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Prizes to promote translations of literary works

January 2007
Prizes to promote translations of literary works

Given all the hoopla surrounding Indian writing in English, it's hardly surprising that the more numerous and diverse authors representing Indian languages often feel their work is unjustly neglected outside their region. One problem is the shortage of good translations and translators, while another is perhaps a lack of sufficient interest among publishers and readers. In the U.S., for instance, only 2 percent of the books published are English translations from foreign languages. "In 2004 this meant roughly 4000 translations out of 195,000 books, including some 800 works of foreign fiction," adds Professor Lawrence Venuti of Temple University. Multilingual Europe is better, since translations account for 10 to 15 percent of the number of books published there.

No matter which country it is, translations of regional Indian literature have a marginal presence. One promising development in the West is the announcement of a Man Asian Literary Prize, which will be open to books translated into English from Asian languages. Worth $13,000 ($10,000 for the author and $3000 for the translator), the prize is bound to attract much attention, considering that it's being co-sponsored by the supporters of the high-profile Man Booker Prize. Also worth mentioning is the biannual Man Book International Prize, which was launched last year. Furthermore, Macmillan's new series called Picador Asia will join others like Penguin to publish more English translations of Indian writing. Within India, Geeta Dharmarajan's Katha has been doing yeoman service for translations through yearly contests and the publication of books.

In the States, the biannual A.K. Ramanujan Prize for Translation has been promoting Indian literature for about a decade. The 2006 award went to Clinton Seely for The Slaying of Meghanada: A Ramayana from Colonial Bengal, and the 2004 award went to Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman for Classical Telugu Poetry: An Anthology.

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