Two literary translations shortlisted for $60,000 prize in Canada

Two of the five titles shortlisted for this year’s Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize — a prestigious Canadian literary award encompassing a $60,000 prize — were translated from French to English.

The books Manam by Rima Elkouri and Querelle of Roberval by Kevin Lambert were originally written in French by Quebecois writers — the Writer’s Trust of Canada has shortlisted their English translations for this year’s award. Each finalist will receive $5,000, however the winner of the award earns a grand prize of $60,000. The award is also a welcome prize for the literary translators who helped produce the English translations of the work — 25% of the monetary awards go to the translators if a translated work earns a prize or finalist spot.

The Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize — named for Canadian writers Margaret Atwood and the late Graeme Gibson — recognizes the best novel published in Canada each year. If Elkouri or Lambert’s work win, it would be the first time a novel in translation won the award in the prize’s 25-year history.

Translators Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott worked to translate Elkouri’s Manam, while Donald Winkler translated Lambert’s Querelle of Roberval. The three other works on the shortlist include Nicholas Herring’s Some Hellish, Darcy Tamayose’s Ezra’s Ghosts, and Saeed Teebi’s Her First Palestinian.

Recently published data from the European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations found that experienced literary translators “hardly make a living.” Some literary translators commented on MultiLingual’s coverage of the survey acknowledging that for them, literary translation mostly serves as a side project in addition to other work, since it’s difficult to earn a living wage while focused solely on literary translation. While the situation varies from country to country, the pay isn’t great even in countries where literary translators tend to earn more: for example, an average literary translator working on a 200-page book in Iceland would typically earn around €7,000.

With that in mind, receiving the Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize would be a particularly pivotal moment in a literary translator’s career, as the translators would receive a $15,000 award for their efforts. 

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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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