15 August 2016

6 Reasons Why You Should Be Reading More Women in Translation

Posted by Nicky Smalley

1. Literature written by women deserves greater critical recognition.
There’s been lots of talk lately about the gender imbalance in books, with statistics showing that while the number of female and male writers being published may be roughly equal, men are much more likely to get reviewed in the media, and be awarded literary prizes. Does this mean that books written by women aren’t as good? Seems unlikely. What is more likely is a sort of institutional bias against those books, and if we want to change that, people across the board need to be reading and talking about books written by women, and demanding they are given the critical attention they deserve.

2. Literature in translation is too important to be pushed to the sidelines
At the same time, we hear that translations make up a tiny percentage of the books published and bought in the UK. And that means UK readers are missing out on much of the brilliant literature written around the world in languages other than English. It means we’re not even getting the chance to hear voices that could open our minds to new ways of thinking. At And Other Stories, we want to give some of those voices a platform. That’s why around 80% of the books we publish are in translation.

3. Women are too important to be pushed to the sidelines of those sidelines!
Over recent years, books written by women have made up around a quarter of the books that get translated. There are a number of reasons for this: women may be less likely to get published in their home country; they might be less likely to get critical acclaim; the books that get translated are generally ones that have achieved significant success in the original. Whatever the reasons, it means we as readers of English are even more restricted in our reading options. Not only do we miss out on everything but a tiny fraction of the voices and perspectives in world literature, those perspectives are overwhelmingly male.This is something we at And Other Stories are determined to address with our Year of Publishing Women in 2018.

4. We all need to read more widely
I’ve been talking about the need to read women in translation, and about different voices in perspectives. But it’s not just that. For most of us, our reading habits are pretty narrow. Whether that means reading mostly books written by men, or books originally written in English, or books written by middle class people from Europe, it’s good to step outside that narrow focus. The blogger Meytal Radzinski argues pretty convincingly for this here. In doing so, we open ourselves up to welcome surprises, something that can encourage us to continue to seek out a broader range of perspectives and experiences, thereby enhancing our understanding of other people.

5. Achieving success in English translation can have an impact on authors in their home country
And Other Stories recently published the Swedish author Lina Wolff’s fantastic novel Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs in English. It got great reviews. When her new book came out in Sweden recently, her success in English translation was mentioned by her publishers and in the media. The dominance of English-language literature around the world means that being translated into English is a big deal. If books written by men are over-represented in English translation, they are given even more importance in their home countries.

6. Because it’s the best of the best
Given these odds, it’s a pretty sure bet that if a book written by a woman does make it into English translation, it’s going to be good. So what are you waiting for?

August is Women in Translation Month. See our recommendations for fiction, essays, poetry and children's, or follow the hashtag #WITMonth.