Publishers of Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate who read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, have rejected translators of her work, including those chosen by Gorman herself, due to the fact that some of them are white.
Gorman’s Spanish translator Víctor Obiols, whose previous translations include the works of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, was commissioned to translate her poem and a foreword by Oprah Winfrey into Catalan.
Obiols is now fighting back against his apparent cancellation on account of his supposed inability to translate an author who does not share his race and gender.
The editor of Barcelona-based publisher Univers received a request from the U.S.-based Viking Books for the translation to be performed by a “female activist of African-American origins, if possible,” reports the BBC.
The cancelation of Obiols’ work soon follows after Gorman’s Dutch translator Marieke Lucas Rijneveld was forced to step down from performing a Dutch translation after woke journalist Janice Deul complained that the choice of Rijneveld was “incomprehensible.” Deul suggested that the translator should be similar to Gorman, in that she needed to be a “spoken word artist, young, a woman and unapologetically black.”
“I’m not saying a black person can’t translate white work, and vice versa,” Janice Deul told the BBC. “But not this specific poem of this specific orator in this Black Lives Matter area, that’s the whole issue.”
“[Gorman] is someone who’s into slam poetry and slam poetry is about flow and rhythm,” argued Deul, who suggested that white people are incapable of “flow and rhythm.”
“When you don’t know that, the whole form will have a different meaning and rhythm,” she said.
In an interview with AFP, Obiols said “They told me that I am not suitable to translate it. They did not question my abilities, but they were looking for a different profile, which had to be a woman, young, activist and preferably black.”
“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 argued. “It is a very complicated subject that cannot be treated with frivolity.”