Acclaimed author, editor, and translator Daniel Hahn is back again with an insider’s perspective on all things related to translation. This week, he responds to a question from Belgian reader Karel Caals and reveals the inner workings of judging translation contests, grants, and prizes.
Have you ever judged a translation for a contest or a grant? If so, what was the process like; what do you look for, especially, to separate the wheat from the chaff?
One day I’m going to write one of these columns that won’t just say, essentially, “it depends”.
But since you ask: It depends.
Yes, I’ve been on judging panels for translated fiction (such as the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for adult fiction, the Marsh Award for children’s); or for fiction in English for which translations are eligible alongside originally Anglophone work (the IMPAC Dublin Award for adults, the UKLA Book Awards for children); as well as grant-making committees for organisations like English PEN, which for some years has supported the translation of international literature and the promotion of translated work in the UK. And, yes, each is looking for something subtly or drastically different, and each has quite distinct criteria, and so it depends.
In most cases, the aim is to find a really good translation (I’ll pretend for a moment that we’d all agree what that is), though not infrequently the translations are judged in such a way that the act of translation per se, and the translator her/himself, aren’t mentioned in the evaluation process at all.