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GUEST BLOG: The Harvill Secker Young Translators' Prize

13th June 2011 - 12 Midnight Briony Everroad

Image for Harvill Secker Young Translators' Prize logoBriony Everroad is an editor at Harvill Secker and founder of the Harvill Secker Young Translators' Prize, in association with Foyles. She is joined on the judging panel this year by the author Penelope Lively, the translator Anthony Calderbank and the journalist Maya Jaggi.


In 2010 Harvill Secker celebrated 100 years of publishing quality international writing. We had special events at festivals and a particularly wonderful day of readings and discussions at Foyles. As part of these celebrations we launched the Harvill Secker Young Translators' Prize. We're not the first organisation to initiate such an award, but while prizes for debut authors abound, there are not many opportunities for young translators to prove their ability and gain recognition. We're thrilled that Foyles is teaming up with us for the 2011 prize.

Translators are essential to what we do as a publisher of international writing. They are part of an important network of foreign publishers, agents and scouts who help English language editors decide what to publish in the first place. Then they render the foreign language edition into beautiful English, decoding thousands of tiny nuances and carrying the author's voice into a new language.

However, it's very difficult to get started as a translator. Publishers tend to use more established translators they have used before, or who have translated a number of books for other publishers. The aim of the prize is to recognise the achievements of the next generation of translators and help them get started.

Jacket image for Open Door, translated by Beth FowlerWe were very encouraged by the response last year: we had a total of 230 entries from all over the world. Beth Fowler, who won the inaugural prize for her excellent translation of Matías Néspolo's short story 'El Hachazo', has already seen a boost in her career. Granta decided to publish her translation on their website last autumn and, through them, she met the publishers at And Other Stories, who commissioned her to translate a novel for the first time. Our runners-up, Emily Dyson, Lindsey Ford and Michael McDevitt, also did terrific translations, and we were able to offer them practical advice about how to break into literary translation along with a workshop by award-winning translator Margaret Jull Costa.

We're hoping to repeat that success with this year's prize, which focuses on Arabic to English translation. When we were outlining the prize we decided to change language every year, so that we could reach as many new translators as possible. There aren't a great many books translated from Arabic into English, and this may be partly due to the relatively small number of experienced Arabic to English translators.

As one of those publishers who bring out very few titles translated from Arabic, we weren't really sure how to go about finding new writers. Fortunately the wonderful people at Banipal magazine, who bring Arabic writers to an English-speaking audience, were on hand to help. Samuel Shimon, the deputy editor, suggested that we consider the short story 'Layl Qouti' by Egyptian writer Mansoura Ez Eldin as our set text.

Anthony Calderbank, a very experienced translator who has translated a host of novels from Arabic into English, is on the judging panel this year, and he will assess not only the quality of the writing in English, but whether the translations are a faithful rendering of the underlying Arabic original. We're also very pleased that Penelope Lively has agreed to be a judge. Penelope grew up in Egypt, and has written many highly-acclaimed books, winning the Booker Prize for her novel Moon Tiger. Translators need to have a flair for writing and a voice of their own, and Penelope will be invaluable in spotting which of our translators manage to maintain this delicate balance. We're also lucky to have Maya Jaggi's expertise. Maya Jaggi is an award-winning cultural journalist and an influential critic on international literature.With her wide experience of judging literary awards, including the Orange Prize and the Saif Ghobash-Banipal prize for Arabic literary translation, Maya will be a great asset to our panel. Together we'll look for translations that read seamlessly in English, while capturing the rhythm and cultural nuance of Mansoura's work.


For more information about the Prize, inlcuding how to enter, please visit


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