A translator from Spain says his version of a poem read at US President Joe Biden’s inauguration was rejected because he had the wrong “profile”.
Víctor Obiols was commissioned to work on the Catalan translation of Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb last month.
But after he completed the project, the publishers said they wanted a translator who was “a woman, young, activist and preferably black”.
Amanda Gorman, 22, was the youngest poet ever to perform at a US presidential inauguration in January.
Her five-minute poem, which referenced the storming of the Capitol, received praise from around the world following months of debate about racial justice in the US and abroad.
Víctor Obiols, whose previous work includes translations of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, was asked to translate Gorman’s poem and a foreword by Oprah Winfrey into Catalan several weeks ago.
But the editor of Barcelona publisher Univers told Spain’s Efe news agency on Wednesday that after the translation was complete, the company received a request from the US group Viking Books for the work to be carried out by a female activist with African-American origins, if possible.
The decision came after a controversy in the Netherlands that a white poet had been chosen to translate The Hill We Climb into Dutch.
“They did not question my abilities,” Víctor Obiols told the AFP news agency, noting that the publisher had promised to pay him for his work.
“But if I cannot translate a poet because she is a woman, young, black, an American of the 21st Century, neither can I translate Homer because I am not a Greek of the eighth century BC. Or could not have translated Shakespeare because I am not a 16th-Century Englishman,” he added.
No new translator has been announced for the project.
What happened with the Dutch translation?
By Anna Holligan, BBC News, The Hague
Dutch publisher Meulenhoff described poet Marieke Lucas Rijneveld as a “dream candidate”, who at 29 became the youngest author to win the International Booker prize in 2020 with debut novel The Discomfort of Evening.
Amanda Gorman had selected Rijneveld herself, as a fellow young writer who had also come to fame early, said the publisher.
Outspoken on issues including gender equality and mental health, Rijneveld identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them.
But there was an outcry because the renowned author is not black.
Critics said it was not just about skin colour, but identity too. This was not simply about translation, but whether Gorman’s poetry could be accurately reflected, interpreted by someone of a different ethnicity, genre, and mother tongue.
Read the whole story here.