August 22, 2019

Lost in Translation

“When it comes to literary translation, American publishers have a pipeline problem. But not in the way that tech companies use the phrase — saying they don’t hire diverse array of job candidates because there aren’t enough female and minority applicants. Publishing’s problem isn’t one of supply — real or imagined. This pipeline problem comes from flaws in the industry’s acquisitions system that make it nearly impossible for non-Western authors and U.S. publishers to connect.

In 2018, for the second year in a row, American publishers released fewer translated titles: 609 books were published, down from 650 in 2017 and the industry high in 2016 of 666. These books were largely translated from European languages, with roughly 42 percent originally written in Spanish, German, or French. In comparison, only one book was translated from Bosnian. Some languages, like Somali and Burmese, had no representation at all.

While French, German, and other European voices also matter, when you look at the fact that more than 150,000 Somalis live in the U.S. and that the last election welcomed our first Somali-American to Congress, that’s one culture that maybe publishers shouldn’t leave out.”

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