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“The Challenge Isn’t with Translations, But with Serious Literature Generally”

By Dennis Abrams

In a wide-ranging interview with Booktrust, John O’Brien, founder of Dalkey Archive Press, shared some thoughts on, among other things, the challenges facing publishers of translated works and the audience for translated works:


The challenge is not so much with translations but with serious literature generally. And that challenge consists in getting the word out and gaining intelligent review coverage. So, that is the big challenge. The other challenges are those that were always there: how to afford translations and how to find the most interesting writers? Both of these are economic issues, and there is virtually nothing in the United States or the UK to help. A publisher must invest in travel to countries, must invest far more editing time with translations, and must spend more money in marketing translations than for works originally written in English. Strangely, Dalkey gets criticised for how much it invests in marketing, and gets criticised from within this so-called translation community. I suppose, therefore, I should be saying that this translation community — or certainly some segment of it — is another challenge, and this is a rather bitter pill to swallow.

I think the issue is literature rather than translation as such. My view is that reading is a very special, nearly unique experience that some people – but not all – need in their lives, and they will go on needing this. As far as we can determine, our audience is between 20 and 30-years-old: those are the avid fans, the ones seeking out alternatives to what is usually promoted as serious literature. They want to find out what else is out there. These readers in particular are receptive to reading writers that they had not previously heard of. And this audience is, I think, underserved. It is the same audience I sought to reach when I started the Review 33 years ago.

Read the entire interview here.

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