It is generally acknowledged that in the era of globalization, migration across linguistic borders creates cross-cultural awareness and increases the need for translated fiction. One might expect, therefore, that literary translations would constitute a sizable portion of the American publishing market. According to the Translation Database, however, last year only 365 fiction titles from around the world were actually translated into English and published in the United States.
These troubling figures raise a number of questions of interest to digital humanists: How do publishers identify writers and works from abroad for translation? What do publishers need to know about the average American reader in order to figure out what would sell or find critical acclaim, if not commercial success in the US? Why is it that writers who are on the best-seller list in their own country flop in the US? What are the best sources for reviews of foreign fiction of potential interest to the American reading public?
These questions, and more, were discussed at a panel on European Fiction in Translation at the recent national meeting of the American Library Association in Washington, DC. The event was organized by Heidi Madden (Librarian for Western European Studies at Duke University) and Melissa VanVuuren (Librarian for English at James Madison University) for the Association of College and Research Library’s sections in Western European Studies and Literatures in English.
This program’s website includes links to publishers of translation, sources for book reviews, as well as a short bibliography on issues and trends in translation. However, perhaps the best starting points for exploring the topic of European fiction in translation are the websites of the panelists themselves. In particular, be sure to check out Chad Post’s Open Letter; Alane Salierno Mason’s, Words Without Borders: An Online Magazine for International Literature; and the presentation by Dr. Edwin Gentzler, Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of The Translation Center, University of Massachusetts (Amherst).
Heidi Madden, Ph.D.
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