The team at Bookworm Translations were very interested to learn about the PEN Promotes strand of English PEN’s Writers in Translation programme, which has been promoting literature in translation since 2005, and is supported by Bloomberg.
Each year, a committee of professionals (translators, writers, agents, publishers, booksellers, etc) sits down and reads through a vast amount of submitted material. They select between eight to ten books that are translated into English from a wide variety of foreign languages, and then award grants to UK publishers to help promote, market and champion these titles. The grants are open to all UK publishers for works that are under contract to be translated into and published in English. The programme will consider fiction, non-fiction, poetry and also includes Children’s literature. All works submitted to the programme must adhere to PEN’s aims, and should either explore a freedom of expression or human rights issue or contribute in some way towards inter-cultural understanding through illuminating an aspect of another country or culture.
In essence, this is a prize, except that it seems fairer and more rigorous than most prizes, and there are multiple winners each time. Their aim is to celebrate books of exceptional literary value and which are relevant to the PEN charter. Publishers can use the grants to transform the fortunes of important books which have been previously ignored for a variety of reasons. More information about the application process can be found here.
Max Porter, Commissioning Editor at Granta Books and a member of the Writers in Translation Committee at English PEN, shares his experience of selecting winners:-
“It has been a privilege coming into contact with some of the best and bravest works of literature being written in the world. The range of submissions is truly encouraging, given what a narrow and anglocentric cultural environment we inevitably operate in. When I first joined I was a bookseller and being on the committee changed the books I sold, the events I arranged and the way I thought about the written word in a global context. I became obsessed with translation, what it means, what it can do, the dangers, joys and possibilities. I went out of my way to support small presses who were being ignored or squashed in an industry that increasingly serves the monopolizing big-guns. […] There is astonishingly good literature out there; unexpected, humane, mischievous, rebellious; vital work, and the committee can help it reach more people. Looking back at some of the titles promoted in the last five years there’s a lot of colossally good books, but more importantly, books that have changed how we see the world. If we can get these books into shops and libraries, and help these voices be heard, for freedom of speech or the joy of reading, then we’ll be pleased.”
These are the books the committee has supported over the years. Have you read or translated any of these books? Do you have any involvement with PEN and if so, what are you links to this organisation? We would love to hear your views about this initiative, which, as far as we’re concerned, is a fantastic way to promote literature in translation and to open up communication channels between nations and languages.