Tuesday, Aug 09, 2022

Good News For Indian Translators: New PEN Initiative Aims To Fund Unpaid Translations

PEN Presents is a new program by PEN English to support funding for sample translations and the program will be taking submissions from Indian translators as well.

A new project aims to raise funding and appreciation for unpaid translation work.
A new project aims to raise funding and appreciation for unpaid translation work. Getty Images

Translations are a must for any work of literature to get a wider audience and often form the bedrock of literary diversity. However, translators are not often given their due and remain unnoticed players in the literary world. The new Booker Prize win for a translated work of literature, however, has brought the focus back on the art of translation and the often invisible artists who perform the complex task.

Amid praise for Geetanjali Shree and Daisy Rockwell's joint Booker Prize win for the translated novel 'Tomb of Sand', global NGO English Pen has announced a new programme to support and encourage translators. The program, known as PEN Presents, is meant to support sample translations.

English PEN was founded in 1921 and is one of the first global NGOs that started working for human rights. It is also the founder of PEN International, a consortium of writers spread across over a hundred nations. The new program will enable translators to get funding for a shortlist of submissions to cover the often-unpaid work of translating a sample. The program will initially run in 2022–23 but the organisers aim for it to become a permanent, long term programme. 

In good news for Indian translators, the program will also be taking a first round of submissions focusing on the literature of the languages of India. The program will also include a digital showcase of selected samples which will be promoted to publishers. 

Need for funding unpaid translators

The initiative aims to address the need for funding for the unpaid labour of sample translations, which is vital for increasing accessibility among the literary translation community and also make it more diverse. 

The program is the culmination of a 2021 research collaboration between English PEN and Translating Women. The study included consultations with translators, agents, publishers and literary organisations. It found a widespread desire among all stakeholders for an initiative supporting and showcasing sample translations. The program will help in connecting publishers with literature from underrepresented languages and regions, thus helping diversify the translated literature landscape. 

As per the announcement put out by English PEN, the initiative is meant to blossom into a "long-term programme, which will open for submissions every six months, alternating between a call for language-, region- or genre-specific projects, and an open call for works from any geography and language. Focussed calls will centre regions and languages without established support or infrastructure for literary translation, or with a paucity of representation in UK publishing". 

How the PEN Presents program will work

- The selection of submissions will be overseen by English PEN’s Translation Advisory Group co-chairs Preti Taneja and So Mayer

- A panel of independent experts will be tasked with selecting a shortlist of the submissions. Shortlisted applicants will be awarded a grant to translate a 5,000-word sample of the project.

- A panel of seven experts from across the sector will select six samples from the shortlist to be showcased in an issue on the PEN Presents' online catalogue.

- Selected projects will be given editorial support by English PEN, who will showcase the samples to UK publishers and connect translators with editors.

Indian translations on a high

The last decade has seen a range of literary translations in India. A new generation of translators, an emerging focus of publishers on literary translations, and some prestigious fellowships for translations are not only bringing global attention to desi writers but also offering a rich diversity of books for the reader. With Geetanjali Shree’s Ret Samadhi, translated into English as Tomb of Sand, winning the International Booker Prize this year, the literary discourse in India has firmly shifted to translations with many publishers looking to promote works of translation. 

READ MORE: Translations On A New High In India After Geetanjali Shree's Booker Win