Information on the ALTA Conference Bookfair

Each year ALTA welcomes hundreds of translators, editors, booksellers, and readers to a celebration of literature in translation at our annual conference. For many decades, the bookfair has been part of this gathering, showcasing books translated from around the world by ALTA members.

We have recently received public and private expressions of frustration with the management of the bookfair, specifically around the lack of availability of certain titles.

Just as the conference has grown and developed over the years, so has the bookfair. In its earliest days, ALTA members were encouraged to bring a copy of their translations for an exhibition: books were not for sale, but for display only. In recent years, ALTA has partnered with a local bookseller in each city where the conference is held: ALTA collects book requests from translators attending the conference, while the bookseller orders titles, transports books, and staffs the bookfair.

The truth is that finding a bookseller willing to run the bookfair has consistently posed a challenge, namely because the bookfair is a phenomenal amount of work. It requires the bookseller to special order hundreds of titles (over 600 titles were requested this year), transport books and set up the display, staff an additional location over the weekend, and then return hundreds of unsold items. The labor involved, not to mention the credit required to place such a large order (over 1300 units this year), makes this unfeasible for most bookstores, particularly independent bookstores running on tighter margins. The high percentage of special orders, and low percentage of stock sold at the conference (between 35-50% in recent years), are further barriers.

For many years ALTA’s bookfair ran at a loss for the bookseller, and as a result, it became increasingly difficult to locate booksellers in new cities willing to run the bookfair. In an attempt to address this, in 2017 we introduced the following guidelines and criteria for requested books:

“Requesting a book does not guarantee that it will be available at the bookfair. Please note that titles must be published within the past five years, returnable, and distributed in the U.S. Due to our agreement with the bookseller, some books are unable to be requested due to their distributor, even if they fulfill the above requirements. (This could be due to a book having a “short discount,” or other significant shipping costs.) We make every effort to include as many requested books as possible.”

The goal of these criteria is not to exclude titles, it is to ensure that the bookfair is a feasible endeavor for a bookseller, both logistically and financially. A thriving literary translation community is made up of translators, editors, publishers, and booksellers. Asking another booksellers to partner with us at a loss to them is not something we can conscientiously ask them to do.

This year, the ALTA bookfair is being run by Barnes & Noble at the University of Rochester. Every book request received by ALTA was conveyed to the bookseller, and the bookseller attempted to acquire every book. The resulting available titles are a reflection of what was possible and feasible for the bookseller to acquire; when the bookseller was unsuccessful at acquiring a specific title, it is not because the book was not selected by ALTA, or was deemed lacking in merit. Usually, unavailable titles have to do with the bookseller’s relationship to the distributor in terms of shipping and returns, which books are in stock with the distributor, etc. Needless to say, ALTA has no control over the terms set between a publisher and distributor.

Nor does the availability of a given press’s books at the bookfair reflect the esteem in which ALTA holds that press, or small independent presses in general, who we recognize have long been champions of international literature in translation.

We encourage individuals who are interested in learning more about the practicalities and economics of bookselling to attend the session on “Bookselling and Translation” from 10:45am-12:00pm on Sunday, November 10, in Highland D, and to come to the General Membership Meeting from 1-1:45pm on Saturday, November 9 in Highland A.

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The NTA Countdown to ALTA42: What’s Left of the Night

Join us as we count down to ALTA42: Sight and Sound with the National Translation Award in Poetry and Prose long- and shortlisted titles! We will be featuring the titles in alphabetical order alongside blurbs penned by our judges for the National Translation Awards in Poetry and Prose. This year’s prose judges are Bonnie Huie, Charlotte Mandell, and Jeffrey Zuckerman. This year’s judges for poetry are Anna Deeny Morales, Cole Heinowitz, and Sholeh Wolpe.

For quick reference, you may find the NTA longlists here, and the NTA shortlists here. Today we’re shining the spotlight on Prose NTA shortlisted title What’s Left of the Night:

WhatsLeftOfTheNightWhat’s Left of the Night
by Ersi Sotiropoulos
translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich
(New Vessel Press)

C.P. Cavafy has been summed up as “a Greek gentleman in a straw hat, standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe.” Ersi Sotiropoulos’s What’s Left of the Night shakes off this cliché with sinuous sentences that describe a man in motion thoroughly enmeshed in the world. She takes us into three days and nights of Cavafy’s European tour in June 1897, as he stays in Paris with his brother and explores the city—and his still-unnamable passions. Moving seamlessly from description to thought to assessment of the poems he’s working on, the story allows us to live, briefly, in this history; in Karen Emmerich’s translation, the prose becomes as luxurious and welcoming as Cavafy’s own poetry.

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The NTA Countdown to ALTA42: War Songs

Join us as we count down to ALTA42: Sight and Sound with the National Translation Award in Poetry and Prose long- and shortlisted titles! We will be featuring the titles in alphabetical order alongside blurbs penned by our judges for the National Translation Awards in Poetry and Prose. This year’s prose judges are Bonnie Huie, Charlotte Mandell, and Jeffrey Zuckerman. This year’s judges for poetry are Anna Deeny Morales, Cole Heinowitz, and Sholeh Wolpe.

For quick reference, you may find the NTA longlists here, and the NTA shortlists here. Today we’re shining the spotlight on Poetry NTA longlisted title War Songs:

War SongsWar Songs
by Antarah ibn Shaddad
translated from the Arabic by James E. Montgomery with Richard Sieburth
(Library of Arabic Literature/NYU Press)

War Songs are poems of a tumultuous life replete with unrequited love, pride, anger and unceasing battles in blood-curdling yet sonorous detail. Born in pre-Islamic Arabia to an Arab father and an African mother, warrior-poet ‘Antarah Ibn Shaddad not only evokes clan conflicts but also the struggles of a society in turmoil, where Even the ruins/fell into ruin—/tired playthings/of time/and the thunder/and rain. James Montgomery and Richard Sieburth’s superb translation of this important and extraordinary work is attentive to details and monumental in scope.  The poems bound off the page with the energy and charge demanded by this extraordinary story.

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The NTA Countdown to ALTA42: Through Naked Branches

Join us as we count down to ALTA42: Sight and Sound with the National Translation Award in Poetry and Prose long- and shortlisted titles! We will be featuring the titles in alphabetical order alongside blurbs penned by our judges for the National Translation Awards in Poetry and Prose. This year’s prose judges are Bonnie Huie, Charlotte Mandell, and Jeffrey Zuckerman. This year’s judges for poetry are Anna Deeny Morales, Cole Heinowitz, and Sholeh Wolpe.

For quick reference, you may find the NTA longlists here, and the NTA shortlists here. Today we’re shining the spotlight on Poetry NTA longlisted title Through Naked Branches:

TNB CoverThrough Naked Branches: Selected Poems of Tarjei Vesaas
by Tarjei Vesaas
translated from the Norwegian by Roger Greenwald
(Black Widow Press)

Internationally acclaimed for his novels, Tarjei Vesaas was also one of Scandinavia’s most accomplished poets. Drawn from his six volumes of poetry, this collection introduces English-speaking audiences to a quietly attentive, hauntingly evocative lyricism that defies conventional, image-driven notions of modernism. Rooted in the rhythms of Norway’s oral tradition and directly formed by the variations of the country’s natural landscape, Vesaas’s language testifies to the intimate solidarity between the human and the non-human. Exquisitely translated, and preceded by a penetrating critical introduction, Through Naked Branches speaks to us like a strangely familiar inner voice through Greenwald’s plangent, lapidary English.

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The NTA Countdown to ALTA42: The Taiga Syndrome

Join us as we count down to ALTA42: Sight and Sound with the National Translation Award in Poetry and Prose long- and shortlisted titles! We will be featuring the titles in alphabetical order alongside blurbs penned by our judges for the National Translation Awards in Poetry and Prose. This year’s prose judges are Bonnie Huie, Charlotte Mandell, and Jeffrey Zuckerman. This year’s judges for poetry are Anna Deeny Morales, Cole Heinowitz, and Sholeh Wolpe.

For quick reference, you may find the NTA longlists here, and the NTA shortlists here. Today we’re shining the spotlight on Prose NTA longlisted title The Taiga Syndrome:

Taiga SyndromeThe Taiga Syndrome
by Cristina Rivera Garza
translated from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana
(Dorothy, a publishing project)

The Taiga Syndrome proceeds in dreamlike fragments, a hallucinatory investigation that slowly reveals that the narrator is in the taiga, is a detective, has been asked by a man to seek out a woman who’s run away with another man. They may have been infected with “the taiga syndrome”—a suite of anxiety attacks culminating in a need to escape, which is impossible in an inhospitable biome that stretches out for hundreds of miles. Maintaining tension with every successive sentence, where words and details become precious gems that might offer a clue—or, better yet, an escape—is an acrobatic feat, and it is stunning to see how Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana manage to immerse us so thoroughly in this sparse thicket of mere words originally constructed by the Mexico-born, Houston-based Rivera Garza.

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