Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Updated Stats on Women Published in German

Hello there. I've combed through the autumn catalogues to add to my ongoing stats on original German fiction by gender. Here's the table. I counted first-time hardcover publications written in German, classified by the publishers as "Belletristik", so broadly fiction, essays, poetry. There are 33 publishing houses in the count.

Some publishers are doing really well, publishing equal numbers of make and female (identifying) writers – dtv, DuMont, KiWi, Klett Cotta/Tropen. And some are even bringing out more books by women than by men this autumn: Aufbau, btb, CH Beck, List, Ullstein, Rütten & Loening and notably Matthes & Seitz, with three ladies in their German fiction/Naturkunden catalogue and only one dude.

Everyone else – not so much. There are twenty publishers publishing more men than women and eight houses not bringing us a single female German fiction writer this coming season. All in all, only 37% of original German fiction covered by my count was written by women.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

All The Complaining in One Place

I've written several different articles on the subject of the lack of women in English translation recently. Here are all the links in one place, in order of writing:

Women in Translation: Not Just Bearded Dudes for Bearded Dudes at New Books in German

Women in Translation: Why Does It Matter? at Free Word Centre

Translated fiction by women must stop being a minority in a minority at The Guardian

Der Literaturbetrieb hat ein Problem mit Frauen at Zeit Online

If you'll be at the London Book Fair, we're having an informal meetup to think about how to improve the situation. All welcome: Thursday, 3:30 pm at the English PEN salon. I hope we can now talk some positive talk.


Monday, 25 January 2016

Clemens Meyer Reference Works

I'm on the home straight for my translation of Clemen's Meyer's Im Stein – although we don't have an English title yet. So I thought I'd share my extracurricular reading and reference works for the novel. In order of decreasing naivety.

The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes

Let's Sing Together 

The Penguin Rhyming Dictionary

It's all part of the job. Deutsch für die Polizei

A Dictionary of Marxist Thought


Karl Marx: Capital

Alfred Döblin: Berlin Alexanderplatz


Bobby Cummines: I Am Not a Gangster - Fixer. Armed robber. Hitman. OBE

William T. Vollmann: Whores for Gloria

Rachel Aimee, Eliyanna Kaiser, Audacia Ray (eds.): $pread. The best of the magazine that illuminated the sex industry and started a media revolution

Wolfgang Hilbig, I (trans. Isabel Cole)

David Peace: Tokyo Year Zero

Skip the Games: Escort terms, sex definitions and abbreviations in escort ads

I might have forgotten some.



Saturday, 16 January 2016

My Feelings about My Writers and Your Feelings about David Bowie

I had been puzzled by how strongly people feel about David Bowie's death – the street renamings, the pilgrimages and flowers, the deep sadness, the need to share the tiny encounters or the life-changing effects of particular songs or Top of the Pops appearances. I have a different feeling about death to many people anyway, as a fourth-generation atheist, and have struggled to understand people's reactions in the past. A lot of them felt to me as though people thought the dead person was looking down at them and checking they were behaving suitably. Maybe they did think that, I don't know. When you've never entertained the idea of an afterlife that's hard to relate to. But I have at least learned something about the comforting power of ritual and sharing of grief.

So I had been idly reading various people's responses and it began to dawn on me that I had in fact felt something similar to that one-way devotion to someone who is unaware of your existence. And that's the feeling I have about my writers. I spend months or years mentally immersed in their creative work in a similar way to that time spent listening to favourite songs, poring over lyrics, interpreting their meaning, internalizing the rhythm, singing along at the top of your voice, imagining the song is all about you. Such a joyful teenagerly activity, best performed on a single bed with headphones and spots. I know you don't have to be a teenager to do it; here's the last song that did that to me.

And that's very like what happens to me when I'm translating a novel. It's a work of art that's been created entirely independently of me and even if I know the writer personally, which I usually do but not always, I will always know far more about their work than they do about mine. I will always think I know them far better than they know me – and yes, I know that's wrong thinking. But it's still a joyful activity, wallowing in the writing to create my literary cover versions. Sometimes translators do get romantically involved with their writers. I don't know about that really; it's always a secret yearning, I think, but could it ever be a balanced relationship?

None of my writers has died since I started working on them. It will be devastating, I expect. So now I understand the David Bowie sadness better.




Thursday, 7 January 2016

Happy New Stats

Happy 2016! I was in a less-than-creative mood anyway so I did some counting. I'm working on an article on gender imbalance in translated fiction for New Books in German. And I'd found it impossible to find any statistics on books published in German in the first place. So I combed a selection of publishers' catalogues from Spring 2016 and Fall 2015. For the purpose of comparison with other stats, I've included only fiction (novels, novellas, short story collections but no poetry, drama, essays or children's books) written in German and published for the first time. The publishers are thirty literary, genre, indie, major group-linked, small, large, medium houses – but of course this is by no means a comprehensive list. Anyway, here it is.

You'll notice the numbers are surprisingly low. Only 128 original German-language titles published in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in Spring 16, 144 in Fall 2015. Obviously that's because I haven't made any attempt to cover all publishers. But it's also because a lot of translations come out, especially fiction. In Germany in 2013, 11,894 published first editions fell under "German literature" and 6,164 literary translations were published, according to Buch und Buchhandel in Zahlen 2014.

Adding the two seasons together, books authored by women made up 43% of original fiction in my selection.

Going by a previous count of mine, about 30% of fiction translated from German to English was written by women. So something does seem to be getting lost along the way.


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Last no man's land Event

The online magazine no man's land has been going for ten years now. It started as a side shoot to the Berlin literary magazine and writing lab lauter niemand, with the first issue basically showcasing young German-language writers picked by the team and translated into English. It launched with a bang – my friend Isabel Cole, editor-in-chief throughout, got funding for a print issue, a translation workshop and two readings. I translated one of the texts and attended the events and I remember being very impressed by the whole thing. Since then the magazine has gone online-only (international distribution was too complicated) and relied on submissions of contemporary German poetry and prose from translators. I've been co-editing on the prose side since 2009, alongside (variously) Liesel Tarquini, Alistair Noon and Catherine Hales.

In the meantime, Isabel, Steph Morris and I set up the no man's land translation lab, which is still going strong. It's not rocket science – we meet once a month in a room above a pub and workshop each others' translations – but it has helped forge a very strong literary translation community in Berlin and beyond. I can say it has prompted me to think about and articulate my work in a very clear way and has definitely made me a better translator. Our next lab is on 1 December at 8 p.m., as always in the "library" upstairs at Max & Moritz on Oranienstraße. The format has been adopted by translators in other cities, including Dublin and London. It costs next to nothing and makes me happy.

This Sunday we launch the final issue of no man's land. It will be a bumper issue with some killer pieces by German-language prose writers and poets, plus our first and obviously last literary essay. We also offered the translators a chance to share something about the translation process, which I'm very glad worked out. Ten years feels like a good point to stop and I think we're all proud of the body of work we've accumulated on the website. There are now so many more opportunities for publishing translations than there were ten years ago that we decided it would do no harm for us to stop.

So we're having a party on Sunday. There will be readings from issue #10 and then there will be dancing, with Steph Morris and myself reactivating our old DJ persona Lang 'n' Scheidt (he's very tall; I'm not very good). Retro translator-mafia music, all vinyl, for dancing to. Please come along to ACUD to help us go out with a bang as big as the one we came in with.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Swiss Book Prize to Monique Schwitter

The Schweizer Buchpreis – which goes to German-language books only – has been awarded to Monique Schwitter for her novel Eins im Anderen. I'm pleased because I really enjoyed it. And the judges called it "powerful, humorous and thoughtful". Hooray!