Translation as Richness: International YA at the New York Public Library


On December 10th, Words without Borders held a vibrant panel at the New York Public Library that discussed teen literature from around the globe, in honor of the release of their International YA issue.

Marc Aronson, a Professor at the graduate library school at Rutgers, moderated the event, which included Briony Everroad, a guest editor for the YA Words without Borders issue; Padma Venkatraman, the author of A Time to Dance; Arthur A. Levine, Vice President and Publisher of Arthur A. Levine Books; and Roxanne Hsu Feldman, a member of the Best Fiction for Young Adults Committee.

The panelists, some meeting for the first time that night, began with a general discussion of the young adult genre and the reason behind the Words without Borders issue. While the panel defined the YA genre as writing focused for an audience in the age range 12 – 18, they acknowledged that it was hard trying to find YA-specific literature in some countries. Everroad admitted that when looking for YA writing in Eastern Europe, they had to explain the specific type of writing they were looking for; there, there is no YA genre.

(From left to right) Marc Aronson, Briony Everroad, Padma Venkatraman, Arthur A. Levine and Roxanne Hsu Feldman. Photo by Alison Ng.


“So much of it is just about perspective. So this is not an adult telling young people what they should think or what the world should be,” said Everroad. “It’s about what the world looks like and these young people trying to navigate the adult world and bridge this gap.”

Feldman, who grew up in Taiwan, and Venkatraman, who grew up in India, discussed the lack of domestic YA novels in those region. Instead, their experience with YA came from books from other countries. With the rise of Harry Potter, Twilight and the Hunger Games, panelists noted that teen literature is becoming more popular worldwide. Many publishing houses have imprints abroad that publish translated books and domestic authors. The rise of the internet and social media has helped YA reach audiences that would not otherwise have had access.

Even so, it is still difficult to find teen books in many countries. Many YA novels, which challenge view points, are under scrutiny by more controlling governments and societies in other countries.

Levine, who publishes 1-3 translated books a year, admitted that a lot of his findings are by chance.

The panel also discussed the ‘exoticism’ in books with diverse characters and the struggles of translating writing from one language to another.

“Translation of culture is not the greatest leap,” said Levine, after the panel debated about losing the depth of writing with translation. “Sci-fi, fantasy, those are genres that throw you into a world that are completely different from your own. The translation of culture happens as part of the richness of the story; it isn’t actually an obstacle.”

While international young adult literature has only appeared in this Words without Borders issue, there is a possibility of young adult becoming its own annual issue with enough success. While the issue only has translated excerpts of books, there is no option to read full pieces due to funding. Upon questioning, members of Words without Borders in the audience laughed and said that if anyone was interested in funding, they would be open to continuing a project.

For more, read the current issue of Words without Borders here.

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About Author

Alison Ng

Alison lives in the NYC area, works in book publishing and really, really likes food.

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