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Literary Translators: Unsung Heroes of the Literary World

Today, let’s take a moment to highlight some of the unsung heroes of the publishing world: Literary translators.

Literary translators do not have an easy job. Books, short stories, and poems can be quite challenging to translate.  For example, word play, slang, and humor often lose meaning if they’re translated word-for-word. They have to be carefully rewritten to create the same effect in the target language as they do in the original.

So literary translation is difficult, but it’s also extremely valuable.

Why is Literary Translation Important?

Literary translation is important for a number of reasons. Translation introduces authors to new audiences and readers to new worlds. It promotes understanding and empathy between cultures.  It preserves ideas and knowledge and helps transmit those ideas across time and space.

Literary Translators: Unsung, Outshined, and Underpaid

But literary translators are clearly not in it for the glory.  As Tim Parks noted last year in the New York Review of Books, “Glory, for the translator, is borrowed glory. There is no way around this. Translators are celebrated when they translate celebrated books.”

If they are successful, the author gets the credit. Of course, the author deserves most of the credit. But literary translation is an art, too. Read more

Difficulties of translating books

The Challenges of Translating Literature

Literary translation is the translation of creative and dramatic prose and poetry into other languages. This includes the translation of literature from ancient languages and the translation of modern fiction so that it can reach a wider audience.

Why is literary translation important?

Literary translation is of huge importance. It helps to shape our understanding of the world around us in many ways. Reading Homer and Sophocles as part of a classical education in school helps to build an understanding of history, politics, philosophy and so much more. Meanwhile, reading contemporary translations provides fascinating insights into life in other cultures and other countries. In a fast-paced world so rife with misunderstanding and confusion, such efforts to share knowledge and experiences across cultural boundaries should be applauded.

The history of literary translation

An entire history of literary translation is far too big for the scope of a single article. Indeed, The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English runs to five whole volumes, such is the depth and complexity of the subject. Suffice to say that literary translation has been taking place for thousands of years.

History has seen countless translators come and go. Many of their names we will never know, but some – King Alfred the Great and Geoffrey Chaucer, for example, who both translated Boethius from the original Latin – had the power and influence to ensure that their translation efforts were not lost to the sands of time. Read more