As you may know I'm part of a team trying to get a prize off the ground for fiction by women in translation. We've all noticed that books by women don't get translated as often as books by men, and we're still puzzling over why that is and what can be done about it. But in order to make our case more convincingly, we need some statistics.
So for that purpose, I’ve done a count of books published in the UK and Ireland in 2013. I culled the main part from the British Library catalogue by searching with “translated by” and “translated from” and “2013”. Because we want to look at fiction in a fairly limited sense for our prize, I didn’t include children’s or YA books, poetry, plays, reprints/reissues or memoir/literary non-fiction (for example, Florian Illes’ 1913 is not included). I did include books published by houses based elsewhere but with a UK/Ire office (Seagull, Dalkey Archive, Europa Editions). It was immediately obvious that there were some titles missing, so I also looked at those catalogues I found online for 2013 from publishers that were already on the list, plus things like an English PEN blog piece featuring UK editors talking about the translations they were looking forward to publishing in 2013. I’m certain there are still gaps in the list, but here it is:
List of UK/Ireland-published translated fiction, 2013
There are now 307 books in total, 82 of them written by women (in the case of anthologies, they all included more men than women so I counted them as male). That gives us a figure of 27%.
I also went through the stats collected by Literature Across Frontiers, on translated literature published in the UK and Ireland in the years 2000 and 2008. This data is different to my list for a number of reasons: It includes children’s books, translated books on literature, poetry, plays, reissues and a few duplicates like large-print editions. For our purposes, I only listed each name once, even when a writer had several books out in one year, and I didn’t include writers where I was unable to establish via a quick search whether they were men or women. I also left out Latin, ancient Greek, Old Norse and Old English, because I figured women really couldn’t write in those days.
For both years, 24% of the authors whose books were translated into English were women.
Here are a few observations I’ve picked up along the way:
Women writers are better represented in translated children’s books and crime fiction.
Northern European women are better represented than women writers from other parts of the world.
In 2013, I found no translated fiction by Russian women but all three Greek writers I found were women.
In the literatures that are traditionally more heavily imported, 13 women were translated from German (out of 44), 12 from French (out of 52), 7 from Italian (out of 28) and 6 from Spanish (out of 25). Yay German!
Classics tend to be a male-only domain (no surprises there).
I haven’t found any international statistics on books originally published in the various languages. My assumption though is that the imbalance in part reflects that women are actually published less in certain cultures. However, they are also less recognized in most literary cultures (as in the Anglophone world), which adds to the imbalance.
I'd like to ask people, translators and publishing people especially, to take a look at my list via the first link above and check whether there are any books missing. You can let me know in the comments section. Many thanks - and enjoy browsing!