Peirene Press on its new translation prize

Peirene Press on its new translation prize

Independent publisher Peirene Press has launched the Peirene Stevns Translation Prize, a new prize for unpublished translators. We heard more about it from the press's marketing and operations executive Molly Skinner.

Why did you decide to launch the prize?

We normally work with seasoned translators, some multiple times. New translators can often work for years without breaking into the industry as other publishers, like ourselves, commission translators with long lists of works. We decided it was important to try and open up this opportunity to newcomers. The winner will be working closely with an editor to ensure that the finished work will be of a high standard so that we can transmit it for press reviews and prizes. The book will be published as part of our series in 2020. As a publisher who only publishes three books a year, this is a really big deal for us!

Are there any other prizes out there like this?

There are other prizes for unpublished translators, such as the Harvill Secker Prize and the Asymptote Prize. However, neither of these prizes result in publication of a full length work of fiction. These are fantastic initiatives, and whilst winning such a prize will get a new translator closer to a commission, it is no guarantee. Our prize is the first new translator prize to offer publication, to bridge that last step towards what will hopefully be a fruitful translation career!

The prize's announcement referred to translation as a “necessary art form”, why do you think this is?

For us, translation is about opening minds and conversations. A translator unlocks the rest of the world to their reader – without translation we’d live in a hermetically sealed English speaking bubble! In an ever insular age of Brexit and rising Nationalism, we think translation is more necessary than ever.

What is the make up of translated titles on the Peirene list?

Peirene almost exclusively publishes translations – only two books in the past ten years haven’t been direct translations! Our subscriber series is always made up of three world-class translated novels. In 2016 we started Peirene Now! where we commission books about political and socially relevant topics. Of the three books that now make up the Peirene Now! series, one was based on translated interviews, one written in English and one – Shatila Stories, a novel written by nine Syrian & Palestinian refuges – was translated from Arabic. Simply put, translation is our bread and butter.


What are your thoughts on the UK’s translated literature market? 

I think the UK’s translation market, whilst small, is mighty. Readers are becoming more and more aware of translated literature with hugely successful writers such as Elena Ferrante and Han Kang brining a new audience of readers. I also think translated literature represents an outward looking perspective and encourages empathy – by reading translated literature you’re actively engaging in social good, I think this is something readers are looking for.

Why did you choose Italian as the language for the inaugural prize?

We wanted to begin the prize with a widely studied language in order to reach the most entrants for the first year. This is vital in raising the prize’s profile and ensuring we can continue. We also found a fantastic Italian book which certainly swayed it for us!

Will you open the prize up to other languages in the future?

The current plan is to have the prize focus on a new language each year, so if you’re a budding translator – but Italian isn’t your forte – watch this space!

The prize’s entrants are asked to translate Neve, Cane, Piede by Claudio Morandini. How did you select this text?

Every year we assess a number of books, hand picking them for our subscription service. Each book we select has been a best seller in its home country. Sometimes we find books at book fairs, other times we’ll have a passionate reader email us to demand we commission a translation of their favourite work. Eventually, we’ll find three books that work together and fit with the Peirene style. Neve, Cane, Piede by Claudio Morandini is a brilliant book that has already been translated into four languages. It was about time it was translated into English.

What are you looking for in the entries?

The judges will be looking for a translator who is not only faithful to the original but has their own unique way of seeing the text. An accurate translation is a slippery thing, word for word accuracy may not reflect the rhythm and poetry of the original whereas a flamboyant translator might lose the meaning. That’s the fine line all translators tread.

Judged by author Amanda Craig, editor and translator Gesche Ipsen and Peirene Press’s publisher Meike Zierogel, the winning translator will receive £3,500, a residency in the Pyrenees, and the publication of their novel.

For more information visit the prize’s website