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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » August 1, 2013
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Translators Descend on Cracow
August 1, 2013   
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Some 250 translators from across the globe flocked to the southern Polish city of Cracow at the end of June for the 3rd World Congress of Translators of Polish Literature.

“The idea to hold a meeting of people who actively work to give Polish literature a higher profile worldwide simply seemed attractive and appealing to us. This was a holiday for translators but at the same time a few days of intensive work,” said Elżbieta Kalinowska, deputy director of the Cracow-based Book Institute, which organized the event.

The first Congress of Translators of Polish Literature was held in 2005. It opened with an address by internationally acclaimed Polish journalist and writer Ryszard Kapu¶ciński (1932-2007). The next congress took place four years later in 2009, followed by another one this year.

This June, translators from around the world, who between them work in 42 languages, took part in workshops and lectures focusing on Polish literature, new publications as well as professional issues. Over two-and-a-half days, they had an opportunity to listen to a hundred speakers, among them top Polish literary critics, experts and publishers. The translators also met with a number of well-known Polish writers. The opening lecture was delivered by Wiesław My¶liwski, and other speakers included Olga Tokarczuk, Adam Zagajewski, Marek Krajewski, Ryszard Krynicki and Joanna Bator.

The Book Institute’s Agnieszka Rasińska-Bóbr said, “The congress is an opportunity for those taking part to stay up-to-date on what is going on in Polish literature. Also very important are personal contacts and the exchange of experience.”

During the congress, the Transatlantyk (Transatlantic) award was given out for the ninth time. This time the award went to Karol Lesman (pictured), an outstanding “ambassador” of Polish literature who has produced more than 50 translations into Dutch.

Translators play a key role in the promotion of books by Polish authors. They seek out publishers for their favorite titles and, when these appear in print, they help promote them. Most of the those who translate books by Polish authors are not full-time translators—they rarely make a living on a regular basis from working as a translator alone but are driven by a passion for literature.

Polish writers are increasingly being noticed around the world. Some authors have been successful internationally. Books by the likes of Olga Tokarczuk, Ryszard Kapu¶ciński and Andrzej Sapkowski have been translated into dozens of languages. Janusz L. Wi¶niewski enjoys star status in Russia and Vietnam, while volumes of poetry by Wisława Szymborska, the winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature, figure prominently on bestseller lists in Italy and Spain. At the same time, Polish fiction and poetry are charting new waters. In recent years, quite a few titles have appeared in Brazil, for example, and a growing number of translations are being published in China and Turkey. Polish authors are also being translated into new languages. For example, Janusz Korczak’s Król Maciu¶ Pierwszy (King Matt the First) has been translated into Azeri this year, and Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Quo Vadis is being translated into Amharic.

Book launches are rarely accompanied by media attention comparable to that surrounding big-budget movies, concerts by music stars or high-profile exhibitions. Books, however, remain on the market for a long time, reaching many readers over the years. The continued presence of Polish literature in translations into other languages is a way of showcasing Polish culture, and this would be impossible without the involvement of translators.

Cyprian Brukowski
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