This post is related to my trip to the London Book Fair 2014 (see my earlier blog post), and covers my notes and though from when I attended the seminar:

Where are the Women in Translation?

I thought this was a really interesting discussion between a 4 woman panel, watched by a mainly female audience! Important points were made:

  • Gatekeeping seems to be keeping female translators from getting into the market.
  • Only 2 women were on the longlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize last year and 1 got to the shortlist.
  • No female authors have won the IFFP but 9 female translators have shared the prize with their male authors.
  • Apparently some women are sexist against women in translation (?)
  • Women are not as assertive as men – female translators have more things to do (day jobs, raising a family, etc) and have less time to pitch books.
  • Some people think it’s OK to not publish women’s books, but if they were gay, black, etc, there would be a riot!
  • There’s a “chicken and egg” situation: women are not being published because they don’t pitch books, and there’s an anecdotal belief that women don’t sell, so they don’t do it.
  • Men only read men’s books, but women will read anything.
  • Women might be of high regard in their home country, but they’re struggling to get into foreign book markets, even though the men have no problem anywhere!
  • Men’s books are still being studied more in universities, and there’s few women’s books on academic booklists.
  • Good books may be coming out but they disappear immediately because there are no reviews of them, whether good or bad!

There was a discussion about the situation in Korea, and Krys Lee pointed out:

  • A few decades ago it was all male translators, and now there are lots of women.
  • More women are winning prizes.
  • The staff in the Korean publishers may be women, but the big decisions are still being made by men.
  • Korean literature is supported by the government, with translators being funded from a young age.

The panel suggested ways to solve the problem with the lack of women in translation:

  • Boycott the London Review of Books because they don’t feature enough books in translation by women.
  • Start a manifesto.
  • Demand diversity.
  • Vote with your feet: people need to read more books by women in translation.
  • Raise awareness.

There was also an interesting bit about covers on books by women, with them being given stereotypical covers with naked women on them and marketed as “chick lit” when they are not that genre. It was felt that people should “let books be books” (like in the recent campaign against gender-biased covers in Children’s books suggests -see the Guardian for more info), and get rid of the naked women on the covers because they are not like lad’s magazines, but maybe such covers should be covered up so people only judge them by their title not their cover! (After all, there have been campaigns to put blank covers over the fronts of lad’s magazines in shops to hide the photos of naked women on them because they are inappropriate.)

I really enjoyed the seminar, and learnt a lot from it! I’m determined to find some of these great female authors and translators and get their books the attention they deserve!

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