Last week, Three Percent announced longlists for the 2015 Best Translated Book Award in both fiction and poetry, and the nominees have already been blogged, tweeted, and pinterested hundreds of times. (About 570 times, in fact, according to Google.)
The Best Translated Book awards, which Three Percent has been giving out since 2007, are an excellent opportunity to bring attention to translated literature and to the achievements of talented translators.
But isn’t it time for Three Percent to stop rewarding publishers who take translators’ copyrights?
This year, five of the books on the fiction longlist ( that is, one-fifth of the list) were translated by translators whose copyright ended up in someone else’s hands.
- Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay | Author: Elena Ferrante; translated by Ann Goldstein | Publisher: Europa Editions
- Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires | Author: Julio Cortázar; translated by David Kurnick | Publisher: Semiotext(e)
- Adam Buenosayres | Author: Leopoldo Marechal; translated by Norman Cheadle and Sheila Ethier | Publisher: McGill-Queen’s University Press
- 1914 | Author: Jean Echenoz; translated by Linda Coverdale | Publisher: New Press
- The Last Lover | Author: Can Xue; translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen | Publisher: Yale University Press
Three Percent’s support for literary translation in the U.S. is unparalleled. For all their good work, however, in this area the folks at Three Percent are falling down on the job.
The six translators on their fiction longlist—Ann Goldstein, David Kurnick, Norman Cheadle and Sheila Ethier, Linda Coverdale, and Annelise Finegan Wasmoen—deserve support, too, as do the literally hundreds of other English-language translators who each year lose something that rightfully belongs to them: their copyrights.
So why is Three Percent still nominating books by publishers who take translators’ copyrights?
Three Percent’s claim that its purpose is to change a reality in which “most translations go virtually unnoticed and never find their audience” means very little without an acknowledgment that behind every published translation is a contract negotiation—not infrequently one in which the translator is at a disadvantage.
Three Percent takes its name from its estimate that only about 3% of all books published in the United States are works in translation.
But here’s another figure: 57%.
In 2014, that was the percentage of translators in book publishing (university-press and commercial) whose copyrights were lost to their publishers.
Let’s not let that number get lost in the congratulations.
Sign the petition, “Put A Stop To Copyright Rustling!“