An interview with Cheryl Morgan on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards

So, we know the inspiration for these awards has been covered elsewhere, for example on New Zealand author Helen Lowe’s blog, but I am curious how the board and the first year’s jurors came together.  Also, it sounds from the FAQ on the website like you are going to have different jurors every year?

It was a process of recommendation, I guess. Gary Wolfe and I were on board from the start, and Gary recommended the folks at UC Riverside as he knew they had an interest in translations. I recommended Kevin Standlee as someone who could help us navigate the processes of setting up a non-profit organization, filing taxes and so on. And then the various Board members recommended people who they thought would make good jurors.

The current plan is that we will rotate jurors, because it is an onerous task that people won’t want to do every year, but we will try to have some continuity from one year to the next.

How did the Awards’ association with UC Riverside come about?

UC Riverside is the home of the Eaton collection, so it is a well-respected center for science fiction research. But it has a particular interest in translation thanks to the presence of Professor George E. Slusser, who is an expert in international literature and is married to a French academic, Danièle Chatelain.

What plans does the board have for the future, in terms of promotions, award ceremonies, etc.? Are you going to have a more formal nomination process next time around other than comments on your website and works that happen to come to the attention of the board and jury?

To a certain extent we are still finding out what works. However, we will continue to be a juried award. We have a public ‘nomination’ process only because it is so hard to find out what translated works are available. The honorable mention in the short form category this year came from a publication that is the Finnish equivalent of the SFWA Bulletin. This year I found a bunch of translated stories in a Croatian fanzine. You won’t find things like that without asking people to suggest works.

As to other plans, we’ll have to wait and see. But we will certainly need to raise money again this year if we want to give cash prizes, which we do.
What are the board’s larger goals, outside of the basic functioning of the awards, in the short term, and in the long run?

In the short term we’ll be very happy to get the awards on a firm footing. That is our primary mission and we don’t have the resources to look beyond that. In the longer term we have a more general remit of promoting interest in translated literature, and there are many things we could do, but we can’t commit to anything at this stage.

How did the board come to decide upon including a short fiction category?

Science fiction and fantasy is one of the few areas of literature where there is still a thriving tradition of short fiction. It would have been foolish of us to ignore it. We could have just opted for one category, as with the Tiptree, but the effort required to translate a novel is so much greater than that to translate short fiction that it would not seem a very fair contest.

What trends do you forsee helping the cross-pollination of sf across languages and cultures? Is translation to English potentially a bridge, even as English’s apparent primacy (for many forms of media as well as books) is potentially evidence of cultural and economic imperialism?

I think that the Internet is doing a wonderful job in promoting connections between SF&F communities around the world. You can see from the increasingly international nature of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award ballots that something very exciting is happening. Lavie Tidhar and Charles Tan, with the World SF blog, are doing a superb job in making our world smaller and more connected.

English is definitely used as a bridge language in translations. That’s a fact here in Europe, not just potential. It is not necessarily ideal, because English is in many ways a very odd language which can be very imprecise and offer a lot of choice to the translator. But from a practical point of view, if you want to translate from, say, Latvian to Portuguese, it is much more likely that you’ll end up going via English than finding someone who knows both languages.

If you were giving advice for editors in the Anglophone marketplace looking to buy translated fiction for their magazines or collections, what would you tell them?

It very much depends who they are. If you are an editor at Tor you not likely to buy translated fiction except via a deal with an agent at a major book fair. A small press magazine, on the other hand, can actively seek out stories in other languages. Albedo One in Ireland has done so by going to conventions such as Eurocon and making friends with writers from other countries. Pierre Gévart, who edits Galaxies in France, uses online translation tools to get a ‘first pass’ view of submitted foreign language stories to decide whether they are worth translating. I’m sure that other editors have their own methods.


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