Thursday, January 1, 2015

Women in Translation | Year in review

A lot has happened this year for women in translation. If last year was the year that many readers and reviewers and translators discovered (independently!) the problems in the translation rates for women writers, this was the year in which we all (again, largely independently) worked to fix it.

For me, an obvious highlight was the Women in Translation Month held in August. I won't rehash all the conclusions from it, but suffice to say that the incredible participation from different readers, reviewers, booksellers and publishers made it a fascinating project. I think we did a brilliant job of addressing a lot of common issues, and also of raising awareness for many books that might otherwise have been ignored.

WITMonth also sparked two further interests for me: the first was the general interest in identifying and raising awareness of older titles by women writers in translation (something which a great deal of passionate readers have helped me with), and the second was a hope to improve the rather pathetic women in translation database. The latter is a serious project I have unfortunately stalled on somewhat in the past month or so, but my hope is that it will be completed before WITMonth 2015, and will serve as a good introductory guideline for readers seeking older and more obscure titles.

More dramatically, 2014 saw the brilliant panel at the London Book Fair titled "Where are the women in translation?" as a sort of response piece to Alison Anderson's initial article from 2013. I cannot overstate how important this panel is to understanding many of the concerns surrounding women in translation, nor its importance in terms of highlighting possible solutions. I again encourage every reader who is interested in literature in translation (or in feminism...) to watch this panel. I do not necessarily agree with all of the conclusions reached (as I have said in the past, I personally do not believe quotas will serve as a good solution to the current problems), however I think that they did an excellent job of explaining the problem and offering solutions.

We also had a record number of women writers shortlisted for the IFFP this year, with judges making clear for the first time that they saw a problem with the fact that no woman writer has ever won the award beforehand. This led to half of the shortlist comprising of women writers, and though the prize ultimately went to a man, the judges did choose to give a special recognition of Birgit Vanderbeke's The Mussel Feast. This is as close as a woman writer has come to winning the award, and though it's a fairly small comfort, it is progress nonetheless.

More broadly, there has been increased awareness of international literature this year. Every year, more and more readers are introduced to a wider variety of books. My feeling is that as this general exposure for translated literature grows, so too will exposure for women writers in the field, eventually leading to something closer to parity. This exposure will hopefully begin to spill over to more mainstream literary outlets - this year was Elena Ferrante's year, and I think we'll soon start to see more women writers getting that prestigious spotlight which until now has been reserved almost exclusively for men.

But there have also been struggles this year. As much as I would love to end on a purely positive note, the fact is that once again women in translation are being shut out of major awards (IMPAC), once again women writers are profiled significantly less frequently than men (pretty much every news outlet in my observation, though this is purely anecdotal and I haven't run any official statistics), once again reviewers note a significantly lower rate of women in translation titles as sent to them by publishers (I should note that this too is anecdotal, and furthermore as told to me by other reviewers who receive significantly more books for review than I do), and once again we see publishers who steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the true problem. There are still issues ahead of us which we will need to face.

Yet as I look back at 2014 - at the involvement surrounding WITMonth, at the increased awareness, and at the somewhat improving awards statistics - I see something vaguely resembling hope. We will need to see how the final 2014 translation database (courtesy of Three Percent, as always) turns out, but it will likely show a somewhat more positive outlook than the midyear update. And my hope is that 2015 will show a clear trend towards the positive.

We continue to discuss, we continue to improve.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for all the work you've put in to bring attention to this.

    ReplyDelete

Anonymous comments have been disabled due to an increase in spam.