Working with emerging translators around the world

Translators into English are hugely important. They are bridges between literary cultures, uniquely placed to do all of the following:

  • Make books in other languages accessible to English-language readers
  • Represent their writers in English, including at events
  • Give expert commentary on literary cultures and contexts
  • Produce sample translations to pave the way for new publications in English
  • Give a presence, in the world’s biggest language, to unheard voices from around the world
  • Make urgent political messages heard around the world
  • Offer solidarity across linguistic divides

English PEN’s Writers in Translation programme has always championed the work of translators through publisher grants. Translators serve on the programme’s committee, feature in many of our events and of course contribute to PEN Atlas. Over the coming decade we want to work more directly with translators, recognising their pivotal role in world literature. One area of particular interest is working with emerging translators from historically under-represented languages, to develop skills and networks to share their literatures with Anglophone audiences.

Dhaka, Bangladesh – 2014/2015
In 2014/15 we worked with Commonwealth Writers, BCLT and Comma Press (UK partners) and the Dhaka Translation Centre and Bengal Lights (Bangladesh partners) to deliver two workshops for emerging translators from Bangla to English. Bangla is the tenth biggest language in the world (by number of speakers), but Bangla voices are almost completely absent in English translation. A group of ten translators took part in the workshops and receiving six months of mentoring. The final outcome is an anthology of contemporary writing, The Book of Dhaka, translated by the participants and published in Bangladesh by Bengal Lights and in the UK by Comma Press [launch details forthcoming]. Read a report on the first workshop by Commonwealth Writers’ programme officer Emma D’Costa, listen to a podcast featuring workshop leader Arunava Sinha and author Shaheen Akhtar (interpreted by Mohammad Mahmudul Haque) and read a PEN Atlas blog about the launch of The Book of Dhaka at Dhaka Literary Festival by arts editor of the Dhaka Tribune, Rifat Munim.

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania – 2016/2017
In November 2016, we worked with Commonwealth Writers (UK) and E&D Readership and Development Agency–Soma (Tanzania) to deliver a week-long workshop for emerging translators from Kiswahili to English. The workshop leaders were poet Richard Mabala and SOAS academic Ida Hadjivayanis. Ten translators, from across mainland Tanzania, Zanzibar isles and Kenya, congregated in Dar es Salaam to take part. Kiswahili is the lingua franca of East Africa and yet Kiswahili writers are very rarely translated into English. Read a report on the first workshop by Esther Karin Mngodo, one of the emerging translators who took part. Watch this space for updates on this workshop and next steps!

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