Two translators who were commissioned by different publishers to translate The Hill We Climb, the poem American writer Amanda Gorman read at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, have withdrawn following controversy that Black translators were not chosen for the job.
Victor Obiols, the Catalan translator, said he was contacted by a Barcelona publisher to produce the Catalan version of Gorman’s poem. After he finished, Obiols said the publisher received word from the U.S. that he “was not the right person.” He does not know if the rejection came from the original publisher or from Gorman’s agent.
“I was notified that I am not suitable to translate it,” Obiols said. “They did not question my abilities, but they were looking for a different profile, which had to be a woman, young, an activist, and preferably Black.”
Obiols said the publisher promised to pay him for the work completed.
Acclaimed Dutch translator Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, winner of the 2020 International Booker Prize, said she withdrew from a project to translate Gorman’s work after a similar backlash against her Dutch publisher for not choosing a Black translator.
“I am shocked by the uproar around my involvement to spread Amanda Gorman’s message, and I understand the people who feel hurt by the publisher’s decision to ask me,” Rijneveld said.
Critics of Rijneveld’s appointment questioned why a White translator had been chosen to translate the work of a Black writer.
“Gorman’s work and life have been colored by her experience and identity as a Black woman,” said Janice Deul, a Dutch cultural activist. “I’m not saying a Black person can’t translate White work, and vice versa, but not this specific poem of this specific orator in this Black Lives Matter area—that’s the whole issue.”
“Gorman’s team said that they still stand behind the publisher’s choice, and I thank her for the trust that has been placed in me,” Rijneveld said. “I happily devoted myself to translating Amanda’s work, in which I saw the greatest task as keeping her power, tone, and style. I still wish that her ideas reach as many readers as possible and open as many hearts.”
“It is a very complicated subject that cannot be treated with frivolity,” Obiols said. “But if I cannot translate a poet because she is a woman, young, Black, and an American of the 21st century, then I cannot translate Homer because I am not a Greek, or Shakespeare because I am not a 16th-century Englishman.”
Read Full Article from The Guardian (United Kingdom) (03/10/21)
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