National Book Awards add translation category

(The New York Times) – The National Book Awards, among the most prestigious literary prizes, are going global. Starting this year, the National Book Foundation will recognize works in translation, opening up a distinctly American literary award to writers working in other languages. The new category marks a radical departure for awards, which began in 1950 “to celebrate the best of American literature.”

The prize will be given jointly to authors and translators, and will be limited to fiction and nonfiction works by living authors that are published in the United States. International authors who write in English won’t be eligible. The decision to recognize international authors was made unanimously by the foundation’s board of directors, in an effort to draw attention to works in translation, which are often neglected by American readers and publishers. “This is an opportunity for us to influence how visible books in translation are,” said Lisa Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation.

“The less we know about the rest of the world, the worse off we are.” While there are a growing number of publishing houses that specialize in publishing works in translation and international literature — including Europa Editions, Archipelago Books, AmazonCrossing and Tilted Axis, which publishes contemporary Asian literature, mainly by women — translated literature still accounts for a tiny percentage of books published in the United States. And although international authors like Elena Ferrante, Haruki Murakami, Karl Ove Knausgaard and Han Kang have been embraced by American readers, there’s still a lingering perception that translated literature doesn’t sell well in the United States.

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