In case you're wondering why they wrote to the family minister, it's because her ministry is officially in charge of the prize.An alteration to the award guidelines for the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis is indispensible and overdue in the following two points:1) The evaluation by the critics' and young people's juries should apply to German-language original works in the categories picture book, children's book, young adults' book and non-fiction.2) German translations of foreign-language works should be honoured separately, i.e. in their own category/categories.After almost sixty years of the award's existence, may German-language children's and young adults' literature finally be adequately acknowledged and valued by the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis, as other countries deal with their own literary production.
Anyway, the open letter did the rounds of the social media, making me feel a little uncomfortable but not enough to keep me up at night. And then today the German literary translators issued a response in a press release containing a long and combative statement by Heike Brandt. Unfortunately, you're going to have to click the link above and then go to "Pressemitteilungen" to get there. I do apologise. A soundbite from the VDÜ's chairman Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel to make up for it:
It is good and important that the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis covers the entire range of children's and young adults' literature published in Germany, originals and translations into German. A national limitation of the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreises would be an untimely and fatal signal. Setting up a prize category for translations would not balance that out.Now you can imagine I'm torn. On the one hand, I want my German writer friends to win prizes for their books. On the other hand I want my German translator friends to win prizes for their books - on a par with all the other books. Because that's precisely what makes this award special: the fact that it's a prize for all children's and young adult's books and doesn't make a false distinction between books written in German and books written in Swedish, English or Hebrew. The upset authors claim it's not a level playing field, however, because translated books have had longer to establish themselves on the market (abroad) and gain attention. They say it's more difficult for books written by German authors to win the prize. I'm not sure about that. A brief glance at the previous winners shows it's a fairly even distribution. In fact in 2011 no translated books won anything, although last year was back to half and half. I suspect this year's nominations might be the straw that broke the camel's back, with only three originals in the running for any of the critics' fiction prizes.
Nevertheless I shall come down from the fence and say that yes, I think it's marvellous that this award treats originals and translations as exactly the same things: great books. On the anecdotal level, my daughter reads German originals, German translations and English originals of all her confusing YA fantasy series, depending on what she gets her hands on. And to back that up, there's the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis young people's jury, who fairly consistently nominate a mix of translated and original titles. I think Germany could be proud not to make a distinction like all those other countries with their narrow-minded national book awards. But then of course I could just be saying that because I'm a translator.
Update: As the very clever writer, translator and YA-lit expert Danny Hahn pointed out, this is exactly how the Dublin IMPAC prize works, and is something to be applauded. And as with the IMPAC prize, the award money either goes to the writer (of a German-language original) or is shared equally between the writer and translator.