Has translated literature in the United States turned a corner? With some exceptions, readers of literature in translation (which should include every schoolchild in the land) no longer wait listlessly for their favorite authors to be translated. Thanks to a thriving, industrious translation community at home and abroad, the situation is now the opposite: brilliant unknown or unfamiliar authors are published every month, along with new translations of classics, lost or beloved. Surely there is still work to be done, but we have the translation community to thank for doing it.
With this in mind, it’s time to consider the Best Translated Book Awards for 2015. This morning, the Three Percent website announced the longlist for the award, which contains a handful of well-known writers and a trove of new required reading. Fifteen judges read for the award, and, notably, more than 500 works of fiction in translation and 100 books of translated poetry were considered for the list. By contrast, Three Percent explains, only 360 total books were considered in 2008.
“Not only were there more eligible titles than ever, they came from more diverse sources,” said judge James Crossley of Island Books. “From different nations and languages, but also from different publishers around the world, many of them brand-new and dedicated exclusively to literature in translation. I can’t help think that the BTBA in some small way helped usher these publishers into existence.”
The longlist in fiction includes Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Stay, the third book in her Neapolitan Trilogy; Fantomas Versus the Multinational, a rediscovered work by Julio Cortázar, author of Hopscotch; and Faces in the Crowd, the debut novel by Valeria Luiselli. The list also represents 14 languages, 23 nationalities, and 50 translators, including Margaret Jull Costa, Cole Swenson, and Charlotte Mandell. Notable exclusions? In what will continue to be the year of the backlash against Karl Ove Knausgaard, the third volume of My Struggle was left off the list. So, too, was Carmen Bollousa’s excellent Texas: The Great Theft, published by the up-and-coming Deep Vellum press of Dallas, and translated by Samantha Schnee.
But you’d be hard-pressed to find a more democratic longlist for an award in publishing. The list includes stellar small presses, like Coffee House; important new translation-only presses, like Two Lines Press out of California; and consistent, pathbreaking stalwarts like Open Letter and Archipelago. It also features a selection of translation-friendly academic presses and larger houses, like FSG.
The finalist for both the fiction and poetry awards will be announced on May 5th, and the winners will be announced at BookExpo America on May 27th. The award comes with a $5,000 prize for the author and translator of the work, underwritten by Amazon.com’s giving programs.
But who will win? It’s Ferrante’s for the taking. But if I had to pick a dark horse in fiction, it’d be Can Xue’s The Last Lover, translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen for Yale University Press. As for poetry? It’s hard to say, but I’m rooting for Diana’s Tree by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated by Yvette Siegert for Ugly Duckling.