An Introduction to Spain in Translation Today

By Katie King
Seattle, December 30, 2017

The journey that a work of non-English literature or poetry takes to translation and publication is a tortured one, with a few exceptions. Most English speakers have heard of Don Quixote de la Mancha (the fictional character if not the Spanish Renaissance author Miguel de Cervantes). And most readers in the English-speaking world will at least recognize the name Lorca, (the martyred poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, if not the titles of any of his plays or poems). Both of these authors and their works are memorable to the English speaker because of their multiple and continuously updated translations into the English language. They are the exceptions.

The number of literary works from Spain that make it into the hands of U.S. readers is low. In 2008, just 17 books of fiction and poetry from Spain were translated into English for publication, according to data compiled by Chad Post for his Three Percent Database. The good news is that in 2017 that number doubled to 34.

But overall, the numbers are still small. Over the last decade, a total of just 283 of Spain’s works were translated into English. By comparison, French translations in 2008 counted 48 and over the decade, 572. The issue of contemporary Spain’s low profile in the English language literary marketplace spurred the online world literature magazine Words Without Borders in 2013 to publish Spain’s Great Untranslated, an anthology of translated excerpts from some of the most important authors of Spain working today who are not available in English. Of the 12 authors included in this anthology, just three have since been translated in English.

But, the numbers are growing, and that is the impetus for this analysis of the Three Percent data on Spain. The data shows that the last decade has witnessed an increased interest in world literature in English, and that some of Spain’s poets and novelists are benefiting. The overall numbers are still small, but the trends are suggestive of important shifts. In this article, I analyze some of the most important points from the Three Percent Database.

Most translated authors of Spain into English, 2008-2017 (data as of February 2018)

Manuel Rivas, 6 (from the Galician)

Enrique Vila-Matas, 6

Andrés Barba, 5

Manel Loureiro, 5

Javier Marías, 5

Arturo Perez-Reverte, 5

All other authors from Spain have been translated into English four or fewer times in the last ten years. Four translations is a lot and also important, but for the purposes of this introduction, I will focus on the top five authors.

There are three important points to note from this list:

1) All of Vila-Matas’s books are from the same publisher (New Directions Fiction). This suggests that if an author has success with a publisher, that publisher may continue with the author for additional publication.

2) Three of the Rivas novels were published by the tiny but prolific Small Stations Press which focuses, among other things, on classic and contemporary Galician fiction and poetry. Small Stations published 34 of the 40 Galician to English books in the last decade. The ability of small publishers to focus on a specific area of literature in translation has made it possible for new voices to be heard from Spain’s autonomous region languages.

3) All five of Manel Loureiro’s books were published by Amazon Crossing, the literature in translation imprint of Amazon Publishing. A lawyer, journalist and blogger, his first book on zombies grew into a series. He is a genre writer of horror stories, promoted as the Spanish Stephen King.

Top publishers of translations to English from Spain, 2008-2017

Small Stations          34 titles

Hispabooks               33 titles

Amazon Crossing     27 titles

Dalkey Archive         16 titles

Atria                           14 titles

Shearsman Books    12 titles

New Directions        10 titles

It’s a surprising piece of data: the most prolific publisher of literature from Spain publishes from the Galician language. Small Stations press is a small, Bulgaria-based (according to their website) company that has been churning out Galician language poetry and fiction at an extraordinary rate. Operated by Bulgarian poet Tsvetanka Elenkova and British scholar/translator Jonathan Dunne, Small Stations has had an enormous impact on the availability of Galician language literature in English. From 2009 to 2013, they only published one or two translated works from Spain a year. But in 2014 that leapt to five in a year, then seven the next and then, in 2016, nine translations. Over the last decade, they have published more translated titles from Spain than any other publisher.

Just behind is another small, independent publisher. Madrid-based Hispabooks was founded in 2011 by partners Ana Pérez Galván and Gregorio Doval, two Spanish book industry veterans who saw an opportunity for great works of contemporary Spanish literary in a globalized English-language market place. Its books appear in the Three Percent Database starting in 2013 and include new and established writers and Basque and Catalan language works as well as Spanish. Though it is a Spanish publishing company, Hispabook titles a included in the Three Percent Database because they have a U.S. distributor.

In third position is Seattle-based AmazonCrossing, the literature-in-translation imprint of Amazon Publishing. Launched in 2010, it has become the biggest overall publisher, in terms of number of translations, of world literature into English, responsible for 6.52% (323) of all the translated novels available in the U.S. over the last decade. It’s in the number three position, slightly behind Hispabooks, for overall number of Spain translations. As a division, AmazonCrossing is quite small with only a few staff editors, so it fits into the profile of the small, entrepreneurial publisher, albeit within the infrastructure of a large corporation.

It’s clear that the small indie publisher phenomenon is having a huge impact on moving literary voices of Spain into English. More research is needed into how these small publishers are able to survive and thrive. What combination of technology such as print-on- demand, eBooks, online commerce and social media marketing do they deploy for success? What revenue model helps them stay in business: non-profit, commercial, or a combination? How do social media, digital marketing and cultural communities contribute to this success? What kind of broader impact do the new literary voices emerging from the small publishers have? Are they winning awards? Are they influencers? Do they sell a lot and make money? Are their books made into movies or video games? And again, which authors are still left out of this growth?

Read next post: “Why Literary Translation Data Matters”

Katie King

Posted by Katie King

Leave a Reply