English PEN announces 15 winners of flagship literary translation awards

Fifteen literary translators and their work received high accolades earlier this week, with the announcement of the PEN Translates awards.

English PEN announced the fifteen winners on Tuesday, Jan. 31. The list of winning titles consists of a diverse range of works from 14 different countries and ten languages. Launched in 2012, the award aims to motivate UK-based publishers to acquire, translate, and publish literary works that were originally written in languages other than English.

“The ambition, originality, and variety of works submitted to this round of PEN Translates both warmed the heart and made reaching a final portfolio near-impossible; that ambition, originality, and variety is reflected in the 15 significant works of literature our panel have ultimately selected,” said Will Forrester, English PEN’s translation and international manager.

The publishing companies backing these 15 translation works-in-progress will receive grants from English PEN to help cover the costs of translating and publishing these works, ensuring fair pay for the translators who render the works into English. The grants cover up to 75% of the costs associated with translating each work, though English PEN may cover 100% of these costs for smaller publishers with an annual turnover of less than £500,000.

English PEN assesses submissions for the award based on the literary quality of a work, strength of the publishing project, and its ability to contribute toward the UK’s “bibliodiversity,” a term referring to the diversity of literature available in a given region. In terms of bibliodiversity, English PEN places particular emphasis on recognizing works that come from languages and cultures that are historically underrepresented in the UK literary scene.

“Awarding 15 titles across ten languages, it particularly highlights the work of small publishers investing in books in still-underrepresented languages such as Thai, Hungarian and Belarusian,” said So Mayer, co-chair of the translation advisory group within English PEN.

There are a couple of firsts in this year’s winning lineup:

  • Susan Pickford’s translation of Moussa Konaté’s Headless in Kita is the first title from Mali to earn a PEN Translates award.
  • Sawad Hussain’s translation of Ishraga Mustafa’s Woman of the Rivers is the first memoir written by a Sudanese woman to be translated from Arabic into English.

English PEN has characterized Konaté’s Headless as a piece of “cozy crime fiction,” while Mustafa’s Woman of the Rivers is a work of feminist activism. The full list of this year’s PEN Translates winners can be found on English PEN’s website. And UK publishing companies looking to get in on the next round of PEN Translates awards can apply when submissions open up in May 2023.

Grants like this one are a much-needed aspect of the literary translation landscape. Literary translation is an oft-overlooked aspect of the translation field, with a 2022 report from the European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations finding that experienced literary translators “hardly make a living” from translating literature alone.

The February issue of MultiLingual magazine includes a piece on the role of machines in literary translation. Subscribe now and receive the issue in your mailbox after it prints.

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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