together, we get 201 male authors and 113 female authors, or 36% women. Still not great, but considering that female authors only make up 27% of the grand total, it’s significant.
More to come as I enter more and more data into the master spreadsheet . . .
1 To clarify a bit, if a book has more than one author or translator of differing genders, I coded them as “both.” Same goes for the two or three people we couldn’t identify, like D. E. Brooke. When the percentages above don’t add up to 100%, it’s because there’s one or more authors coded as “both.”
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .