Lockdown Summer: Literary Translation Events Online

Around the world, lockdowns and shelter-in-place rules have changed the landscape of literary events.

In response, many events have shifted online. These are taking place on YouTube, Instagram, Zoom, and other platforms. Rachel Brittain came up with a great list of book events you can attend from home. Also, Christina M. Rau rounded up reading series gone virtual.

Here, we focus on world literature and translation.

Why Bother?

Sometimes, after a long day of screens, it’s hard to imagine joining one more Zoom call.

Reading and writing can be pretty solitary activities. One of the great joys of book fairs, readings, and other literary events is meeting the rest of the community. Book events can lead to serendipitous connections: new people, new books, new ideas.

Naturally, online literary events miss much of this serendipity. There are other problems, too. Connections can disappear. On-screen events can feel distant. And it can be awful to stare at one’s own face on the screen.

But also, in this moment, you can attend book talks by writers in Lagos, Delhi, Glasgow, Dhaka, Cairo, and Mexico City.

The Best Sorts of Online Events

There’s no one-size-fits-all of good online literary events. In my small experience, the worst seem to be trying to replicate in-person events without making any allowance made for online interaction. The best allow several different types of interaction—even types of “small-talk” interaction that have nothing to do with the event.

Below, a few world-lit events you might try.

Events for Readers of All Ages

Mother Tongue Twisters: Translation Thursdays

Mother Tongue Twisters is a new online platform. They intend, they write, “to curate and collate Indian language poetry for young readers.”

One recent event featured readings of love poetry in various “mother tongues.” These included: Hindi, Urdu, Khasi, Kannada, Kashmiri & Bengali.

Each Thursday, the group promises to host a new event.  Mother Tongue Twister founder Mohini Gupta said that these events will be “virtual meet-ups for translation enthusiasts where people can discuss their favorite poems in translation and share their own translations.”

So far, events have featured poet-translator Lawrence Schimel, author-translator Jerry Pinto, and author-translator Saif Mahmood. These are fun for linguists of all ages.

You can follow their events at #TranslationThursdays.

Stephen Spender Trusts: TranslationCasts

The Stephen Spender Trust is currently running an all-ages translation contest. Meanwhile, they’re also managing a “TranslationCast.”

Current “TranslationCasts” are in Spanish, French, German, and Polish. However, you don’t need any of those languages to see and appreciate the beauties of the process.

These broadcasts are intended for teachers. However, there’s nothing to stop others from enjoying them as well.

Events for Readers of Larger Ages

Sant Jordi Literary Festival

One of the first events to shift online was the Sant Jordi Literary Festival, which runs every year around St. George’s Day. This festival is usually set to run in New York City. Yet it quickly moved online—and expanded.

Although the event is over, you can still watch readings from all three days.

Translating the Future

Translating the Future is a lecture series that quickly shifted online. Now, instead of attending a lecture in New York City, authors and translators are speaking from their homes around the world.

These weekly hour-long online conversations are set to continue throughout the late spring and summer. In the end, organizers are planning a series of culminating event, and the big finale promises several big programs. These include “a symposium among Olga Tokarczuk’s translators into languages including English, Japanese, Hindi, and more.”

The conversations are hosted by Esther Allen and Allison Markin Powell. The first event, with translators David Bellos in conversation with Karen Emmerich, had more than 600 attendees.

You can find out more at their website.

Borderless Book Club

In response to widespread lock-down orders, Peirene Press created the Borderless Book Club in March 2020. This collaboration with other small presses included Charco Press, Comma Press, Istros Books, Nordisk Books, and Tilted Axis Press. Later, Bitter Lemon Press and Fitzcarraldo Editions joined.

While they had initially planned for a six-week run, Borderless Book Club organizers have decided to keep going “for the foreseeable future.” Although the future, at the moment, feels not very foreseeable.

Each Thursday, authors, translators, publishers, and readers get together to discuss one work in translation. I’m particularly looking forward to the July 23 event with translator Thoraya El-Rayyes. She’ll lead a discussion of the spec-fic collection Palestine +100, edited by Basma Ghalayini. Also: Comma Press is offering a free ebook with the paperback to those who order off their website.