Thursday, March 30, 2006

PEN World Voices: The New York Festival of International Literature, April 25-30, 2006

Like many if not most literary translators, my curiosity about foreign literature long predated my first translation attempts. It was part of the whole package--the vast array of backdrops provided by the great, wide world, the languages they spoke, the paintings, music, and architecture they created, the literature they wrote. This curiosity is fundamental to human nature at its best, it seems to me, witness the expanded interest we've seen in our lifetime in foreign literature written in English. If the number of books published by writers from India, Canada, Ireland, Australia, Anglophone Africa and the Caribbean, to say nothing of the immigrants from elsewhere who write in English, is any measure, then this is a viable part of U.S. publishing and, I would argue, a strong argument in favor of publishing more foreign literature in translation.

If foreign literature, whether written in English or translated, is your own true love, too, then you might check out PEN World Voices: The New York Festival of International Literature, to be held at various venues in Manhattan. The list of writers participating is impressive and reflects this mingling I've mentioned, of original English and translated authors: Salman Rushdie and Boris Akunin; Roberto Calasso and Nadine Gordimer; Huang Xiang and Chinua Achebe, and many many more.

I attended the festival last year, and although the larger, higher-profile events can be worthwhile, the best ones are more intimate, just two or three writers in conversation, or a reading at a bar. Demand is high for the big names, so be sure to sign up in advance and be prepared for lines, but if you go, I think you'll be glad you did. PEN is now steadily updating its information on the event at its website:

One caveat. Last year being the first time PEN attempted this, they did not do a good job of crediting translators. It was the classic case of me scratching my head trying to figure out what had and hadn't been written in English originally. The PEN Translation Committee was painfully aware of the problem at the time and vowed to improve the situation this year. I won't be able to attend this time, but if any of you do, I'd be interested to hear what improvements they've made for the translators.

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