Why are so few literary translations published in English-speaking countries?
As the article mentioned in the last post pointed out, only about 3% of the books published each year in the U.S. are translations, and those are primarily from Spanish, French, and German. The article says that the figure for Italy is 27%. And here in Sweden, not a week goes by when the culture pages of the newspapers don’t review at least one, and usually more, books that have been translated to Swedish. Sure, Sweden’s population is much smaller than the U.S.’s, but I don’t believe the percentages of writers and of readers are that different. Logically, the percentage of literary translations should be about the same. So why are English-speaking countries less interested in foreign literature?
Are there so many more authors in English-speaking countries so that there is no need for work translated from other languages? It seems as though a lot of non-fiction work, including course literature, is published in English and then translated to other languages, but that doesn’t explain the lack of foreign literary fiction translated to English.
Do more people in English-speaking countries write? Even in Sweden, where the “Jantelagen” still reigns and people don’t necessarily want to stand out or be different from others, creative writing seems to be thriving.
Is it easier to get published in the U.S. or England than in other countries? I find that hard to believe, too. Anyone who’s worked in publishing or attempted to get their own writing published knows that many great books are rejected because there are simply too many writers and too few publishing companies, too little money, and too little interest in literary writing.
So has publishing become so much about the bottom line that publishing companies are not willing to spend the money on more literary works? This may be true, since publishing companies are always looking for the next big blockbuster and seem to focus their publishing and marketing efforts on genre books. That’s why thrillers by Swedish writer Henning Mankell are published in English, but more creative works only get a Swedish audience.
Is there simply a lack of interest in foreign cultures? It’s the stereotype of the United States –powerful and self-centered, with no need to study other languages or learn anything about other cultures. But how much truth is in this stereotype? And what is the situation like in other English-speaking countries?
I have no answer to the question posed in this post, but I’m interested in exploring this issue more, and in changing it.