English PEN has announced its first-ever award for sample translations, under the name PEN Presents.
Twelve translators have been shortlisted for the first round of PEN Presents, representing seven languages spoken by people of Indian descent, dating back to before 1947, and by people in the Indian diaspora.
The shortlist includes translations from Bangla, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Nepali and Tamil authors, and the works include novels, short stories and memoirs. The 12 translators received grants to create 5,000-word samples, as part of PEN Presents’ goal to “fund the often unpaid work of translating samples”.
“The initial call for PEN Presents had required a pitch or proposal and they made the shortlist from those pitches. Each book was judged on literary merit, strength of the project and contribution to bibliodiversity,” said Shabnam Nadiya, the only Bangladeshi translator to be included in the shortlist, says The star of the day.
The six shortlisted winning books will receive publishing advice from English PEN and will be matched with UK publishers. The samples will also be featured in an issue on the PEN Presents platform, an online catalog of original and diverse literature that has not yet been published in English translation. A panel of experts from the British and Indian literary and publishing industry will select the winners.
“Often sample translations are required of translators (by publishers), but there is no guarantee that the publisher will buy this book. So it is a bit of a gamble for the translator, that he has to undertake from his pocket. [But] it’s to provide a bit of support in that sphere of the process, I think, that they’re doing this,” Nadiya said.
Bangladeshi writer and translator Shabnam Nadiya was selected for The ice machine (Kothaprokash, 2021), his translation, from Bengali, of the novel by Bangladeshi novelist and novelist Wasi Ahmed Borofkol.
Currently based in California, USA, some of Nadiya’s notable translations include Mashiul Alam’s short fiction The meat market and other stories for which she received the PEN/Heim Translation Fellowship (2020); Shaheen Akhtar’s novel, Beloved Rongomala (recently republished by Westland Books), and Leesa Gazi’s first novel Hellfire (2020), among others. His original work as well as translations have been published in SAAG Anthology, Palais Harpur, The Offingamong several other publications.
Wasi Ahmed, who writes for The financial expresshas published four novels and several collections of short stories, including Bok or Banshful (2015) and the novel Tolkuthurir Gaan, which won the Akhtaruzzaman Elias Book of the Year Award in 2015. He is a Fellow of the University of Iowa, USA. In 2016, he participated in the prestigious international writers’ residency program.
Born in 1854, Ahmed’s parents were Indian citizens, which helped qualify The ice machine for the shortlist. The book explores the post-war legacy and memory of the 1971 war, particularly its effects on rape victims.
The first series of PEN Presents is a partnership between English PEN and the British Council, as part of the British Council’s India/UK Together season, which will see a program of creative collaboration, education and cultural exchange.
Preti Taneja, Co-Chair of English PEN’s Translation Advisory Group, said: “The quality of [the] the shortlisted entries testify to the range and ambition of extraordinary writers and translators working in India and the Diaspora today.”
“I am particularly pleased with the number and quality of works by Dalit writers represented,” said Will Forrester, English PEN’s Head of Translation and International.
Rachel Stevens, Literature Director at the British Council, added: “I hope this will be a great opportunity for us to hear from those whose work is currently under-represented in English-language publishing…”
A catalog of works being pre-selected, the biographies of the 12 authors as well as their portfolios are listed in the PEN website in English.
The winners of the first round of PEN Presents will be announced at the end of October 2022.