Should All Nobel Prize Winners Be Translated?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka


If the Nobel Prize is the most prestigious literary prize in the world, one that virtually guarantees a degree of literary celebrity throughout the author’s lifetime, doesn’t it go without saying that all the authors works should be translated, at the very least, into English? As discussed here before, English is for many editors and publishers, the “gateway language” for a book to reach readers who might not be able to read a translation in their own language.

But, the fact is, numerous works by Nobel Prize winners have never made it into English. In the 1970s Grolier published a twenty volume edition of “The Nobel Prize Library.” The collection begins at the beginning of the Prize and offers each winner’s acceptance speech, a sampling of their work, and a critical essay. Bound in blue leather with gold leaf bindings, it’s a gorgeous collection and a real showpiece. But reading it is another matter. One realizes that so many of the writers collected here, despite their having won the Nobel, remain forgotten or in obscurity. For every Samuel Beckett, Thomas Mann or Ernest Hemingway, there is a Miguel Angel Asturias (Guatemala, 1967), Roger Martin du Gard (France, 1937), and Giorgos Seferis (Greece, 1963). The Nobel Prize Library ends in 1970 and the last author covered by the library happens to be Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

As discussed in our lead article, not all of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s works have been translated into English, though they have made it into numerous European languages. Is this an oversight on the part of publishers in the US and UK? Or is it simply a matter of pragmatism, knowing that the expense of translating and publishing his large books would never likely be covered by sales? Does his work simply speak more directly to Europeans who have a closer relationship with the history of the Soviet Union? And if his works are not translated — or, for that matter, the works of other Nobel Prize winners — what is lost?

One possible solution might be to have the author’s estates or some money from the Nobel pay for the translation.

Let us know what you think in the comments below or via Twitter using hashtag .

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.