Women in Translation – A Retrospective Look

October 5, 2017 by admin

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Rather belatedly on September 1st I stumbled upon an article informing me that August had been Women in Translation Month. In a spirit of “better late than never”, this blog post looks back at some of the highlights from the social media and newspaper articles written to celebrate the literary translations of work by female authors. Just 30% of new translations into English are of books by female authors. This reflects the broader situation in publishing where female writing has a lower profile and is often neglected and overlooked. Novelist Catherine Nichols found that when she submitted her manuscript under a male pseudonym she got eight times more responses than she had received under her own name. This seems odd given that women read more than men (a study by the Pew Research Centre found US women read an average of 15 books per year compared with 9 for men) and the publishing industry itself is very female-dominated.

Whatever the cause, this same paucity of female writing is reflected in translated books so the UK-based Women’s Prize for Fiction chose to use Women in Translation month as an opportunity to ask its Twitter followers to nominate their favourite female writers in translation. The suggested works range from novels to poetry to essays and originate from all over the world. The Guardian also offers up ideas for reading material but they chose to tap the minds of female translators themselves for suggestions. This list focuses more on the actual translators and includes male authors where they have been translated by women. For the very latest female authors in translation you can consult the Women in Translation website which has compiled a Google docs list of titles being published in 2017.

The Lit Hub site takes a different view and has a wonderful series of articles on books by women which are as yet untranslated but which should be. The languages featured range from Czech to Spanish to Japanese and each nominated title is accompanied by a brief description and a rationale for why it should be translated.

If you need responses to the question “Why does it matter?”, you need look no further than the excellent article by Katy Derbyshire for the Free Word Centre. Unsurprisingly she focuses on the importance of diversity in literature, or avoiding what Marlon James calls “cultural ventriloquism”, where authors write about cultures of which they have little experience. While fiction is naturally an exercise in imagination and not constrained by autobiography, it is also an activity which is deeply rooted in each author’s cultural experience of the world around them. Literary diversity requires a breadth of voices to be heard and that includes women.

And finally, looking to the future, keep your eyes peeled for the announcement of the inaugural Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, which will be awarded on 15 November 2017.


Who, What, When, Where: A Guide to #WITMonth 2017


Appendix A: Additional demographic tables and charts




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