Don’t worry. I know this is the second Monday Musings post in a row inspired by the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, but when I wrote last week’s post, I felt that one on the Translation Prize in this suite of awards would be an appropriate follow-up. It’s not the start of a Monday Musings trend!
I know I don’t need to say this to readers who come here, but reading works by people from other cultures is so critical to our ability to understand our world and the people in it. However, funnily enough, not all of that literature is written in the language/s we read! Hence, the importance of translation. Unfortunately, translation doesn’t have high visibility in Australia, partly, I presume, because of our geographic isolation and our attendant monolingualism. Yet, there are many* in Australia who speak more than one language. It surely behoves us, for a start, to read more from the cultures living amongst us.
Jane Sullivan wrote an article in The Age back in 2005 about the state of translation in Australia, and made this comment:
In Australia, the market for translated work is very small and publishers are rarely willing to take the risk of commissioning a translation. While the Australia Council supports translation of Australian writers’ work into other languages, it does not usually support Australian translation of foreign literature into English.
I wonder how much has changed since then? (Do read the article, if you are interested. Sure, it’s a bit old now, but it has some interesting things to say nonetheless, including suggestions that things were changing.)
NSW Premier’s Translation Prize
Now, I have written about translation before, particularly in my review of Linda Jaivin’s Quarterly Essay and in a Monday Musings on Australian literary translators, but have never focused on the NSW Premier’s Translation Prize. I’m rectifying that now!
The Translation Prize is offered biennially, and is currently worth $30,000. It has been offered, I believe, since 2001. According to the State Library of NSW, it was proposed by the International PEN Sydney Centre and is funded by Arts NSW and the Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural NSW. Its aim is “to acknowledge the contribution made to literary culture by Australian translators” and it “recognises the vital role literary translators play in enabling writers and readers to communicate across cultures and ensuring that dissident voices are heard around the world”. (This latter is probably where PEN, particularly, comes in.)
The prize is awarded to translators (not to particular translations) who translate into English from other languages. Meaning, I suppose, that it is geared to broadening the reading of the English-speaking Australian public.
The winners to date, as listed in Wikipedia, are:
- 2001: Mabel Lee: Chinese
- 2003: Julie Rose: French
- 2005: Chris Andrews: Spanish
- 2007: John Nieuwenhuizen: Dutch and Flemish
- 2009: David Colmer: mainly Dutch
- 2011: Ian Johnston: Chinese and Classical Greek
- 2013: Peter Boyle: French and Spanish
- 2015: Brian Nelson: French
- 2017: Royall Tyler: Japanese
- Harry Aveling: translates South and South-east Asian literature, including Indonesian, Malay, Hindi and French. He has translated Pramoedya Ananta Toer (but my 1991 edition of a Toer novel was translated by Max Lane)
- Steve Corcoran: translates French philosophical and literary works.
- Alison Entrekin: described as one of the world’s leading translators of Portuguese
- Penny Hueston: mostly translates contemporary French literature, and is a Senior Editor at Text Publishing. (She translated Jerusalmy’s Evacuation – my review.)
- Stephanie Smee: translates mostly French, specialising in children’s literature, but does other work too.
This year there’s also a “highly commended”, Omid Tofighian. He’s not on the shortlist because he doesn’t have “the substantial bodies of work” of the shortlisted translators, but is worth special mention, they say. Some Australians will recognise him as the translator of No friend but the mountains by Kurdish-Iranian poet and Manus Island detainee, Behrouz Boochani. He has also translated a number of articles by Boochani. The judges argue that Tofighian merits this special commendation because of that point about translation allowing “cultures to converse and voices to be heard that might otherwise remain silent”. (Quite coincidentally, I bought No friend but the mountains the other day. The enthusiastic bookseller said it was a great book and specifically told me to read the Translator’s Note! She didn’t need to tell me that because I always do, but I loved that she did. This book had special challenges for the translator because the book arrived via thousands of text messages from Boochani’s phone).
Anyhow, have you noticed something about all this? By far the majority of the translators listed above work with European languages. This is, to me, astonishing – but perhaps it shouldn’t be, given our still obviously Euro-centric attitudes. Are we still so myopic – is that too harsh a word – that we only want to read European literature when we leave our own?
So, hmm, I checked my own reading … and discovered that, since starting this blog, my reading of translated works has been 25% Asian, 15% Latin American, and the rest European (mostly, I admit, Western European), so, who am I to talk?
What about you?
* According to the 2016 Census, just over one-quarter of Australians speak languages other than English at home.