Seattle: The new center of literature in translation?

06/13/2017 13:36 | Shelley Fairweather-Vega (Administrator)

NOTIS member Katie King talks about organizing a group of literary translators.

One of Seattle’s best-kept secrets is that is has quietly become the U.S. capital of literary translation. This is great news for me, because I am a literary translator myself. A native of Seattle and a University of Washington graduate, I worked outside the U.S. as a journalist and editor for much of my career, and then lived in London. When I returned home a few years ago, I found that while I wasn’t looking, this always-bookish city had become a translation hub as well.

At the core of this transition is AmazonCrossing, the world literature imprint of Amazon Publishing, which in the last six years has become the biggest U.S. publisher of literature translated into English. But even more importantly, as I reconnected with my city after so many years of travel, I kept running into other translators. Almost everyone I spoke to knew someone who worked in translation. But it seemed to me that none of these translators knew each other. In London, I enjoyed participating in a large and vibrant translation community with non-stop meetups, translation slams, lectures and book launches. What if, I thought, we could replicate that vibrant community here in Seattle?

This is where NOTIS comes in. The Northwest Translators and Interpreters Society has long represented working translators, both literary and technical, in this region. However, NOTIS board member Shelley Fairweather-Vega spotted a trend. The number of members who are literary translators has been growing, along with interest in literary translation events. Shelley organized the first-ever NOTIS literary translators’ open mic night in the spring of 2016. The event was wildly successful, with more participants than Shelley had expected—including me! And there, a partnership was born.

Inspired by each other and the dynamic local translators we’ve been talking to, Shelley and I decided to forge a local community specifically for and with literary translators. We call ourselves the Northwest Literary Translators and we launched in December, 2016 with an event that attracted 75 people. Since then, we’ve had monthly events including the Feedback Forum, Perfect Pitch, Publishers Panel, and Seattle’s first ever Translation Slam. Participants have come from as far away as Eugene, OR and Vancouver, WA. We’ve had the generous support of Seattle innovator David Brewster, who has nurtured our group by allowing us to meet in his beautiful Folio Athenaeum, a private library downtown. The University of Washington has also supported us with participation of some of their top translation scholars. We've hosted editors from AmazonCrossing, as well as other small, Seattle-based translation publishers, such as Pulitzer Prize-winning Wave Books.

But the biggest success of our efforts so far has been the members. Our group includes award-winning translators and people who are just starting out, top translation scholars and passionate self-taught success-stories. And we feel this is only the beginning. We hope to see you at one of our monthly events soon!

The Northwest Literary Translators meet on the third Thursday of each month at Folio in downtown Seattle. Check the NOTIS calendar for upcoming events.

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