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On Friday, Kings Place played host to London’s annual International Translation Day event, now in its third year.  Despite having already moved to the bigger venue after being oversubscribed in its former home (the Free Word Centre), it seems there was a waiting list this year too. As Rose Fenton, Free Word Director, said in her welcome speech, it’s all ”testimony to the increasing interest in and importance of literature in translation.” And quite rightly so. So when it comes to planning next year’s event, as I said, bigger boat…

The wonderful thing about ITD is that it celebrates the wonderful work and progress taking place in the translation industry every single day. This is an exciting time for literary translation: new initiatives, trailblazing independent publishers, mentoring schemes encouraging the next generation and securing the legacy of everything that’s been achieved so far… And ITD 2012 didn’t disappoint; it was an inspirational day packed full of lively debate, familiar and new faces, and an overriding sense of positivity.

The programme kicked off with a panel discussion on the ‘State of the Nation’, led by the wonderful and seemingly omnipresent Daniel Hahn. The panelists (publisher Christopher Maclehose, Foyles’ Jonathan Ruppin, Literature Across Frontiers director Alexandra Büchler and Indie literary editor Boyd Tonkin) addressed the profile of translated literature in modern Britain, looking at how attitudes have changed (or where they have not), and the impact of various schemes and initiatives. Those of us involved in the Emerging Translators Network were delighted to get a mention in Christopher Maclehose’s opening speech, and hope more potential ETN’ers will find their way to us through this. The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize was praised for highlighting the role of the translator through its 50/50 prize fund, shared equally between author and translator. There was a fascinating discussion about bookselling, about the future of Waterstones’, and about attitudes towards literature in translation among the buying public. Jonathan Ruppin mentioned the success of translation themed tables in Foyles’ Charing Cross Road branch: one example being a table of translated Japanese fiction timed to coincide with the latest Haruki Murakami release. He felt that the consumer is often underestimated, and much less prejudiced towards literature in translation than the naysayers would have us believe. I definitely agree; having worked for Waterstones’ for a decade on and off from 1998 onward, I frequently saw tables full of lesser-known translated fiction sell consistently and attract regular visitors. But this was down to individual booksellers with a wealth of knowledge about foreign titles taking the initiative, ordering the stock and presenting it in an attention-grabbing manner. The increase of centralised stock-buying — as Jonathan also pointed out — has led to ‘cookie-cutter’ branches and a dearth of inspiring titles. Exceptions to the rule — Daunt Books, Foyles and independents — were praised, with the collective prayer that Waterstones’ would follow suit.

After the opening panel, everyone went off to pre-selected seminars on ‘Getting Started in Translation’, ‘Funding Translation’, ‘Reader Engagement’ and ‘Translators in Schools’. I heard good things about each of them, and one of the organisers told me they will be putting notes up online in the not too distant future, so I’ll post links later if that’s the case. These were followed, in the afternoon, by a second batch of seminars, this time on ‘Poetry in Translation’, ‘Promotional Strategies’, ‘The Rise of the Small Press’ and ‘Translation Live! Touring and Live Literature Events.’ I went to the latter and was intrigued to hear about ‘Distant Voices’, a virtual poetry festival organised by StAnza, profiling 12 poets from around the world and all reading in their native languages.

The last session of the day was ‘My native language now I must forego’: a fascinating whirlwind tour of Shakespeare in translation. The Globe Theatre’s artistic director Dominic Dromgoole and Globe to Globe director Tom Bird talked through some of the challenges and delights of staging 37 plays in 37 languages, followed by an enthralling talk by Professor Tony Howard about Shakespeare adaptations from around the world. This was a fitting end to another wonderful ITD, although some of us weren’t sated just yet, and stayed on for the panel discussion for the Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize, a wonderful initiative introduced by editor Briony Everroad. A drinks reception followed, after which a group of ETN members retired to a local establishment for some nourishing Guinness, too energised to head home just yet…

ITD was just the tonic I expected it to be. As I’ve mentioned before, translation can be a solitary, albeit not lonely, profession at times, so it’s great to have a high-profile event celebrating what we do, as well as debating issues that could lead to more initiatives in the future. And as for that bigger boat, I quite liked Christopher Maclehose’s suggestion that, in 2013, we go for the Royal Albert Hall.

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