Questioning Gender Ratio in the Man Booker International Longlist

In News by Dennis Abrams

With 13 titles longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize for fiction translated into English, some in the translation question the gender balance on the list.


By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

‘The Sheer Diversity of Great Fiction Today’
The Man Booker International Prize’s self-styled “Man Booker Dozen” puts 13 books into contention for this year’s prize which celebrates “the finest in global fiction” translated to English.

Quick response from a translator (more below): “I’d be delighted to see more women’s voices brought into English.”

Man Booker IntlThis is the first longlist announced for the international prize, which has joined with The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize to be awarded annually now on the basis of a single book. The £50,000 (US $70,000) prize is to be divided equally between the winning title and its translator.

The 2016 Longlist:

  • Jose Eduwardo Agualusa (Angola), Daniel Han, A General Theory of Oblivion (Harvill Secker)
  • Elena Ferrante (Italy), Ann Goldstein, The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions)
  • Han Kang (South Korea), Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian (Portobello Books)
  • Maylis de Kerangal (France), Jessica Moore, Mend the Living (Maclehose Press
  • Eka Kurniawan (Indonesia), Labodalih Sembiring, Man Tiger (Verso Books)
  • Yan Lianke (China), Carlos Rojas, The Four Books (Chatto & Windus)
  • Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Democratic Republic of Congo/Austria), Ronald Glasser, Tram 83 (Jacaranda)
  • Raduan Nassar (Brazil), Stefan Tobler, A Cup of Rage (Penguin Modern Classics)
  • Marie NDiaye (France), Jordan Stump, Ladivine (Maclehose Press)
  • Kenzaburō Ōe (Japan), Deborah Boliner Boem, Death by Water (Atlantic Books)
  • Aki Ollikainen (Finland), Emily Jeremiah & Fleur Jeremiah, White Hunger (Peirene Press)
  • Ohran Pamuk (Turkey), Ekin Olap, A Strangeness in My Mind (Faber & Faber)
  • Robert Seethaler (Austria), Charlotte Collins, A Whole Life (Picador)

The Independent’s Boyd Tonkin, Senior Writer and former Literary Editor, is the chair of the 2016 judging panel. In a prepared statement, Tonkin says:

Boyd Tonkin

Boyd Tonkin

“For the first longlist in its new form, the Man Booker International Prize invites readers to share a thrilling journey of discovery across the finest fiction in translation.

“The 13 books that the judges have chosen not only feature superb writing from Brazil to Indonesia, from Finland to South Korea, from Angola to Italy.

“Our selection highlights the sheer diversity of great fiction today. From intense episodes of passion to miniature historical epics; from eerie fables of family strife to character-driven chronicles of urban life, this list showcases fiction that crosses every border.

“It also pays tribute to the skill and dedication of the first-rate translators who convey it to English-language readers. Please join us on this fantastic voyage.”

Even so, at The Guardian, translator Katy Derbyshire wrote an op-ed piece questioning the inclusiveness of the prize. In her article headlined “Translated fiction by women must stop being a minority within a minority,” she writes:

Katy Darbyshire

Katy Derbyshire

“A glance at the longlist…reveals the same old pattern: only four out of 13 titles were originally written by women. Eight out of the 14 translators are women; but while achieving gender balance in this field is a real achievement, I’m hardly bowled over.

“Translated novels by female writers are the palomino unicorns of the publishing world – not just unusual, but a small subset within a subset. Not only do translations make up a tiny fraction of the books brought out in the UK and US, but only about a quarter of them are by women.

“Various recent counts have found that about 26 percent of English translations are female-authored books (although the gender balance among their translators is roughly equal). With such a small pool to choose from in any one year, it may not be surprising that women have rarely won prizes for translated titles in the past.

“The Man Booker International’s forerunner, The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, went to two women and 19 men over its lifetime, only shortlisting six women in its last five years. On the other hand, America’s younger equivalent, the Best Translated Book awards, have managed to honour Dorothea Dieckmann, Gail Hareven, Tove Jansson and Can Xue in eight years.”

The judges are to announce a shortlist of six titles on April 14, each author and translator receiving £1,000. The winner of the 2016 prize is to be announced on May 16.

In various social media, two hashtags are associated with the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, #MBI2016 and #FinestFiction.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.