Women In Translation Month

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What happens when some voices simply aren’t heard? That’s the question that Women in Translation month is trying to answer – and redress.

The goal of Women in Translation – both the celebratory month of August and the volunteer project behind it – is to highlight talented women authors who write in languages that aren’t English.

These writers and their translators and publishers get far less attention than other voices. No matter what genre you like to read, there’s bound to be something here you won’t have come across before.

What is the Women in Translation project?

Women in Translation is a volunteer-led community project that has been promoting women writers around the world who write in languages other than English since 2013.

It doesn’t matter whether their work has been translated into English or not. The project does a lot of promotion work and is on social media predominantly in English, but it is part of a much wider international effort.

Also, although it has “translation” in the title, neither the project nor the celebratory month necessarily focus on the translator of the work in question. The project recognises that the experience – and even the voice – of a translator is vital, yet it strives to keep that as a worthwhile but distinct conversation.

The project is chiefly designed to give women from “all countries, all languages, all religions, all ethnicities, all cultures, all sexualities, all marginalized gender identities, all abilities, all bodies, all classes, and all ages” a space in which their voices can be heard.

Why is WIT worthwhile?

There is a serious under-representation of women writers when it comes to which authors have their work translated into English and other languages. This representation gets even narrower for women who hail from non-European countries.

From the point of view of fairness and equality, this is a pretty pathetic state of affairs. It’s not the case of the talent not being there. It’s a case of it often going without recognition or even having a route to get it.

Even from a more selfish standpoint, there are some great stories out there that we are all being made the poorer for not being able to access! WIT is worthwhile because:

  • Less than 3% of books published in the US and UK are translated from other languages
  • Under 31% of books translated into English are written by women (this is actually less when you take out academic works and re-translations of classics)
  • Only around 36% of books translated into English have writers from non-European countries

What is Women in Translation month?

Women In Translation month (otherwise known as WIT month) grew out of the broader Women In Translation project.

Its objective is the same as the project – to be a space to raise awareness of the work of women authors writing in languages other than English. It does this by being a focal point for voices that otherwise would probably not be heard.

Book recommendations for Women In Translation month

If you’re wondering where to start with what to read in Women in Translation month, here are a few books the Kwintessential team have been dabbling in to get you started:

1) The Memory Police

Author: Yoko Ogawa

Translator: Stephen Snyder

In this dystopian tale, people living on a strange island must forget when objects around them disappear. If not, they face being arrested by the Memory Police.

2) Segu

Author: Maryse Condé

Translator: Barbara Bray

First published in 1984, Segu only won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018. A tale that relates how the leaders of a West African Kingdom faced the slave trade and newly arrived religions at the turn of the 19th century, Segu is a brilliant work of historical fiction.

3) The Vegetarian

Author: Han Kang

Translator: Deborah Smith

After experiencing bizarre and disturbing dreams, a South Korean housewife starts to battle with how she perceives herself, her family, the world around her, and even what it means to be human as she tries to be more uniquely herself – and vegetarian. The Vegetarian won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016.

4) The Naked Eye

Author:  Yoko Tawada

Translator: Susan Bernofsky

This surreal story follows a young Vietnamese communist party member kidnapped in East Germany and her strange escape back generally eastwards fuelled by a diet of obsessive movie watching. Strangely, it’s also a work of cinema critique centred on French actress Catherine Deneuve.

5) Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was

Author: Angélica Gorodischer

Translator:  Ursula LeGuin

Multiple point-of-view characters tell the story of a nameless empire that never existed in this magical tale. It also features Ursula LeGuin – author of A Wizard of Earthsea and numerous other incredible fantasy books – as the translator.

6) Apple and Knife

Author: Intan Paramaditha

Translator: Stephen Epstein

Rejoice, fans of fairy stories that are also subtly horror stories! Apple and Knife, Indonesian writer Intan Paramaditha’s collection of short stories will almost certainly be right up your street.

7) My First and Only Love

Author: Sahar Khalifeh

Translator: Aida Bamia

Palestinian author Sahar Khalifeh has a growing reputation outside of her native country too. This story of a young girl’s experience of love and resistance almost becomes poetry in places.

8) What You Can See From Here

Author: Mariana Leky

Translator: Tess Lewis

Mariana Leky has won awards and has some good name recognition internationally, but What You Can See Here is still worth drawing attention to. It’s a real feel-good tale about a kooky small town community and a young woman whose grandmother predicts a coming loss.

9) EEG

Author: Daša Drndic

Translator: Celia Hawkesworth

Like Apple and Knife, EEG is a little darker than the other entries on this list. It’s also dark in a very different way, being essentially some reflections on genocide and death. Fun, it is not. Thought-provoking and deeply moving though, it most certainly is.

10) Swallowing Mercury

Author: Wioletta Greg

Translator: Eliza Marciniak

Author Wioletta Greg’s collection of stories about growing up in the rural Poland of the 1980s is heartwarming yet melancholy, even quietly angry in places. It’s an interesting and unique entry from a very lyrical writer.

Get involved with Women in Translation

The idea behind the project is that it’s easy to get involved and any book written by a woman author in a language other than English – irrespective of the language it’s currently been read or discussed in – is part of the month.

All you need to do to get involved is choose something that speaks to you and get reading!


Visit https://www.womenintranslation.org/ to find out more about the project and the event.

If you want to get more involved in this community-based event, all you need to do is start engaging with any of the brilliant works listed above – or check out #WITmonth online.

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