I forgot to say at this interview that a blog is a wonderful platform for a nice private rant. And here's one that's been brewing for a while, after we talked about it at our recent workshop: when publishers or event organisers fly a writer in for readings (mostly to Germany) and then put her on stage with an actor to read the translation - often even in the actual city where the translator lives.
I've heard similar anecdotes a number of times, and even accompanied translators to events where they sat unacknowledged in the audience while an actor read the words they wrote. Let me tell you, that's pretty humiliating. It seems that people aren't picking up on the idea of simply asking the translator whether she'd like to do that job, at least if she's going to be there anyway. Is it a communications breakdown?
My German translator friends tell me they sometimes get an email from an editor they work with saying, Hey, guess what, your author's going to be in town on Tuesday! Would you like to come along? Worse still: Hey, guess what, your author was in town last Tuesday! Why didn't you come along? Whereas what ought to be happening, in an ideal world, is that the editor informs the translator the minute they know the writer is coming over, and asks her whether she'd like to read from her translation.
German publishing houses will often have people who take care of events
specifically, because readings are very important for the literary
landscape here. And I'm guessing that these people may sometimes be the loose
connection where things are going wrong. I don't know enough about how these things work so I'm moving on thin ice here, but my next guess is that if someone other than the publisher organises an event with a translated writer, which is very often the case, they won't have the information about the translator. And that's where I think the publisher's events people could easily step in and say, Ah, my file here says the writer's translator lives in your city! I'll send you her contact details so you can ask if she'd like to read.
Or, as a friend pointed out, authors will often have had some contact with their translator in advance. They could possibly get in touch too and ask that all-important question.
Of course not everyone's going to say yes. Some people would rather not read in front of an audience, which is fine. Or they might hate the writer's guts, in which case they probably wouldn't want to share the same space. But in many cases, a translator of a specific text has specific insights and can read that text better than an actor could. A case in point is Ingo Herzke, a Hamburg-based translator who holds readings with his writer A.L. Kennedy. In fact - as if by magic, the perfect best-practice example - he's chairing an event with her at the LCB next Thursday. And need I mention Hamburg's most famous translator, beardo extraordinaire Harry Rowohlt? A man who makes a living out of reading his translations better than anyone else possibly could? The German translators' association offers regular events helping people to train for readings. Event organisers - think of all you're missing out on!
In the other direction, i.e. when translated writers get invited to the UK, I've had some very positive experiences of being put on the podium, not only to interpret and read but also to share a couple of insights. I try not to hog the limelight too much. But of course translated literature has a very different status there than it does in Germany, where it's much less exotic.
I shall be reading in Berlin soon. I just thought I'd mention that. I was delighted to be asked.
Update: Please read the comments section for a detailed description of the event organiser's view!