Earlier this year, literary translators Charlie Coombe and Tina Kover set up Translators Aloud, a YouTube channel dedicated to putting translators in the spotlight. The channel grew from a speculative tweet by Tina, who at the time was considering reading a section from one of her translations and wondered whether there would be an audience for it. The response was definite and affirmative: not only did people want to hear it, but many other translators had also had similar thoughts and fears. Buoyed by this wave of response, Charlie suggested setting up a YouTube channel: by the end of that same day Translators Aloud (which was given its activism-meets-popular-culture name by Open University PhD student Babs Spicer) had been created.
On the channel, Charlie and Tina post regular short videos of translators reading from their work. A fruit of the global lockdown which Charlie says came about because “we were both looking for something inspiring to focus on” at a difficult and restricted time, it is a venture that brings together the best of a virtual community. Translators Aloud shares work at a time when it has not been possible to meet in person, using the modern technologies we’ve never appreciated so much until now to create a positive space for exchange. Translators Aloud is not only an excellent platform for translators trying to promote or pitch their work, but also a space in which to represent voices from around the world, bringing cultures together at a time when we are physically distanced and subjected to powerful discourses of division. It also advocates for the visibility of the translator, showing explicitly how these texts became available in English by having them read by the people who wrote the English versions.
The channel has grown in popularity and diversity, with almost 700 subscribers to date; there are over a hundred videos available to view, with the readings grouped into playlists for easy navigation. There were a number of special posts to mark International Translation Day on 30 September, notably videos from the wonderful Antonia Lloyd-Jones and Ros Schwartz, in which they give guidance to aspiring literary translators on how to pitch projects and read from their own work. Tina says this is the feature she’s most proud of, as “it felt like we were helping our community and our colleagues, and that was great.” As an added International Translation Day bonus, you can also watch Emily Wilson give a dramatic reading of her controversial and highly acclaimed translation of Homer’s Odyssey.
You won’t be surprised to learn that my favourite playlist is the one devoted to readings of women in translation. I’m always slightly wary of grouping translations by original language (though I fully recognise the convenience and simplicity of doing so) because it can potentially mean that less dominant languages still don’t get the same recognition that the “big” languages (such as French and Spanish) do, and so for me the themed playlists do exactly what I want from publicising translations – they promote diversity, encourage us to look beyond our own bubbles or what we think we like or identify with, and discover something new.
When I asked Tina and Charlie about their hopes for the future, Tina had this to say: “Obviously I hope we’ll continue to attract subscribers, and to boost sales of translated books as people discover these wonderful readings and are inspired to buy books they wouldn’t even have heard of otherwise. But right now what I’m most excited about is our new ‘Seeking a Publisher’ playlist, which features as-yet-undiscovered projects that are ripe and ready to be picked up, with the English-language rights available. If we can help in bringing more world literature to the market, I would feel incredibly satisfied that we’d really made a difference at the end of the day.”
That notion of “making a difference” is so close to my heart, as if we don’t actively do what we can to make that difference, challenging universal structures or dominant narratives, then we allow an incomplete and inadequate status quo to perpetuate itself. Those of you familiar with my more academic research focus will know that I’m currently writing a book on the agency and activism of translators and publishers, so this comment from Charlie about her hopes for the channel’s growth also very much hit home for me: “I am really keen to increase awareness of how important translators are in the process of a foreign language book getting published in English, increasing awareness of what we do in general, and also increasing transparency in the publishing process. This all goes back to the main aim of Translators Aloud which is to shine the spotlight on translators.”
Any initiative that makes translators more visible gets an enthusiastic thumbs-up from me, and Translators Aloud is a wonderful community resource that both fosters and thrives on engagement and inclusion, and one which I hope will continue to grow in scope and success. You can see more in any of the hyperlinks, or follow my viewing recommendations below.
You can probably guess my first two recommendations, since Charlie and Tina have translated two of my favourite authors, and in my list you’ll also spot a number of books I’ve reviewed on this blog – if my review hasn’t already encouraged you to discover the book, hopefully the translators reading from their work will do so!
Tina Kover reads from Négar Djavadi’s Disoriental (Europa Editions, 2018)
Charlie Coombe reads from Margarita García Robayo’s Holiday Heart (Charco Press, 2020)
Katy Derbyshire reads from Sandra Hoffmann’s Paula (V&Q Books, 2020)
Elisabeth Jaquette reads from ‘Edges’ by Rania Mamoun, from Thirteen Months of Sunrise (Comma Press, 2019)
Annie McDermott reads from ‘The Same Stone’ by Edurne Portela, from Europa28 (edited by Sarah Cleave and Sophie Hughes, Comma Press, 2020)
Richard Philcox reads from Maryse Condé’s Waiting for the Waters to Rise (World Editions, 2021)
Fiona Graham reads from Elisabeth Åsbrink’s 1947: When Now Begins (Scribe Books, 2017)
Instructions for submitting work to Translators Aloud are pinned to the Twitter page, and can also be found on the “About” section of the YouTube channel.