March 7, 2018
The TA Translation Prize hopes to shed light on the tireless work that sustains translated literature
by Alex Primiani
I don’t know where you were last Thursday, March 1, but we here at Melville House were eagerly following the new TA First Translation Prize on Twitter for the announcement of their inaugural winner. Our very own break-out novel The Queue—and its writer and translator, Basma Abdel Aziz and Elisabeth Jaquette, respectively, as well as editor Taylor Sperry—was one of the finalists. Alas-but-also-hooray, the award went to another deserving team, and its creator, Daniel Hahn, went to the Guardian to discuss just how much we need an award dedicated to the art of translation.
Literary translation is a difficult profession to break into. Plenty of people want to do it, but in the insular English-speaking world, there’s regrettably little work to go around, and it’s easier for publishers to entrust their books to already-known translators who are seen as less of a risk. But there are many benefits to widening our pool of working translators, not least because new translators often lead us to meet new writers. More than half of the books submitted for the TA first translation prize are debuts for their translators as well as English-language debuts for their authors, showing that translators are in the vanguard of literary change.
Hahn also (rightfully) acknowledges all the collaborative partnerships that come together to help bring new works to a global audience. From agents championing their writers’ work, to the editors who help direct the process, to the translators who actually bring the work to life, this prize hopes to honor all of them.
In 2017, Hahn partnered with the Society of Authors and the British Council to launch the prize, using half of the International Dublin Literary Award money he received for his own work translating José Eduardo Agualusa’s A General Theory of Oblivion. What a saint!
At the Bookseller, Katherine Cowdrey includes Hahn’s reasoning behind this decision: “I was very fortunate to have been named as one of the winners of the International Dublin Literary Award, alongside my friend José Eduardo Agualusa (the first writer I ever translated). Obviously, I’m as broke as the next translator, but the prize pot of the IDLA is so generous that even half of it is a sizeable amount to keep; so, I’m giving the other half to support the first few years of a new prize, which will be run by the Society of Authors.”
The TA Translation Prize is in its first year, and the committee’s selection is impressive: Five out of the six shortlisted titles were by women, and one title, The Sad Part Was, is the first translated work of modern Thai to be published in the UK. Of course, we were delighted and honored to see The Queue included in the shortlist, and we send our heartfelt congratulations to the winners: Svetlana Alexievich, translator Bela Shayevich, and editor Jacques Testard, for Second-Hand Time, Alexievich’s first book to be published in English after her 2015 Nobel Prize win.
Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.