When it comes to book sales, translated fiction performs above its weight class. Between January 2001 and April 2016, sales in translated fiction almost doubled from 1.3 million to 2.5 million copies, according to a study commissioned by the Man Booker International Prize.
Meanwhile, recent initiatives such as the TA First Translation Prize and the National Centre for Writing have seized this momentum to galvanise an industry-wide push to promote translated fiction. Supported by independent publishers such as Tilted Axis Press, Europa Editions and Dalkey Archive Press, fiction in translation is enjoying an increasingly auspicious state of health.
One publisher contributing to this rise is Charco Press, an Edinburgh-based press co-founded in 2016 by Carolina Orloff. Recognising the lack of Latin American literature on UK shelves, Orloff sought to correct the balance. Her list to date includes an impressive collection of prize-winning authors, stylistically varied but unified by a spirit of innovation and a resolve to push the boundaries of writing. In celebration of Women in Translation Month this August, Orloff shares the story of Charco to date, how to support female authors in a traditionally male-dominated arena, and why she is challenging the preconceived notions of translated fiction.
Culture Trip: How did Charco Press begin?
Carolina Orloff: Charco Press was born from the realisation that so little of the amazing literature coming out of Latin America today was making its way into the hands of English-speaking readers. We are talking about established, award-winning authors – not new authors who have just released their first novel. Many had been translated into German, French, Italian, Hebrew – you name it. But not English. Why should anglophone readers be missing out?
CT: What kinds of writers are Charco Press looking to publish?
CO: Authors that are blazing their own trail, that have a definitive style and are perhaps pushing boundaries with what they are writing. If you look at some of the authors we have published already you can see they vary greatly: Argentine Ariana Harwicz’s claustrophobic stream of [consciousness] looking at frayed family relationships; Colombian Margarita García Robayo’s raw yet darkly humorous take on life as a girl growing up on the Caribbean coast; Uruguayan Daniel Mella’s 10-year absence from the writing scene before re-emerging to win the nation’s top literary prize twice in a row; autofiction by Peruvian Renato Cisneros as he weaves personal history with that of his country through his controversial father, a key military figure. They are all extremely different, appealing to different readers, yet with each one you can sense they are exploring the boundaries of their own writing.
CT: Which female authors from Latin America do you enjoy reading the most? How are they continuing or subverting writing traditions from their region?
CO: There are many female authors from Latin America that I enjoy reading, but I don’t pick up a book because it has been written by a man or by a woman; I pick it because of the story it tells and how that story is being told. At present, I am literally surrounded by extraordinary contemporary female voices from Latin America (Almada, Meruane, Harwicz, García Robayo, Lozano), as well as from other regions in the world. There are some female authors, however, that I always go back to, such as Alejandra Pizarnik, Silvina Ocampo, Elena Garro, Gabriela Mistral, Clarice Lispector, Cristina Peri Rossi, Luisa Valenzuela; the list is (proudly) endless. I’d like to add that female translators and female copy-editors are a crucial part of my reading company too.
CT: It has been widely publicised that the majority of fiction translated into English from around the world is by men. How can the industry help to bring female writers around the world to an English-speaking audience?
CO: Some of it is cultural at the point of inception – in many countries there are more opportunities for men to write than for women. That is something that needs to change in order to have a greater balance in the total works to choose from to translate. Then there is the other side, the reader market and what is being selected for translation. Here I think that we, as publishers, have a role to be mindful of providing that balance. However, more than trying to maintain any sort of percentage split per se, the writing comes foremost. Our goal is not a number or a quota but a level of quality; the percentage balancing so far has happened organically. Industry-wise, there are a number of initiatives that are helping already – from Women in Translation Month to publishers like And Other Stories publishing only women authors throughout 2018.
CT: Do you feel that translators are sufficiently recognised by the industry as co-creators to works of translated literature?
CO: Although translators (and copy editors) are gradually gaining visibility and recognition, I feel that this is only the beginning. I truly believe that most readers fail to appreciate the skill, passion, resilience that is involved in a translation process, let alone the time, effort, investment (not just financial, but emotional and physical too). Translators are writers in themselves, writers with an immeasurable responsibility on their hands. The UK is very lucky to have translators – and cultural champions – such as Danny Hahn crusading for translators’ rights and prominence and an institute such as the BCLT [British Centre for Literary Translation] doing so much for this hugely underappreciated craft.
CT: What’s next for Charco Press?
CO: We are very keen to shift the conversation and dissolve certain blocks the reader as well as the industry have when it comes to translated fiction. We strongly disagree with the misconception of translated fiction being niche, or difficult, or indeed a genre in itself. Translated fiction is fiction; fiction that was not written in English originally, but ultimately, it is fiction. A world where a multiplicity of voices and views can coexist and enter a dialogue is undoubtedly a better, more tolerant, wiser, freer world.