Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Women in Translation | Moving forward (a short update)

Previous posts in Women in Translation series:

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist is out, ladies and gentlemen, and there's some fantastic news for women writers in translation. Why? Because for only the second time in its history, a full 50% of the shortlisted authors are women. Three out of six. Which is well above the baseline publication rate for women in translation. Fantastic news, right?

I'm not going to lie - this is fantastic news. For several reasons.

The first is the most obvious: three books by women writers are now in the prestigious club of shortlisted titles. They're getting coverage, attention, and respect. This is great news for Yoko Ogawa, Birgit Vanderbeke and Hiromi Kawakami. Three great books (technically I haven't read Kawakami yet, but a lot of other reviewers seemed to quite like the book), well-deserving of their place in this coveted list.

The second is a bit broader: the topic of women in translation - that thing I've been writing and ranting about, trying to raise awareness - is being discussed. Straight up. Maybe it's convoluted, maybe it's meta, maybe it's political, maybe it's discriminatory correction (which I don't think is true at all, by the way)... but the point is that we're talking about the fact that there is a problem in publishing (and a problem in award recognition). We're discussing exactly what we need to.

The third is that it states - strongly and unequivocally - that books by women are just as good as books by men. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it really isn't. Enough readers subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) weed out books written by women for a multitude of reasons. I used to be one of those readers. Sometimes it's a wildly unrepresentative cover (what the heck is going on with the Kawakami cover?), sometimes it's stereotypes about the "type of books women write" (and a general genre elitism), and sometimes it's outright sexism (the examples I raised in my review of How to Suppress Women's Writing). By including three books in their shortlist, the IFFP is directly challenging the idea that books by women writers are not at the same level as those by men. Which is wonderful.

We're moving forward. And that is, without a doubt, excellent news.

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