Sunday, March 9, 2014

Women in Translation | Awards

Previous posts in Women in Translation series:
In my previous post in the Women in Translation series, I looked at the general issue of availability and bias. Today, I want to narrow that focus just a bit and take a look at various translation awards in relation to international women writers.

Let's start with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, which just released its 2014 longlist. The IFFP has long had an issue with recognizing women writers, to the point where I kept hearing this year that they were making an explicit effort to find more women writers in translation. Before we look at 2014, let's have a brief recap: the prize was launched in 1990, with a grand total of zero women taking home the prize until today. According to Wikipedia (which only includes complete shortlists from 2003 and on), less than 20% of shortlisted books from 2003-2013 were written by women. This amounts on average to one book a year by a woman.

The longlists paint a darker picture, if that's even possible. Looked at one way, you can point to a slightly greater number of women writers in some years as a sign that the award is not so skewed... yet these women are somehow consistently shut out of the next stage of deliberations, snubbed of the opportunity to actually win the prize. Meanwhile, a glance at 2012 and 2013 shows that only 2 women were even longlisted, which is, quite frankly, an embarrassment that I'm glad even the IFFP recognized. This year - 2014 - the situation is definitely brighter. A grand total of 5 women (out of 15) have been honored, a number that is comfortably above the average publishing statistics. And having read two of those books, I can easily say that both are brilliant without a doubt deserve their place on the list (more, I think, than the male-written book I've read from the longlist).

Now over to the US, we look at the Best Translated Book Award (fiction). This younger award turns out much better numbers overall, with a surprising 50% win-ratio by women authors. However, despite women writers' oddly skewed propensity to win, it turns out that the proportions of women nominated are actually much worse than the overall publishing trends, with something like 15% representation.

Taking another step back and looking at broader international awards like the Nobel, we can see further examples of women writers from around the world getting somewhat sidestepped. Over half of the prizes the Nobel has handed out to women over the past 25 years (still a clear minority overall, remember) have gone to women writing in English, from English-speaking countries. Not particularly representative either, it turns out.

The number one goal of these posts is to raise awareness - I want people to think about women's place in international literature. Awards are pivotal in getting readers excited about a certain genre or field, and are often instrumental in guiding readers to many new books they never would have read otherwise. If awards are consistently failing to recognize women writers, readers are again losing out on brilliant books by brilliant authors. Which is a shame, knowing how many other wonderful books are out there. Luckily, the trends overall seem to be improving - here's to hoping for more and more balanced lists as the years progress, and lots of new and excellent books for us to read.

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