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Celebrating the Fifth Edition of Women in Translation Month

In August we celebrated Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth). The global collaborative project, created by American book blogger and scholar Meytal Radzinski in 2014 to raise awareness on the lack of translated titles by women in English literature, aims to foster dialogue about gender disparity in the literary world, encourage the reading of books by women in translation and eventually get more of their works translated into English.


This project began to emerge in December 2013, when Meytal Radzinski realized that most books she had read and reviewed on her blog that year were written and translated by men. After wondering if it was due to her personnal tastes, she decided to run through Three Percent's list of titles in translation for 2013 and discovered that women writers contributed less than 30% of the literature that is translated into English. With this first remark, she initiated a movement on her blog an social media: "So readers: share your own stats. Let's find out where the problem starts. Let's be aware that this problem even exists. Maybe then we can start to fix it."

WHERE ARE THE WOMEN IN TRANSLATION?

"Between 2008 and 2018, 28.7 percent of the translations in the database were written by women. That’s 1,394 titles out of a grand total of 4,849, that’s not great.” –Chad Post, creator of Three Percent

According to PEN America, fewer than 5 percent of the literature published in English every year was originally written in another language, and a mere 25 percent of that 5 percent (1.25%) was written by women. This systemic problem does not only concern publishers: books by women in translation also get less review coverage, less bookstore promotion and fewer award nominations. For instance, from 1994 to 2014, only three women have won the PEN Translation Prize; from 2011 to 2014, 17% on average of the longlist of The Best Translated Book Award were the works of women, but 21% of the shortlist, fiction and poetry combined. It is a vicious circle: this whole process makes them less accessible to readers, who therefore buy less books by women in translation and as the demand is weak, publishers prefer to publish books written by men. 

HOW CAN WE FIX IT? 

"I’d love to see this question of shouldn’t our readings reflect the world we live in? reach every reader, from the most casual to the most academic... We’re losing stories and ideas and voices." –Meytal Radzinski, interviewed by Sara Iocavelli  for The American Literary Translators Association

Women in Translation Project encourages the audience to share books in translation by women they are reading or have read, and post related information and events, by tweeting using the hashtags #WITMonth or #womenintranslation, commenting on Meytal Radzinski's blog or emailing her. The participants are posting all sorts of recommendation lists, sharing statistics, discussing these on Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Goodreads and Facebook, and feeding the annual new releases database. But this is not limited to the internet, either. In the past few years, many bookstore or library have set up displays with this focus. Many magazines have taken up featuring women writers in translation during the month of August and institutions such as PEN America has organized a number of events in that framework. 

MOVING TOWARD PARITY

Fortunately, things are starting to change as parity in literature is taken more and more seriously. For the past five years, three women have won the Pen Translation Prize, two women have won the French American Foundation Translation Prize for Fiction and four the Non-Fiction. Moreover, according to the organization VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and to Three Percent, a ressource for international literature at the University of Rochester,  the amount of publications by women in translation is improving every year (see the graphic below).


To pay tribute to this initiative, here are a few works written by women, translated by women. Read one, comment on the other. Lend on to a friend, buy another as a gift. Read It for Woman in Translation Month, or during the 11 remaining months of the year. Happy reading!

LINDA COVERDALE

Linda Coverdale is an award-winning translator. She has translated many classic works of modern French literature into English. Some of the authors she has translated include Maryse Condé, Roland Barthes, Marie Darrieussecq, Emmanuel Carrère, Annie Ernaux, and Patrick Volodine. In 2001, the French government awarded her the title of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters (Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres). Coverdale has won the French-American Foundation Translation Prize in 1997 for Literature or Life, in 2007 for Ravel and in 2019 for Same Old Man.

EMMA RAMADAN

Emma Ramadan is a translator and co-owner of Riffraff, a bookstore/bar in Providence, Rhode Island. A 2016 PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant winner and recipient of a Fulbright fellowship in Morocco, Ramadan enjoys translating experimental, constraint-based writing; she previously worked with Garréta on a translation of Sphinx and Not a Day, for which she won the Albertine prize in 2018, and has also translated Oulipo member Frédéric Forte’s 33 Flat Sonnets. Her forthcoming translations include Marguerite Duras’s Me & Other Writing (Dorothy Project) and Abdellah Taïa’s Un pays pour mourir (Seven Stories).

JANE MARIE TODD

Jane Marie Todd has translated more than eighty-five books and hundreds of shorter texts for trade and university presses and art museums. She has translated works of art history and criticism, ancient and modern history, philosophy, anthropology, literary criticism, women's studies. She has taught French, Humanities, and Women's Studies at Reed College and the University of Oregon. Todd was awarded the French-American Foundation Translation Prize for Nonfiction in 2011, for her translation of Dominique Charpin's Reading and Writing in Babylon, and again in 2017, for Olivier Wieviorka's The French Resistance. Todd was again a finalist for the prize in 2018 and again in 2019.​

JODY GLADDING

Jody Gladding is a poet and translator.  She has published four full-length collections of poetry, and two letterpress edition chapbooks. She has translated some thirty books from French, for which she has received numerous grants and prizes. She has taught in the MFA Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is now directing the Writing Program at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT.  Her awards and honors include MacDowell and Stegner Fellowships, a Whiting Writers’ Award and Yale Younger Poets Prize. Her work explores the places where language and landscape converge.

TINA KOVER

Tina Kover has been a literary translator for over a decade, translating works of both classic and modern literature including Alexandre Dumas’s Georges, the Goncourt brothers’ Manette Salomon, and Mahir Guven’s Goncourt Prize-winning Older Brother. She studied French at the University of Denver and the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and later worked in Prague teaching English as a foreign language. Her translation of Négar Djavadi’s Disoriental was a finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature in 2018 and the PEN Translation Prize in 2019.

TERESA LAVENDER FAGAN

Teresa Lavender Fagan is a freelance translator based in Chicago. She majored in French in college and started working at the University of Chicago Press, where she was offered her first book translation: Mircea Eliade’s Journal III. Since then, she has published more than a dozen book-length translations, both in fiction and non-fiction, including Mircea Eliade’s Journal, Incidents by Roland Barthes, The Greeks by Jean-Pierre Vernant and more recently Hold Fast Your Crown by Yannick Haenel.

LARA VERGNAUD

Lara Vergnaud is an editor and literary translator who has translated works from the French by  among others Joy Sorman, Marie-Monique Robin, and Scholastique Mukasonga. She received a 2013 PEN/Heim Translation Grant for her translation of Zahia Rahmani’s France, Story of a Childhood, which was nominated for the 2017 National Translation Award, and a 2015 French Voices award for her translation of Danielle Michel-Chich’s Letter to Zohra D. Her translation of The Hospital by Ahmed Bouanani is forthcoming from New Directions. She currently lives in Washington, D.C.

ALISON ANDERSON

Alison Anderson spent many years in California but now lives in a Swiss village where she works as a fulltime literary translator. Her translations include Europa Editions’ The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, and works by Nobel laureate J. M. G. Le Clézio. She has also written two novels and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Translation Fellowship. She has lived in Greece and Croatia, and speaks several European languages, including Russian. (Photo credit: Mystery People)

Each year, the book department creates a database with all the French Books translated in english and published in the US. If you need more information about previous publications, see the articles for 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012.


To learn More

Anderson Alison, Where are the Women in Translation? Words Without Borders, May 14, 2013

Radzinski Meytal, Where in the world are Women Writers? Biblibio: Life in Letters, December 9, 2013

Women in Translation: An Interview with Meytal Radzinski by Sara Iocavelli for The American Literary Translators Association

Three Percent Podcast, Episode #167: We Could All Do Better: Meytal Radzinski joins Chad Post and Tom to talk about Women in Translation Month, depressing statistics, Virginie Despentes, nonfiction in translation, hopes for the future, and much more.

Article by Loïse Tachon

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