ALTA Statement on Racial Equity in Literary Translation

As a response to the ongoing controversy around translations of US poet Amanda Gorman’s work into other languages (see Haidee Kotze’s piece on Medium for a thoughtful commentary), ALTA acknowledges that racial equity remains unrealized in the literary translation community, both in and outside of the United States. 

The question of whether identity should be the deciding factor in who is allowed to translate whom is a false framing of the issues at play. ALTA believes that if translators felt authorized to translate only those with whom they share an identity, it would be damaging to literary translation as a practice and as a profession. But in fact, translators choose or are chosen to translate works based on a complex network of factors including affinity, perceived status or skill, the author’s own wishes, the desires of publishers, etc. Legitimizing translation according to a simplistic schema of identity matching would be a problem, but that is not what occurred in this case. 

In our view, the foundational problem this controversy reveals is the scarcity of Black translators and other translators of color, a scarcity caused by long-term patterns of discrimination in education and publishing. These patterns make it harder for these translators to access opportunities comparable to those available to their white counterparts, not to mention that the criteria for these opportunities have historically been defined in white-centering ways. It is damaging to literary translation as a profession and as a practice when persistent and pervasive inequality of access still exists for so many potential practitioners.    

ALTA is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion as essential elements of our mission. Realizing that the first place to start is with ourselves, and affirming the importance of intersectionality in our own organization, ALTA is working to foster a translation community that reflects the diversity of our world.

Steps we have taken thus far include the creation of the Peter K. Jansen Memorial Travel Fellowship in 2016, the institution of the ALTA Equity Advocates and the ALTA BIPOC Caucus in 2020, and a sharper focus on diversifying our Board and award judges. ALTA also circulated a survey on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion to which over 350 members of our community replied. We are currently evaluating the information provided in the survey, and our next steps will be guided by these responses. In the meantime, translators who are interested in joining the ALTA BIPOC Caucus – a space for literary translators who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or as a person of color – can do so here.

Here are additional resources for BIPOC translators: 

ALTA believes that supporting current, emerging, and future BIPOC translators is a crucial step toward achieving racial equity in our field. If you would like to join ALTA’s efforts by contributing your ideas, expertise, money, or other resources, please contact ALTA’s Equity Advocates at equity@literarytranslators.org.
 

Signed, 

ALTA’s Board of Directors, Staff, and Equity Advocates, with input from the ALTA BIPOC Caucus

Ellen Elias-Bursac, Anne Fisher, Patrick Blaine, Samantha Schnee, Aron Aji, Sean Gasper Bye, Nancy Naomi Carlson, Bonnie Chau, Chenxin Jiang, Aviya Kushner, Colleen Lucey, Margo Pave, Aaron Robertson, Corine Tachtiris, Elisabeth Jaquette, Kelsi Vanada, Rachael Daum, Jessica Vocatura, Xuefei Ma, Jen Zoble

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