Whether you are a translator, reader, publisher or anyone passionate about literature, International Translation day is always a treat. At its home in the British Library, it is a wonderful opportunity for translators to meet new faces, rekindle old acquaintances, forge links and enjoy the bain de foule that is usually so absent from life at the wordface. This year was no exception. The themes were varied; the rise of the reader was the opening panel with some interesting new insights into the world of readers, publishing and social media from Will Rycroft of Vintage and into digital publishing from Anna Jean Hughes at The Pigeonhole and some controversial remarks about whether writers should be more involved in helping translators to produce better writing…..hrrrmmph. There have already been reactions to this, of course, as most translators feel that they are necessarily both writers and translators; it is just that what they are writing has been imagined for them in another language. There was a nice image put forward by Gaby Wood, of a translation being the source text seen through a pane of glass, with as few smudges as possible. There also plenty of food metaphors – the rise of the reader’s enthusiasm for translated literature likened to our growing curiosity for ‘exotic’ foods. The independent traveller versus the chips, beer and ‘full English’ tourist.
So much to think about and only the first hour! The good thing about ITD is of course that there is always plenty of coffee and biscuits and time to catch up with fellow translators. In between the coffeebreaks, the seminars on offer covered topics such as translator training, selling translated literature, self-publishing and the challenges facing translators in crossing cultural and historical divides. I attended the one on “talking shop” – exploring the role of booksellers in getting the translated books to the readers -and indeed the role of the translator in promoting his or her translation, citing the recent success of Deborah Smith and her translation of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian , which proved how a proactive translator can influence its journey into the world of the readers by promoting it in bookshops and social media. In the afternoon I attended the session on Fifty years of Modern Poetry in Translation with Sasha Dugdale and the magazine’s former editors David and Helen Constantine. It was a fascinating insight into the history of the poetry review over the last half century, emphasising the fact that poetry is not divorced from political reality and that translation plays a key role in making voices heard that might otherwise be silenced. We are all looking forward to MPT’s anthology of work from the last fifty years !
The day was rounded off with a session called from Page to Stage , which thanks to some brilliant actors, gave a taste of the process of transforming a translated play into a piece of live theatre. I think what came out very strongly was that in a translated play as in a translated novel, we are confronted with different cultures, different ways of seeing, and are sometimes made to feel uncomfortable with the ‘foreign’ but that we always find some common human thread that we recognise. That is the skill of the translator. The play may have been set in Belarus but we all knew what the girl meant when she said “Wanker”!
If you want to know more, ITD has been written up in more detail and more eloquently by Kristen Gehrman in her blog http://kristengehrman.com/archives/1542
See you all next year!