Iím entirely and wholly for this in principle. Itís basically what Iíve done for the last eight years as a professional freelance translator, and always as a supplement to making a living. I mean, weíre talking short stories here: passion projects. Fiction alone, Iíve brought 36 authors into English in 58 different publications, from periodicals (SFF and non) to anthologies.
Which is why thereís one teensy thing that bothers me about this exceedingly well-intentioned proposal, whose specificity I otherwise admire. I applaud the wake-up call, especially from unexpected quarters, and in a community dear to my heart, the very one I work in. I applaud its being backed by actual initiative. I applaud the recent beginnings of a wave in name-authors translating, from David Mitchell to Jonathan Franzen (in however encumbered a version). I am not one of those translators who fears their work will run us out of jobs, or begrudges them the renown their translations win them relative to professional translators, or that such professionals would have done a better job. The more stuff being translated, the better, and in as broad a spectrum as possible; the more people translating, the better. Thereís no shortage of quality foreign work or authors; translators need hardly compete in that regard (itís the narrowness of the gate into English that makes them think they do).
However, in the case of your offer above, we are talking about a very invisible part of an already relatively invisible profession: translating on spec, often in contact directly with the author (and not his/her publisher, much less the minimal contractual protection of any English-language publisher). In this kind of situation, I have seen too many translators, hungry for work or just hoping to work on something they like, get treated really unscrupulously by foreign authors, themselves hungry to get into hegemonic English, to be comfortable seeing translation services offered FOR FREE. Authors who pit multiple translators against each other, who deny the translator ever did any work at all, who go on to defame said translator to authors and publishersÖ you name it. Not that having an English publisher lined up really guarantees much: editor Sal Robinson explains why in great
You are of course free to set the price of your own labor. In the end, all of us in literature do this at least partly for love, and in this day and age, there are few writers or translators who havenít done quite a few things for free. But if I dream at all of a day when some professional organization remotely resembling a union guarantees baselines translation rates in the US (like the
syndicat in France), I have to start somewhere by making a stand about not ever waiving my fee. My fee for stories, like the act of one story per year that you offer, may be symbolic at this point, but these are both gestures toward a better future: one with more translations getting read, and more translators making a living wage.