Friday, August 12, 2022

WITMonth Day 12 | Why is WIT *still* so European?

Look, I don't have a better way to say this, but: The world of women in translation into English (and definitely among other languages I've screened) remains steadfastly, stubbornly Euro-centric. Why?

In the near-decade since I began work on this project, the matter of Eurocentrism in translations of works by women writers has always been very near the surface. The question posed in the title of this post is an echo to a question I started asking myself all the way back in 2013 - why are there so few women writers in translation? And as I started to collect data on that lack, I kept encountering another one: Among the relatively fewer women writers who were translated into English, the easy majority were consistently European women writers.

This pattern has persisted, even as overall rates of women writers in translation have ticked upward and there is now a much greater understanding and appreciation for the importance of including women's voices in translation. Somehow the newfound respect that many publishers and translators have for women writers from around the world only seems to extend so far as Europe, and occasionally Latin America (I'll delve into Latin American translations in a bit more detail soon...). Ironically, it is some of the worst-performing publishers (when it comes to actually bothering to translate women) who seem to have a greater appreciation for women writing outside of the confines of "traditional" European expectations. 

The imbalances aren't consistent, either. While literature from the (vast) continent of Asia is certainly lacking (both proportionally and just numerically), women's writing from countries like South Korea or Japan have actually done quite well. South Korea in particular is well-associated with women writers at this point, to the degree where I'm hard-pressed to think of a handful of books by Korean men which have been translated in recent years, but can easily come up with more than a dozen by women. This comes alongside the persistent lack of widespread translations from the Indian subcontinent (marketed outside of the subcontintent, at least). South and Southeast Asian literature in translation is woefully lacking across the board, and women writers suffer from this in equal measure. The situation grows even more concerning for African literature in translation, which remains frustratingly limited. African women writers working outside of English are still almost entirely invisible. Why?

I won't get into my theories on the matter, but the bottom line is the same no matter what: Publishing needs to do better on this front. While there is some positive movement (things like Tomb of Sand winning the International Booker), it is simply not enough. This year's WITMonth new releases list is disproportionately European. And while there is a thankfully impressive range of diversity within that European category (it's important to remember, as always, that Europe is not a cultural monolith!), it's still disheartening to see just how few books there are translated from any South Asian languages, translated from African women writers (also an incredibly large, diverse group that is simply not recognized in translation!), and so on.

I don't have much say in this, unfortunately, but I can continue to do what I've done until now: Make noise. In the same way that we fight for women in translation at large, it is crucial that we fight for the women who aren't getting translated. That we address these other imbalances and biases that have shaped the publishing industry. I can simply say that as a reader, I am desperate to read more literature from all across the world, reflecting all these different experiences. I want to buy these books, I want to read these books, I want publishers to publish these books.

Why is WIT still so European? Because we haven't finished our work.

1 comment:

  1. I've got Jokha Alharthi's Celestial Bodies to read, which is Omani, I'll try to link to this post when I've read and reviewed it.


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