The tradition of translating Polish literature into other languages dates back to the 16th century. The works of Polish Renaissance poets were translated at the time; later, 17th- and 18th-century novels enjoyed popularity. “A good translation is something valuable and rare, it remains in the history of the language and influences the language not less, and sometimes even more, than the works originally created in that language” – these words by Czesław Miłosz could very well serve as a motto for many local translation initiatives.
Significant activity in the field of literary translation can be observed on the part of the Book Institute. For years, it has organised a special scholarship programmes for translators from various languages (the Translators’ College, the Albrecht Lempp Scholarship), and it grants the Transatlantyk Award for ambassadors of Polish literature abroad. The award is intended to promote Polish literature on international markets and to integrate the circles of Polish literature translators and promoters – literary critics, literary historians, and animators of culture. The prestigious nature of the award and the extensive promotional setting that accompanies it are supposed to encourage translators to become interested in Polish literature and encourage publishers to publish it, and to direct the attention of international audiences towards it.
Another award granted by the Book Institute in collaboration with the Polish Cultural Institute in London, the Polish Cultural Institute in New York, and the W.A.B. Publishing House is the FOUND IN TRANSLATION AWARD, given to the author(s) of the best translation of Polish literature into English, published in a book form in the previous calendar year.
The Book Institute’s activity also includes the © POLAND Translation Programme and the ©POLAND Sample Translations campaign. Subsidies from the former one are directed to publishers who want to commission translations and introduce Polish literature to foreign markets. The latter financially supports translators, encouraging them to present their translations of Polish books to international publishers. In cooperation with Polish publishers, the Book Institute also organises seminars supposed to encourage international publishers to increase the presence of our literature in other countries.
On the Institute’s initiative, translators of Polish literature meet every four years in Krakow at the World Congress (the 3rd edition in 2013), the guests of which also include Polish writers, poets, and literary critics and historians.
Interesting translation initiatives are also taken by the Villa Decius Association, organising creative scholarships for translators of literature from German to Polish and from Polish to German and the Visegrád Literary Residencies programme for writers, also translators, from the V4 Group, as well as publishing a trilingual magazine, Radar, in which it places a special emphasis on the art of translation. In January 2013, the Association got involved in the TransStar Europa project, promoting translations and literature of the less common European languages, aiming at training translators and animators of culture.
Jagiellonian University has educated many excellent translators of literature and language (the UNESCO Chair for Translation Studies and Intercultural Communication operates here, among others), and each year, tens of experts in languages and culture – British, Germanic, Romance, but also Greek or Turkish – graduate from it. Translation activity is supported by international institutions such as: Pro Helvetia, the Goethe-Institut, the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Cervantes Institute, the French Institute, the Italian Institute, and others. It is also supported by publishing houses – such as Wydawnictwo Literackie and Znak – which look after the high quality of the translations they publish.
An important role in the literary landscape of the city is played by translators themselves. They live and work here, and take part not only in the publishing, but also educational and promotional activities. The personalities of Krakow’s translators have always been a mark of Krakow’s intellectual circles. They include Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, Maciej Słomczyński, and Stanisław Barańczak, to name but a few.
Among Polish contemporary writers, the works of Stanisław Lem (990 translations of books + 76 works in anthologies), Witold Gombrowicz (345 +43), Czesław Miłosz (281 + 116), Ryszard Kapuściński (299) Sławomir Mrożek (229+ 63), Wisława Szymborska (175 + 140), Janusz Korczak (140 + 24), Tadeusz Różewicz (134 + 167), Zbigniew Herbert (129 + 100), Andrzej Sapkowski (125 + 4), Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (124 + 152), Bruno Schulz (104 + 27), Jerzy Andrzejewski (99 + 38), Andrzej Szczypiorski (97 + 9), Tadeusz Konwicki (84 + 8), Andrzej Stasiuk (76 + 25), Olga Tokarczuk (75 + 14), and Hann Krall (62 + 13) enjoy the greatest popularity in the world.
If the criterion of popularity was the number of languages into which a writer’s works have been translated, the most popular authors turn out to be: Tadeusz Różewicz (50 languages), Czesław Miłosz (45), Stanisław Lem (42), Wisława Szymborska (41), Zbigniew Herbert (39), Ryszard Kapuściński (36), Sławomir Mrożek (35), Witold Gombrowicz (33), Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (31), Karol Wojtyła (30), Janusz Korczak (29) and Jerzy Andrzejewski (29), Olga Tokarczuk (27), Tadeusz Konwicki (24), Andrzej Szczypiorski (23), Andrzej Stasiuk (22), Paweł Huelle (21), and Antoni Libera (20).
In the years 2000-2009, the largest number of works of Polish literature were translated into Russian (1101 titles), German (936), and French (496), as well as – English (427), Czech (293), Spanish (289), Lithuanian (250), Italian (244), and Hungarian (206). (Data source: the Book Institute)