It’s a good time to be a Spanish literary translator. Spain’s turn as guest of honor at the 2022 Frankfurt Book Fair has meant increased funding for translation. This started in 2019, with additional funding from Acción Cultural Española (AC/E), the Madrid-based public entity whose mission is to promote Spanish culture in Spain and abroad.
As a literary translator, I’ve been most encouraged by the release of additional funds designated for two things: samples to be produced from eligible works submitted by literary agents and Spanish publishers, and grants for international publishers to help cover the translation costs of eligible works from Spain.
The money supporting translation samples has enabled two positive developments. First, Spanish agents and publishers have been able to commission samples of work by writers from Spain in all of Spain’s official languages—including Basque, Catalan, and Galician—which could (or should, at least in theory) mean that the English rights to more of those titles will be bought. And second, the translators commissioned to do those samples are being paid for their work, which is always a good thing and unfortunately not necessarily the norm in the industry.
For an idea of the impact of these increased funds, I spoke with Ainhoa Sánchez, literature program coordinator at AC/E. She revealed that from 2019 to the present, AC/E awarded funds to support 619 translation samples, 553 of which were into English. That’s a lot of paid work for literary translators, even if we’re not talking large sums for each piece. The samples I translated included a mix of fiction and nonfiction from some of Spain’s largest publishers as well as indie presses, and the fee was generally €300–€400 per piece, depending on the sample’s length.
With the higher number of English samples available for U.S. publishers to read and evaluate, will literary translators of books from Spain see a bump in their work? I hope so. And I hope that, in order to solidify its investment in translations from Spain, AC/E can maintain the program supporting full translations into English (and the other supported languages) for at least a few years.
Independent presses seem to lead the charge when it comes to publishing English-language debuts. From 2019 to the present, 57 titles published by U.S.-based presses received translation funding from AC/E, and the majority of those were published by independent presses, including Archipelago, Bellevue, Co-im-press, Deep Vellum, New Directions, Open Letter, Other Press, Quantum Prose, Seven Stories, and Two Lines.
In the calculus of a press’s decision to sign an English-language debut by a relatively “new” writer, does the possibility of grant money to cover the translator’s fee factor in? I suspect grants like those administered by AC/E do make a difference. Certainly, from a translator’s perspective, when pitching a project to a publisher I’m always happy to point out when such funding opportunities are available, especially for “taking a risk” on authors whose work is unknown in English or writers from traditionally underrepresented groups in translations from Spain—female, queer, writers of color, and immigrant writers, to name a few examples.
This is the kind of work individual translators often pitch when championing books and authors we discover and love. My own translation work is skewed toward female writers from Spain, and some of my projects have received funding from AC/E. These have included works by Andrea Abreu, Katixa Agirre, Manuel Astur, Max Besora, Nuria Labari, Elena Medel, Sara Mesa, Lara Moreno, Jordi Nopca, Sergi Pamies, Javier Serena, and Irene Sola.
Just look at the richness and variety of work from Spain that was on display at the Frankfurt Book Fair last month. Alongside tributes to marquee names like Javier Marías and Almudena Grandes and interviews with internationally recognized figures such as Enrique Vila-Matas and Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Frankfurt offered conversations with voices writing in the various languages of Spain—many of them yet to be translated in English, many of them supported by AC/E, many ready to be discovered in Guadalajara, London, or an editor’s inbox near you.
Katie Whittemore translates literature from Spanish to English. She lives in Valencia, Spain.