30 November 2011

A carve-up or a meritocracy? Hamburg's literary prizes.

Alongside six grants of six thousand Euro each for new German literature, a team at Hamburg's Kulturbehörde headed by Wolfgang Schömel grant three literary translation prizes of € 2500 each year. The literary translation prizes are exclusively for translations into German. I submitted an application including a sample translation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 1930s modernist masterpiece "A Scot's Quaire", a work largely unknown in the German speaking world. Have a dip here into the novel if you're not familiar with it.

Dr. Schömel informed us per email that there were 194 applicants in total for these nine prices, including the three for translation. Of these only ten were translators. Not to have won a prize which - purely statistically speaking - you've got a one in three chance of winning is quite the opposite of inspiring.

Under "Förderpreis für Übersetzung" I understood something like supporting young talent, a prize to bring unknown translators on their way to their first proper contracts for literary translation. Not a bit of it.
Ingo Herzke, one of the winning translators, has done nearly all the German A. L. Kennedy & Allan Bennet's "The Uncommon Reader"; Susanne Höbel does, among other things, the German versions of the Graham Swift novels. Ursel Allenstein, the final winner, translates from Swedish and Danish and has a row of published translations to her credit.

So these prizes "award achievement" do they? Then you need to have a serious read of poet & satirical artist Tom Leonard's critique of prize-giving inside the literature industry which is spread, magnificently throughout his journals of the last two years.

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