Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok
Cathy Hirano, the translator of Moribito and its sequel Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi, shares the following from a talk at AFCC 2014 by Stacy Whitman, founder of Tu Books and part of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks team:
- 37% of the U.S. population are people of color, and
- more than 50% of U.S. children aged 0 to 5 years are people of color; yet
- less than 10% of children’s literature in the U.S. contains ethnic content.
In her address at AFCC, Stacy noted that translations—by definition a source of diversity—remain a tough sell in the U.S. Cheryl Robson of Aurora Metro Books, speaking in a panel with Cathy and Stacy, described a similar situation in the U.K., where only 3 to 4% of published books are translations.
Something must change. There are more than 190 countries in the world besides the U.S. and the U.K. Young readers of English deserve to know this, and to lose themselves in diverse narratives from a vast planet.
Also, the U.S. and U.K. book markets affect the reading lists of children worldwide. All children deserve to find themselves in the books they read.
Who can help them do this? Publishers, booksellers, buyers. Reviewers, educators, parents.
And translators. We often operate by accepting commissions, but we can inform publishers of promising titles, promote published translations, and nurture future translators by visiting schools. We can also buy, give, and request children’s lit in translation. We can join the groundswell of demand for diverse books.
Above all, we can translate well. We can help each other to draft, critique, revise, critique, and re-revise stories that engage readers. We can educate ourselves about our language pairs and the larger publishing world. We can network both with other translators, and with partners throughout the industry. Because we are, in a way, agents. We conduct business a little bit like illustrators. We examine our source texts with the eyes of editors. And we are, first and foremost, writers.
The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign shows that the translator’s vocation matters, even if it rarely puts money in the bank and sometimes draws glazed looks. (Can’t Google do that?)
Diverse stories change how our children view the world, which they will lead tomorrow. It’s enough to make me slug some coffee and get back to translating a fifth grade “date” in Tohoku.