The Spanish Riveter

Hats off to the editors of The Spanish Riveter, a magazine freely available online and published by the European Literature Network, West Camel and Katie Whittemore, for producing a very thorough and inclusive, 294-page issue packed full of interesting writing and features. I can’t think of a better way of dipping into contemporary writing from Spain in all its manifestations: Basque, Castilian, Catalan, Galician…

There are sections not only on the four languages I have just mentioned – I was privileged to be asked to write the introduction to Galician literature on pages 200-204 – but also on publishing, grants, poetry, children’s literature, women’s writing (let us not forget that the last Spanish National Book Award for Fiction was won by a Galician woman writer, Marilar Aleixandre, who wasn’t even born in Galicia and adopted the language later on) and the Latam Boom.

All the people I have worked with over the last thirty years seem to have been included, and this is a testament to the editors’ hard work and open approach.

I fancy that some Galician editors would not agree with Katie Whittemore’s statement that “there is the sense that Spain’s other languages, while perhaps still on the back foot, so to speak, are experiencing growth in the book sector, with more institutional support, as well as a greater appetite from readers both within and without the Spanish territory” (page 8). Francisco Castro, director of the most traditional Galician publishing house, Editorial Galaxia, stated only the other day in the Faro de Vigo newspaper that “the Galician market is getting smaller and smaller, every year it is getting more and more difficult to reach income levels.” He goes on to talk about the great tragedy being experienced in Galicia, “which is the loss of its language,” and affirms that “a market that has to see a language in decline is destined for extinction.”

I would say that literary translators are “destined for extinction” and not much has been achieved since the heady days of the 1990s, when there was much talk of literary translation being a profession. Literary translators are still required to take significant personal risks, they do not receive a salary, sick leave or a pension, very little attention is paid to their work, and the juggernaut that is the English-language book market is hurtling along at such a pace it simply crushes the tossed-aside can of books in translation, offering little space in mainstream media to add to the difficulty of rising printing and distribution costs. We were never much inclined to listen to the other’s voice, which is a shame, really, since this would not only enrich our lives, but also lead to better international relations. Institutions, and the general public, are inclined to toss a coin in the cap of literary translation (without really understanding what it is), not much more.

As a publisher, I would strongly disagree with Alice Banks’ appraisal of grants on pages 62-63. She mentions one source, Acción Cultural Española, whose grants “cover the cost of translation.” This is typical of how it looks on the outside and how it really works in practice. In 2020 I applied for a grant for the Oxford professor John Rutherford to translate a Galician classic, Memoirs of a Village Boy by Xosé Neira Vilas. I asked for 2960 euros and was offered 1332 euros (that is, nine euros per page). That is a long way off the UK Translators’ Association’s recommended *minimum* rate of £100/1000 words (approximately 22 euros/page). Ainhoa Sánchez, the person responsible for literature, confirmed by email that “our grants are a support and are not meant to cover the overall cost, since we do not have the necessary budget.” This is an excuse I have heard many times, but it is not true – you simply support fewer projects with the same budget. I declined the grant, and we published the book on our own. There is a review by Paul Burke on pages 208-209 of the magazine.

But let us celebrate the diversity that this excellently produced magazine has brought to the fore and thank that ever hopeful cohort of translators, editors and publishers who continue to work and strive for translation. There is much to admire here.