Translators from Europe and Asia gather in Czech Republic at 5th edition of annual Susanna Roth Award

'I Wake Up in Shibuya', photo: Paseka publishing

Linguists from countries including China, Japan and France have gathered in Prague to attend the annual Susanna Roth Award, which gives young translators interested in Czech the opportunity to network and learn more about contemporary Czech literature. This year contestants were given the task of translating a selected text from the recent book I Wake Up in Shibuya written by critically acclaimed author Anna Cima.

'I Wake Up in Shibuya',  photo: Paseka publishing
For five years now Czech Centres have been organising an annual competition for beginner translators under the age of 40. Called the Susanna Roth Award, the contest is named after the Swiss translator who contributed significantly to the promotion of contemporary Czech literature abroad.

Anna Hrabáčková, the head of the Czech Centre’s Section of Cultural Diplomacy, explains why the competition was established.

“The award in its current form, which focuses on beginning translators of Czech under the age of 40, was inspired by the 100th anniversary since the birth of Bohumil Hrabal in 2014. Back then we organised a contest where translators were given the task of translating a text from one of Mr. Hrabal’s stories. The level of interest and the subsequent evaluation of the translations inspired us so much that we ended up deciding to make a proper competition with clear rules and a name.”

Interest in the competition has been growing steadily in recent years. This year applications came from over 130 contestants in 15 countries, including states such as China, Croatia and Lithuania, where Czech Centres do not yet have an established presence. However, the largest interest came from Poland, which Ms. Hrabáčková says is no surprise.

“We think that there is a large long-term interest in Poland for Czech culture, literature and the language. A lot of Czech books are published in Poland and it also has many specialised publishers.”

Those who competed in this year’s Susanna Roth Award were given three months to come up with a translation a selected 10 page text from the recently published book of Czech prose debutante Anna Cima, called I Wake Up in Shibuya. In the end, specialised panels of experts chose the 15 best translations.

The authors’ reward is a trip to the Czech Republic, which is currently underway. It includes an accompanying program with workshops revolving around Czech studies, translation and contemporary Czech literature as well as a Bohemistics seminar in Ustí nad Labem, where the contestants can meet with Czech literature experts.

Aside from Czech Centre’s the awards were also co-organised by the relatively recently formed Czech Literary Centre, an organisation which seeks to promote Czech literature at home and abroad.

Its director, Martin Krafl, says that translators are invaluable in popularising Czech literature internationally.

“We know at the Czech Literature Center that without translators we would not be able to promote Czech literature abroad, so we try to be in contact with them providing them with information about our literature and we appreciate their work very much.”