06. 19. 2017. 14:08

Literary Translators conference 11-13 June at PIM

On 11-13 June a conference for literary translators of Hungarian was held in the Petőfi Literary Museum in connection with the 200th anniversary of János Arany’s birth. Here's a summary of the events.

On 11-13 June a conference for literary translators of Hungarian was held in the Petőfi Literary Museum in connection with the 200th anniversary of János Arany’s birth. Translators were invited from twenty-six separate countries and almost one hundred took part. The meeting was the first of its kind to happen in forty years, and was an effort to strengthen connections within the network of those translating Hungarian literature, as well as to introduce the work of the Translators’ House in Balatonfüred, Publishing Hungary and the Hungarian Books and Translation Office.


On Sunday 11 June, proceedings kicked off with a day-trip to the Translators’ House in Balatonfüred. The guests were given a tour of the beautiful house in Füred, where translators from around the world regularly come to work in peace and solitude on their latest undertaking. Yu Zemin, who translates into Chinese, sparked laughter in the conference’s opening speech, claiming that he’d often spent weeks in the house with several other translators, and seen none of them. Those who aren’t familiar with the Translators’ House in Balatonfüred can find more information about applications and grants here.

Indeed on Monday morning, Yu Zemin’s opening speech touched upon several interesting points. He compared the representation of translators around the world, reminding us that in China both his photo and biography are included on the inside cover of the book. “Readers know me better than Bartis,” he joked.

On Monday afternoon the translators were invited to the Sándor Palace to meet the President of Hungary, János Áder. To mark the 200th anniversary of János Arany’s birth the President reminded us of the incredible linguistic ability of the 19th century Hungarian writer, poet and legendary translator. Noting the sheer difficulty of translating the Hungarian language, the President gave thanks to the hard graft of the translators in their efforts to spread Hungarian literature abroad and acknowledged that it was no simple task. Áder remained after his speech with the translators for a glass of wine and to exchange thoughts one-to-one.

On Tuesday morning Ágnes Füle introduced the work of the Hungarian Books and Translation Office which has been running since 1997 and supported the translation of more than 1000 books into dozens of other languages. Zsuzsa Szabó introduced the work of Publishing Hungary which focuses on the participation of Hungary at book fairs around the world. In 2016 Hungary was the guest of honour at the Warsaw and Taipei book fairs.

Csaba Károlyi, editor at Élet és Irodalom, held a speedy presentation on his twelve most recommended (largely untranslated) writers and books of the last year. Those included Krisztián Grecsó, Sándor Jászberényi, Árpád Kun, László Márton, Róbert Milbacher, Gábor Németh, Róbert Csaba Szabó, Anna Szabó T., János Térey, Krisztina Tóth, Pál Závada and Gábor Zoltán. Niki Szekeres   held a presentation on children’s and young fiction, including recommendations of Anikó Wéber, István Tasnádi, Erzsi Kertész and Dóra Elekes among others.


Each day of the three-day conference included a roundtable discussion with a writer and their translators, including Péter Nádas, György Spíró and Krisztina Tóth, and each discussion was layered with the unique problems of their translation, as well as quips and anecdotes from the writers themselves about their own experience in writing, translating foreign literature and interacting with their translator.

All in all, the conference presented an opportunity for translators to become informed of the resources available to them in Hungary, to discover and meet new writers, and to strengthen the international network of translators. For myself as someone who translates into English, it was fantastic that so many English translators were gathered in one room, many of whom I’d previously known of or corresponded with, but had no chance of talking to face-to-face. On top of that, I realised that the community of translators working into English is larger than any of us expected. During coffee breaks and lunch, we talked shop; sharing contact information, experiences, current projects and wine.

Owen Good