French Voices

January 27th, 2010 § 1 comment

I’m delighted to announce that Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud’s A Life on Paper, due out from Small Beer Press in May, has been selected as part of this year’s French Voices grant program. As French Book News explains:

“In 2006 the French Cultural Services and PEN American Center inaugurated an ambitious new program of support for translations from French into English.  The program’s goal is to create a US-published series of fifty books representing the very best of contemporary French writing in a number of fields.”

A Life on Paper, which was also recently awarded a Hemingway Grant by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, joins truly prestigious company. I see this as not only a vote of confidence for the quality of Châteaureynaud’s work, and for independent for-profit publishers like Small Beer, but for the addition of a new kind of voice–a new tonal range, so to speak–to the chorus readers have generally come to know as French literature. We all have a notion of what French letters are about, however narrow or hidebound that may be, a notion tied in part to others historical and national, and often shaped by hidden contingencies of canon and cultural exchange, but periodically that notion needs to evolve. The French Voices program is engaged in a noble battle to broaden the expectations American audiences have of French literature–its offerings and possibilities–by giving its imprimatur to what best represents France at this moment: in this case, deeming fabulism and fantasy a worthy addition to the transatlantic conversation.

Contemporary French writing isn’t generally known here for the fantastique, despite a rich tradition in the field from past centuries–but more from lack of translation than lack of production. In many ways, the fantastique as a genre is  French literature’s lost continent. It’s high time we had news from its shores, to surprise and sustain our own imagination of the strange. To judge by the names our own fantasists conjure with, the last missives from any strain of Francophone fantastique date from the Decadents and Surrealists, both avowed influences on our own literary movements, such as the recent New Weird. There’s a wealth of more recent and contemporary material clamoring to be discovered, and in many ways, supporting the debut of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud is just a shining beginning, lighting the path ahead with lifted lantern.

Among other French Voices winners this year is another book I had a hand in translating, if only a small part of so far: Là où les tigres sont chez eux, by Jean-Marie Blas De Roblès, which won the 2008 Prix Médicis. This novel has not yet found an American publisher, though I hope the French Voices grant will entice one. Interestingly, the book was written up in The Quarterly Conversation‘s “Translate This Book!” feature mentioned in an earlier post.

As usual, Chad Post over at Three Percent, the headquarters for all thing translation, is way on top of this already. Congratulations to Mathias Enard’s Zone, another French Voices winner, which Open Letter will publish in a translation by Charlotte Mandell.

§ One Response to French Voices

  • Megan says:

    Oh! That’s utterly wonderful!

    I told our fiction buyer about A Life on Paper. She’s intrigued. I believe she’s investigating (she’s already trying to hunt down some anthologies that have his work in it so she can get a taster).

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