December 16, 2015
Siren İdemen wins inaugural Talât Sait Halman Translation Prize
by Chad Felix
In the wake of the death of influential poet, cultural critic, historian and professor Talât Sait Halman in 2014, the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) has established the Talât Sait Halman Translation Award, a new prize honoring Halman by supporting “outstanding translations of literary works, including but not limited to poetry, short stories and novels.” Halman served as Turkey’s first Minister of Culture and was President of the İKSV’s Board of Trustees.
This past week, almost a year to the day since Halman’s passing on December 5, 2014, the Hurriyet Daily News reports that the inaugural Talât Sait Halman Translation Award was awarded to Siren İdemen for her translation of Georges Perec’s La Boutique Obscure: 124 Rêves.
On the occasion, Doğan Hızlan, head of the five-person committee that selected the winner, stated:
İdemen not only reflected the author’s original style and dialect with her full command of Turkish but also came up with creative equivalents for the frequent words, sounds and wicked rhymes predominant in the original.
While doing that, she did not omit cultural substrata and superstrata of the original but brought the original to the reader, by either giving footnotes or imbedding in the translation.
İdemen’s work—and its recognition by the İKSV committee—is worth highlighting for another reason, too. Unsurprisingly, women writers and translators are horribly underrepresented in the world of literary translation, as Alison Anderson revealed in an article for Words Without Borders in 2013. You may have heard that only 3% of books published in English are translations—well, Anderson’s discoveries are even more dire: take that 3% and quarter it—that’s the percentage of women writers published in translation. And the numbers only get worse when you consider women translators. As of this year, only five women translators have been awarded the PEN Translation Prize, and it’s worth mentioning that two of these women—Joanne Turnbull for Autobiography of a Corpse (NYRB Classics) and Denise Newman for Baboon (Two Lines Press)—were honored in the last two years. While Anderson’s findings were specific to the English-speaking world, translation is a global initiative.
With that in mind, the Talât Sait Halman Translation Prize is off to a good start, one that will hopefully continue to invigorate and advance the community to which Halman dedicated much of his life.
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.