National Book Awards opens up to translated books

National Book Awards opens up to translated books

America’s National Book Awards will reportedly expand to recognise works in translation.

The National Book Foundation has created a fifth award, one for translated works of fiction and non-fiction published in the US, according to the New York Times. The new category will be given jointly to authors and translators for titles that are published in America. International authors who write in English won’t be eligible.

The decision was reportedly made unanimously by the foundation’s board of directors, in an effort to draw attention to works in translation, which are often neglected by American readers and publishers.

The Foundation said the step was taken "to broaden readership for global voices and spark dialogue around international stories", according to Publishers Weekly. It will join the other four categories—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people’s literature—as a permanent prize and is only the second time in a quarter-century that a prize category has been added to the National Book Awards.

The prize broadened its scope in the 1960s and 1970s before scaling back “drastically” to only two awards, according to the New York Times. It has since expanded from the two prizes for fiction and non-fiction to also including poetry and young people’s literature.

The National Book Awards, which were founded in 1950 to celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience and helps books have a prominent place in American culture.

“This is an opportunity for us to influence how visible books in translation are,” Lisa Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation told PW. “The less we know about the rest of the world, the worse off we are. We are a nation of immigrants, and we should never stop seeking connection and insight from the myriad cultures that consistently influence and inspire us. We want American readers to deeply value an inclusive, big-picture point of view, and the National Book Award for Translated Literature is part of a commitment to that principle.”

“It goes to the mission of the organization, which is at its essence, to increase the impact of great books on the culture,” said David Steinberger, chairman of the board of directors of the National Book Foundation. “There were so many deserving books that we were never able to recognize.”

There is little data available on the sales of translated books in the US but it is believed by many to equate to around 3% while in the UK, the number is believed to be around 5% according to research published in 2016.

The New York Times described how although there are a rising number of publishers specializing in international literature, including Europa Editions, Archipelago Books, AmazonCrossing and Tilted Axis, translated literature still accounts for a “tiny percentage” of books published in the US.