Last week, while Rick was in St. Petersburg (see previous posts) I was at Kääntäjän sana, an international translators’ conference in Helsinki. The conference was the most recent in a long line of projects sponsored by FILI – Finnish Literature Exchange for the training and support of translators of Finnish literature, and it brought together 120 translators into 32 different languages for a four-day extravaganza of author panels, lectures on language and culture, and hobnobbing with colleagues old and new.
The conference was organized in part as preparation for the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair, when Finland will for the first time be the theme country. Frankfurt is the largest book fair in the world, and 2014 will be an uprecedented chance for Finnish writers and publishers to market their books abroad. The idea of Kääntäjän sana was to bring translators up to date on what’s happening in Finnish literature and to give us a chance to make contacts with authors, publishers, agents, and colleagues.
The conference was exhausting, with events every day from 9 in the morning until well into the evening, followed by impromptu gatherings late into the night to try and fit in a little plain old conversation. I slept for about five hours a night, drank copious quantities of tea all through the day to stay awake, and was wined and dined (and beered, and wined some more) every night. By the third and fourth day of the conference, what with the lack of sleep, the combination of stimulants, and the rich mix of languages, of which I know only a couple well enough to contribute to the conversation, my brain was mush. But I was happy.
The purpose of FILI is to promote the translation and dissemination of Finnish literature. They provide grants to translators and publishers, translation seminars, internships, and publishers’ visits to Helsinki, all of which I have had the good fortune to take part in. And it’s working. The quantity of Finnish literature published abroad has steadily increased over the past decade. The number of works of Finnish literature published each year in English is perhaps too small to make any firm claims about statistical trends, but the signs are good. From 1992-2002, there were 18 English translations of Finnish novels published abroad. From 2002 to the present, there were 34, with one more that I know of appearing before the end of this year (and two more next year, by yours truly, but that doesn’t count for this comparison).
This increase is due largely to the new availability of qualified translators. There used to be less than a dozen Finnish to English literary translators in the whole world, most of whom did not make literary translation their primary occupation. There are now at least five more, four of us full-time literary translators, all of us trained and supported by FILI. The work of these newly trained translators accounts for most of the increase in Finnish novels published abroad over the past decade.
For us and for translators I’ve met over the years from all over the world, the conference last week was like a reunion, and seeing how successful many of us have been was very satisfying. It gives the rest of the world a chance to read Finnish classics, and the work of the great contemporary writers who came to this conference – like Leena Krohn, Rosa Liksom, Sofi Oksanen, Johanna Sinisalo, Antti Tuomainen, Jyrki Vainonen. . . too many to name.