Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"What else can we add?" | Some thoughts about women in translation and publishing

I want to preface this post by emphasizing that my criticism of publishers having a poor record when it comes to women writers in translation is only about that. This post is not meant to serve as a general "shame"-post, nor is it meant to incite much more anger than the initial statistics did. The reason I have chosen to write this out as a post at all is because I felt that I would not be able to be fully expressive (and fair) in whatever comments I might put up on Twitter. And I thought that the issue was a serious enough one to justify giving it its space.

The introduction is simple: P. T. Smith tweeted about publisher willingness to talk about and improve on matters regarding women writers in translation. I noted that the positive behavior is very publisher-specific, and that there are some who are better than others, to which P. T. Smith named and tagged a few good ones, and named and tagged Dalkey Archive as one of the "less hot" publishing houses. The full thread can be found here (posted with consent; since Dalkey is not an individual person rather a public entity, I see no need in gaining their consent to re-share their public tweets).

A few hours later, the Dalkey twitter account went active and responded with a barrage of tweets:

The tweets mostly sought to list women writers in translation Dalkey are going to publish, but there were two points in reading these that I had to stop. And stop myself from responding too harshly too quickly. This list is really, really wonderful in that it shows that Dalkey Archive will be publishing women writers in translation in 2015-2016. Compared to the jaw-dropping 0% of 2014, I think we can all recognize this (with absolutely no cynicism) as a step forward. But there's a lot, a lot more here that Dalkey has not yet addressed. They end their barrage with the rather snark-tinged question: "What else can we add?" And so, Dalkey Archive, in all seriousness, here's what:

As far as I have been able to tell and certainly in response to my own inquiries in 2014, Dalkey Archive has never once made a public statement regarding women writers in translation and why their publishing house consistently falls well behind the already-low translation average for women writers. 2014 was a shocking anomaly, but it's not alone. My 2013 statistics found them at a solid 24%, when the overall average was 28% (and recall that Dalkey was the leading publisher of translated literature in 2013 by a comfortable margin).

And so simply publishing the names of women writers Dalkey plans to publish is not merely not enough, it's meaningless. Are these all of their women writers for 2015-2016? If so, we're right back to the beginning with atrocious ratios... At this stage, we are working largely from percentage-based work. Amounts are wonderful - yes, truly wonderful that each and every one of these books will be published! - but they do little to address the fact that for every woman writer it publishes, Dalkey by and large publishes 5-6 more books by men (from the years I've counted, at least, and most likely worse statistics the further back we go).

Furthermore, one tweet touts fairly balanced Best European Fiction anthologies. While I do not have the statistics in front of me, my recollection was that the 2013/4 anthologies were at around 40% when it included the English-written stories. Perhaps I am doing Dalkey a great injustice by quoting merely from my unreliable memory (and I strongly encourage anyone with access to the book to fact-check me because I absolutely do not want to spread false and hurtful claims), but I recall specifically noting that Dalkey had included an interesting array of English-written stories by women writers, and then had a similar 30% stumble when it came to the translations. I will happily correct this notion if it turns out to be wrong. I will point out that the other Dalkey anthology I've encountered (Georgian literature) had a solid 25% women writer representation rate.

The main point is this: Dalkey Archive has a pattern of publishing significantly fewer women writers in translation than men. And it has a bad track record when it comes to addressing the problem. Merely pointing to your upcoming women writers does not explain how you went an entire year without publishing a single work by a woman writer in translation. Listing writers does not tell us what their percentage is within the larger body of your publications. It does not change the pattern, and it explicitly refuses to address the problem in the way that other publishers have daringly done.

"What else can we add?" Well, answers to these questions. Clear statements regarding Dalkey Archive's future efforts to reach gender parity in publishing (I hope). Explicit publication lists with transparency regarding the gender breakdown and ratios. Explanations for 2014. Perhaps even public explanations for why women writers have until now been so marginalized.

"What else can we add?" Let's start here.


  1. Twisted Spoon Press is a favorite of mine for works in translation....however, their male to female author ration is quit dismal. 35 male to only 4 female.

  2. Great post. I had a similar interaction with the same publishing house, their reply to me? "What else can we add?", maybe they have a robot doing their responses, although I replied "Maybe you should add women???" they proceeded to ignore me, which I have found to be their standard come back approach.


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