Bookshops back Women in Translation campaign

Bookshops back Women in Translation campaign

Bookshops and publishers are throwing their weight behind translated fiction by female authors this August, to highlight gender imbalances in translated literature and to mark Women in Translation Month.

The campaign, first launched by translator and blogger Meytal Radzinski  in 2014, follows figures which have revealed that around a quarter (26%) of literature translated into English was written by women, with only four out of 13 titles in this year's Man Booker International Prize shortlist originally written by female authors.

To attempt to counteract what the London Review Bookshop has called the "depressing" statistics, independent bookshops across the country have created displays and promotions to spotlight translated literature written by women, promoting the campaign on social media using the hashtags #womenintranslation and #WITmonth.

One such bookshop, Five Leaves in Nottingham, has turned its 'Fiction in Translation' section into a 'Women in Translation' display (right), highlighting various titles including Herta Muller’s The Land of Green Plums (Granta, translated by Michael Hofmann) and Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl (Picador, translated by Keith Gessen). The shop intends to make Lina Wolff’s Bret Easton Ellis and Other Dogs (And Other Stories, Frank Perry) its August Book of the Month title, which will be promoted via social media and its mailing list.

Emma Craddock, bookseller at Five Leaves Bookshop, said the lack of translated literature "reflects the traditional patriarchal bias in literature and areas of ‘high culture’, where women’s voices have often been ignored".

"It’s easy to become complacent about such gender imbalances when progress has been made and when it is seen as less of a pressing issue, but it is important to remember and to remind people that, actually, this is still an issue and we need to do something about it," Craddock said.

Pages of Hackney bookshop in east London has created a table display of “excellent books” in translation by women writers, with each member of staff choosing one of the titles as their "staff pick" (below).

Jo Heygate, assistant manager at Pages of Hackney, said: “Although it has improved in recent years, it feels like the UK is way behind other countries in terms of how much literature is published in translation, and a small percentage of those are books by women. Books like Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Trilogy (Europa, translated by Ann Goldstein) and Han Kang's The Vegetarian (Portobello) translated by Deborah Smith -who is a regular visitor to the shop - have paved the way for awareness about women in translation. We're really impressed with what Nichola Smalley [publicity, sales and marketing manager of And Other Stories] is doing to promote women in translation - and we love its list."

Heygate added: “We've sold quite a few books already, flagging them up as a 'I read women in translation' selection has been really successful sales-wise.”

Also supporting the campaign is Norwich's The Book Hive which is allocating part of its window display to promoting female writers in translation - with the added "bonus" of the occasional female translator.

Manager Rory Hill told The Bookseller: “We are always open to promoting different areas of writing, especially ones that could otherwise be overlooked. We stock a lot of fiction in translation and we know it's something our customers enjoy, this way we can specifically highlight female writers, something which needs doing across all areas of publishing and bookselling".

He also spoke of the success the campaign has had so far. “Within a couple of days of the display being up, we've already had people talking about it on social media or coming in to the shop to discuss it face to face," Hill said. "People react well in Norwich to anything like this, we're an inquisitive community.”

The Book Hive is promoting a selection of titles including Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay (Tilted Axis, translated by Arunava Sinha) and Human Acts by Han Kang (Portobello, translated by Deborah Smith).

Keira Brown, bookseller at the Edinburgh Bookshop, said: “There are some great female authors out there that have been translated not only highlighting the talent of these non-English authors but also celebrating the work of the translators. Appreciating the work of females and not only that but the work of females that get translated we are keen to get involved and give women that platform to have their books seen and celebrated within The Edinburgh Bookshop."

The bookshop has put together a "ladder display" of translated titles such as Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend (Europa Editions), Tonke Dragt's Letter for the King (Pushkin Children's) and Tove Jansson's Fair Play (Sort of Books), pictured left.

The London Review Bookshop has created a 16-strong list of translated literature by female authors featuring “underappreciated classics” and “the newest of exciting, inventive fiction” including The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami, (Portobello, translated by Allison Markin Powell), The Blue Room by Hanne Orstavik (Peirene, translated by Deborah Dawkin) and Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El-Saadawi (Zed Books, translated by Sherif Hetata).

Publishers have expressed their gratitude to booksellers for their support, with Titled Axis releasing advance copies of its next title exclusively to independent bookshops.

Publisher of Tilted Axis, Deborah Smith, said: "As all three of our first-year titles are by women, we're well prepared for WIT Month - every month is WIT Month for us! We've seen a lot of our favourite indie bookshops putting Panty front and centre in their displays, which is lovely, so we've decided to release advance copies of our next title, One Hundred Shadows, exclusively to them, as a thank-you for their support."

Daniela Petracco, publisher of Europa Editions, added: "There are many booksellers who are very serious about championing books by women in translation: the whole Ferrante phenomenon would have not taken place without their commitment and belief. I feel grateful to them every day."

"I wholly subscribe to initiatives such as WIT Month, women have still a long way to go in all fields and there is still much work to do," she said. About a third of the authors in translation on our list are women, and counting.  Many of the translators we work with are also women. I have no doubt their number will grow over the next few years."

Stefan Tobler, publisher of And Other Stories, said: “Almost 80% of the books we publish are in translation. But there is an issue in the translation world as a whole: only around 30% of published translations are books written by women. We see efforts to promote literature in translation written by women (of which Women in Translation Month #WITMonth is a key part, as is our commitment in 2018 to have a Year of Publishing Women #YPW2018) as a way to move towards changing this ridiculous situation.”

The Women in Translation display at Ink@84 bookshop in Highbury, London.

In 2018, And Other Stories and Tilted Axis have committed to only publishing books by female writers in 2018, in response to author Kamila Shamsie's call for a Year of Publishing Women to reset the gender imbalance in publishing.

Two new independent publishers, Calisi Press and Les Fugitives, launched last year with the remit of publishing only women in translation.

Translated titles account for around 3% of the overall UK print book market, according to Nielsen BookScan.


A chart of the top 10 bestselling translated fiction print titles so far in 2016:

Top 10 Translated 2016              
Pos Title Author Imprint ISBN RRP Val Vol
1 The Girl in the Spider's Web Lagercrantz, David Maclehose Press 9781848667785 £7.99 £622,542 136,141
2 The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Kondo, Marie Vermilion 9780091955106 £10.99 £531,325 66,637
3 My Brilliant Friend Ferrante, Elena Europa Editions 9781609450786 £11.99 £686,836 65,381
4 Hitman Anders and the Meaning of it All Jonasson, Jonas Fourth Estate 9780008152079 £8.99 £306,181 51,523
5 The Reader on the 6.27 Didierlaurent, Jean-Paul Pan 9781447276494 £7.99 £220,056 36,694
6 The Story of a New Name Ferrante, Elena Europa Editions 9781609451349 £11.99 £307,958 29,786
7 A Whole Life Seethaler, Robert Picador 9781447283904 £7.99 £187,646 28,111
8 Sapiens Harari, Yuval Noah Vintage 9780099590088 £9.99 £197,356 27,339
9 The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep Forssen Ehrlin, Carl-Johan Ladybird 9780241255162 £7.99 £122,552 27,337
10 War and Peace Tolstoy, Leo BBC Books 9781849908467 £7.99 £130,476 26,954