In January, the National Book Foundation (NBF) announced the addition of a fifth category for the National Book Awards: the National Book Award for Translated Literature. This is the first category added since the addition of the award for young people’s literature in 1996.
The award for translated literature will honor both the author(s) and translator(s) of a work, and the first award will be presented at the 69th National Book Award this November.
Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, says that the award is part of the Foundation’s efforts to “promote reading habits that reach widely across genre, subject, and geography.” It is clear that the desire to encourage the American people to read more translated works is necessary—only about 3% of books published in the United States are translations from other languages.
A recent rise in popularity for translated works is an indication that readers are open to to more translated options. Elena Ferrante’s books—particularly her Napoleon novels—have been widely read, and Time magazine listed Ferrante, which is the writer’s pseudonym, as one of the 100 most influential people of 2016. Also in 2016, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, originally published in Korean, was named one of Time’s best books of the year.
Perhaps the most compelling example of increased interest in translated books is the success of Fredrik Backman’s novels. Multiple works—A Man Called Ove, Britt-Marie Was Here, and Bear Town, to name a few—have been released in English to critical and commercial success. A Man Called Ove found a place in the top twenty Amazon best sellers for 2017, and Bear Town was a 2017 Amazon editor pick for best books. And A Man Called Ove’s success is translating to the big screen—Tom Hanks is starring in and producing the upcoming movie adaptation.
The recent attention paid to translated books in the United States is a positive step toward increasing the diversity of books available for readers across the country. Translated works expose readers to different ideas, cultures, characters, and ways of life that have the power to expand minds and increase tolerance and understanding. And in an industry that could benefit from more more voices and points of view, it’s about time that the portion of translated books rises about 3%.
Madeline Greenhalgh is the co-founder and editorial director at Yellow Taxi Press. She also works as a technical editor and has interned at Deseret Book and served as an editor for multiple collegiate publications and freelance projects. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.