English and Drama blog

On literature and theatre collections from the 16th century to the present day

10 posts categorized "Conferences"

02 November 2021

Andrew Salkey: “Too Polemic. Too Political”

By Eleanor Casson, Archivist and cataloguer of the Andrew Salkey Archive (Deposit 10310). Last few days to get tickets to Artist, Mentor, Friend, Activist: Andrew Salkey a Man of Many Hats a British Library conference held in collaboration with Goldsmiths Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies, MA Black British Writing (Goldsmiths) and The Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.

The Conference is free to book and everyone is welcome. Book your place now.

Black and white photograph of Andrew Salkey in profile

Andrew Salkey, a Jamaican writer, emigrated to the UK in the early 1950s to study at London University. Salkey was one of a few Caribbean writers swept up in the boom of interest in Britain for the ‘exoticism’ of colonial countries, particularly after the migration of Caribbean workers to Britain.[1] His successful, critically acclaimed debut novel A Quality of Violence was published in 1959. In 1960, he followed this with a significantly more controversial novel Escape to an Autumn Pavement, which has, over time, become an influential piece exploring the Caribbean diasporas portrayal of heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

This early success as a Caribbean writer in Britain led Salkey to become an instrumental figure in developing a diasporic consciousness among Caribbean artists and intellectuals at home and abroad. Salkey experienced the majority of his literary success in the 1960s-1970s with the steady publishing of his children’s novels alongside his adult fiction and poetry. This early success reflects the appetites of British and American publishers during this period. Salkey’s literary works are often underpinned by a political message or influenced by Salkey’s experience of ‘exile’ from his home, Jamaica. By the 1980s the popularity of this type of writing had waned and Caribbean writers often found it more difficult to be published in the UK and also in the US. Salkey continued to write prolifically regardless of his works being published less often. His archive, held at the British Library, includes unpublished manuscripts and typescripts of work he attempted to publish without success. All of the unpublished novels in the archive are children’s novels: The Multi-Coloured Bear of Moscow Road, Luisito, and Norman Kelly. This blog will focus on his unpublished children’s novel Luisito and his unpublished long poem In America.

Luisito is a children’s novel based on the true story of the assassination of a ten-year-old boy, Luis Alfonso Velasquez Flores (Luisito), by the Somoza Regime in Nicaragua during the Nicaraguan Revolution. Luisito was a child revolutionary fighting against the oppressive Somoza Regime in the late 1970s. Salkey wrote in his notes that he first read about the assassination of Luisito in Gramma the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party on 2 September 1979. He began his research notebook on the events surrounding the event and Luisito’s life on 12 October 1980.  He lists the ‘characters’, ‘events’ and ‘places’ in the story based on his research of the events in much the same way he did for all of his novels. To ensure he had the correct information Salkey contacted the Office of the National Network in Solidarity with the Nicaraguan People in Washington DC, and the Nicaraguan Mission at the United Nations in New York. He also wrote to the Nicaraguan government twice, in October 1980 and September 1981, but did not receive a reply. Salkey’s friend, the American writer and activist Margaret Randall, was living and working in Nicaragua at the time. She had interviewed Luisito’s mother for her own work about Nicaraguan women. She sent Salkey copies of photographs of his mother and his passport. It is clear from the level of detail how invested Salkey became not only in Luisito’s death, but the cause he was fighting for against the Somoza Regime. Salkey wrote in his diary ‘I haven’t experienced this before, this extraordinary personal identification with the life and death of someone I’m trying to write about. A very odd feeling and equally odd behaviour on my part’.

There are similarities between this children’s novel and his earlier children’s book Joey Tyson. Both look at a ‘real life’ event from the perspective of a child and attempt to engage the reader in adult issues in a way they can understand. There is a clear educational undertone to the work that can be found in most of Salkey’s children’s story writing. The story was sent to publishers in the UK and the US, but was ultimately rejected by them all. Salkey was told by one US publisher that it was ‘too polemical. Too political’.

Salkey began the long poem In America in July 1976, just before his permanent move from the UK to the US, and completed it in August 1981. He had originally allocated four years to write the four ‘books’ (chapters) that make up the poem. In the notebook he kept for this work he wrote a set of notes for this period and a further “late extra notes” for the additional work he did on the poem. This literary project was a deeply personal one for Salkey. He writes in his diary ‘it’s a kind of diarist’s long poem, a record of the poet’s slow acquaintance of his new situation in America, and of America as an experience capable of being written about in poetry’. Alongside this exploration of America, the long poem also delves in to Salkey’s feelings of self-imposed exile from Jamaica and the mixed feelings of living closer to the Caribbean than before. Salkey wrote his novel Luisito within the same time period, which influenced his writing of In America:

In the same breath, the very same poet reminds us:

    Somewhere, right now, someone, or system clever as

    mustard, is busy building a Somoza castle of sand on an

    unsuspecting shoreline. Stop it, if you can!

This verse also encapsulates Salkey’s call to arms style of literary activism. Ultimately the polemic tone of some of the poetry in the long poem contributed to publishers rejecting the manuscript. US publishers Farrar, Straus and Giroux Inc. were interested in the long poem but ultimately turned it down to focus on younger poets. William Morrow also turned it down. Salkey writes in his diary in November 1981 that he was not surprised that US publishers rejected the work; ‘I don’t think most of them are ready for the quirky experience the manuscript tends to deliver. In a sense, they never will’. Unfortunately, Salkey was equally as unsuccessful in the UK. He sent the manuscript to Hutchinson Publishing Group, Allison & Busby, and Faber and Faber; they all turned the manuscript down. The UK publishers saw merit in the work as an ambitious, interesting and diverse long poem. However, the did not think that there would be a viable audience for this type of work in the UK.


[1] The George Padmore Institute: Why Publish Independently (online) Accessed 2nd April 2020 https://www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org/the-pioneering-years/new-beacon-books-early-history/why-publish-independently

21 September 2021

Registration opens for Artist, Mentor, Friend, Activist: Andrew Salkey a Man of Many Hats

by Helen Melody, Lead Curator for Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives. Mentor, Friend, Activist: Andrew Salkey a Man of Many Hats is a British Library conference held in collaboration with Goldsmiths Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies, MA Black British Literature (Goldsmiths) and The Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.

The conference is free to book and everyone is welcome. Book your place now.

I am delighted to announce that registration has opened for a virtual conference on the Jamaican writer and broadcaster, Andrew Salkey (1928-1995). The conference will be held on the afternoons of Friday 5th (13.30-17.00) and Saturday 6th November (13.30-16.40).

The conference will celebrate the legacy of Andrew Salkey (1928-1995) by exploring his various writing projects and his contributions to the Caribbean literary community through his involvement with the Caribbean Artists Movement, and black publishing in Britain. Andrew Salkey was a co-founder of the Caribbean Artists Movement and lynchpin of the BBC’s Caribbean Service. He embodied the Black Radical Tradition in his writing, his politics, and in his support for other creative individuals. Twenty-six years after his death, this conference seeks to reclaim his legacy and amplify his voice.


Black and white photograph of Andrew Salkey

The programme will include a keynote by Professor Robert A. Hill, a leading scholar on Marcus Garvey and Research Professor at the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles who was a friend of and collaborator with Salkey. There will also be ‘in conversation’ and panel sessions, guided readings of Salkey’s work, and a chance to see items from the Salkey archive, which is held at the British Library.

For a taste of sense of the archive, you can read previous English and Drama Blogs such as:

Andrew Salkey: A Man of Many Hats by Eleanor Casson, Cataloguer of the Collection

Andrew Salkey: I into History Now by Eleanor Casson, Cataloguer of the Collection

21 April 2017


by Deborah Dawkin, PHD student working on the Michael Meyers Archive at the British Library

On 8 May we will be hosting The Translator Made Corporeal: Translation History and the Archive.  Showcasing the most recent international research, this conference will reveal the stories of translators throughout history: from the Early Modern period to the present day, and from every corner of the world.

It is hard to imagine the library of any serious bookworm that did not include international classics such as Homer, Tolstoy, Proust, Neitzsche and de Beauvoir, as well as examples of more contemporary authors such as Saramago, Kundera, Knausgård, Murakami, and some Scandinavian crime to boot. But we rarely consider the translators who make it possible for us to read these books; translators have largely remained invisible throughout history. So too, the stories behind the creation of translations: the lengths to which translators might go to ensure the publication of literary gems; the sometimes fierce arguments between translators and their editors; the sacrifices made by translators in difficult political times; and the personal and literary networks, even love affairs, that lie behind translations.

This one-day event in our Knowledge Centre will reveal fascinating stories drawn from diverse historical sources about the human, flesh-and-blood translator: Our panelists will introduce us to (amongst others) translators who have risked exile or even their lives for their beliefs, female translators whose identities have been hidden in a male dominated world, and WWII Japanese interpreters convicted as war criminals. We’ll hear about the part-time criminal who acted for many years as his deaf friend’s court interpreter in 18th-century Ireland and the dragoman who worked as a translator and tourist guide in 19th Century Egypt – and whose recently discovered scrapbook sheds light not only on the everyday life of a non-elite Middle Eastern translator, but on an array of international clients. We’ll encounter Armenian and Persian translators working for the 18th century East India Company and literary translators negotiating with their editors in a time of heavy censorship in the Soviet Union.

While the majority of the conference focusses on translators of the past, there will also be a panel devoted to the collection of data about contemporary translators. Subjects include: the day-to-day struggles of visually impaired interpreters in Poland; research about Finnish translators’ backgrounds and working lives; what the surveys carried out through the Emerging Translators’ Network reveal about the trajectories of the careers and lives of translators in the UK.

This conference also aims to create a space in which the “corporeal” translator might be brought out of hiding and given precedence. It will include a project by emerging Berlin/London based photographer, Julia Schönstädt, on the (in)visibility of translators today. This features photographs taken by Schönstädt at the London Book Fair 2017 along with extracts of interviews with contemporary translators.

The interviews are revealing. Many translators expressed a certain frustration at the public’s ignorance about translation, and stressed the importance of increased recognition for their work, including through the recent use of #namethetranslator on twitter. Others pointed out that the translator’s work often goes beyond the translation of a text – they can also act as cultural ambassadors, literary scouts, advisers.

Yet, some expressed a disinterest in having any public persona: “I quite like to be invisible”, said Kate Lambert, “Perhaps it’s a way of hiding. You do it [your work] behind the scenes. You do it sneakily.” Another, Adrian Nathan West, said “Invisibility? If I can be frank, and I’m afraid this may be a minority opinion, I don’t really care. You know, I like to read, I like to translate…it’s fine…I could have been a pop-star or be in action movies, I could be an actor if I wanted [fame]…right?” 

Trans1 Trans2 Trans3

The Made Translator Made Corporeal: Translators Through the Lens by Julia Schönstädt and curated by Deborah Dawkin, will be shown at the conference.


The Translator Made Corporeal: Translation History and the Archive

8 May 2017 at the British Library

Programme & ticket booking: https://www.bl.uk/events/the-translator-made-corporeal-translation-history-and-the-archive

Website: http://thetranslatormadecorporeal.wordpress.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/translatormadecorporeal

Twitter: @translator_2017 

Conference hashtag: #translatorcorporeal



04 March 2016

J. G. Ballard: Streets in the Sky and the Secret Logic of the High-Rise

by Chris Beckett


Hardly a day goes by without a news report about London’s social housing crisis. There are currently more than 260 high-rise buildings (of 20 floors or more) either under construction or in the pipeline that are set to dramatically change the London skyline. Yet the high prices of the apartments they will offer, and their attractiveness to foreign (and absentee) investors, means that they will have little impact on London’s urgent need for affordable housing. In stark contrast, residential high-rise buildings constructed in London in the late 1960s and 1970s – such as Balfron Tower (1967), and Trellick Tower (1972) and the three residential towers at the Barbican (1973-76) – were social housing projects.


Balfron Tower (1967)

When Balfron Tower, in Poplar, Tower Hamlets, was completed in 1967, the building’s architect, Erno Goldfinger, took up temporary residence for two months in a flat on the 25th floor to experience at first-hand what it was like to live there. He talked to all the residents in turn at a series of ‘get-to-know-you’ parties that he and his wife hosted in their flat. An inadequate number of lifts was one particular problem: Balfron Tower had only two lifts, so a third lift was added to the plans for his next project, Trellick Tower (1972). Greatly influenced by Le Corbusier, Goldfinger envisaged the floors of his buildings as a series of streets in the sky. Almost all the original residents of Balfron Tower had been re-housed from Tower Hamlets, and it was Goldfinger’s belief that their deeply-rooted sense of local community would transfer smoothly to their new elevated neighbourhood.


Trellick Tower (1972)

But Goldfinger’s high-rise buildings did not develop along the socially cohesive lines he had envisaged. Isolation, crime and vandalism took hold, and life in the stark and fortress-like concrete towers moved ever closer to the dystopian architectural vision of J. G. Ballard’s contemporaneous novel High-Rise (1975): ‘With its forty floors and thousand apartments, its supermarket and swimming-pools, bank and junior school – all in effect abandoned in the sky – the high-rise offered more than enough opportunities for violence and confrontation.’ Rather like Erno Goldfinger, the architect in Ballard’s novel, Anthony Royal, is a resident who throws parties. It is his Alsatian dog that Laing is roasting on his balcony as the novel begins. And the secret logic that Wilder discovers as he fights his way up the high-rise towards Royal’s penthouse at the top is that ‘free and degenerate behaviour became easier the higher he moved up the building’.

By the time that Goldfinger’s buildings were completed, American studies of life in high-rise buildings had already come to the firm view that their design made them inherently prone to crime, and they were entirely unsuitable for families with young children. Unattended lifts (prime sites of conflict in Ballard’s novel) were hazardous play areas, and the taller the building the greater the propensity for crime. One influential study that Ballard had read, Oscar Newman’s Defensible Space (1972), argued that in a high-rise block the only ‘defensible space’ is the apartment itself. Without concierge-controlled entry (which the GLC had not implemented in Goldfinger’s buildings), the entrance lobby, stairs, lifts and corridors were open to all-comers: ‘these interior areas are sparsely used and impossible to survey; they become a nether world of fear and crime’. With a typical Ballardian twist, however, the inherent weaknesses of his high rise building lead not to attack from strangers without but to a breakdown from within as the building’s occupants quickly turn upon each other. The residents of Ballard’s building belong to an entirely professional class, in fact a self-selected grouping that should, according to American studies, be most suited to living there. Yet Ballard typically portrays them as affectless and detached, and most susceptible to the malign influences of the building. In this topsy-turvy world, the ascent of Wilder (the wild man) is a form of descent to an infantile primitivism. He’s a primitive with a cine-camera. High rise buildings, wrote Newman, ‘encourage crime by fostering feelings of anonymity, isolation, irresponsibility, [and] lack of identity with surroundings’, the very qualities that spur Ballard’s occupants towards their new (and apparently welcome) life of dereliction.

Goldfinger died in 1987, his reputation in ruins. Today, however, Balfron and Trellick Towers are desirable addresses, both Grade II-listed Brutalist treasures. The residents of Trellick Tower turned their situation around in the 1980s, and the housing association Poplar HARCA is currently carrying out a full refurbishment of Balfron Tower. Everyone was decanted from Balfron while the work was carried out, and residents were to have the option of keeping their flats in the blocks, or of moving into new low-rise homes nearby, in which case the vacated flats would be sold to finance the works. However, in 2015, HARCA concluded that it could no longer afford social housing in Balfron Tower, and the building is about to transfer unchecked to the lucrative private sector, cleansed of any dream of social housing.

On Friday 11 March, there will be a special preview showing at the British Library of Ben Wheatley’s new film of Ballard’s High-Rise, starring Tom Hiddleston.



On Sunday 13 March, the British Library is hosting a one-day Ballard conference: ‘Inner Space: J G Ballard in the Seventies’.



To accompany both events, in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery there will be a display of Ballard’s draft manuscript for High-Rise and Ben Wheatley’s annotated film script.

16 October 2015

International Translation Day 2015 at the British Library

By Deborah Dawkin, who is a translator and currently working on a collaborative AHRC PhD project with UCL and the British Library focussing on the archive of Ibsen translator Michael Meyer.

On the 4th October the British Library hosted International Translation Day 2015. Marking St Jerome’s day, the Patron Saint of Translators, ITD is a day when translators, authors, publishers, booksellers, critics come together to share ideas, take stock of some of the challenges in the industry, and importantly celebrate its successes. In her opening speech Rose Fenton, Director of Free Word, aptly described this symposium, now in its sixth year, as the “gathering of the translation clan”.


The “translation clan” gather over morning coffee in the British Library conference centre.


If translators do indeed belong to some sort of “clan”, then we, the general public, are nonetheless touched by their work in countless invisible ways: not only in the form of literary translation, but in the international news reports splashed across our television screens and front pages, the ingredients lists or instructions on foreign products, and the subtitles for the latest TV Scandinavian crime series. Translation and translators, it seems, quietly intersect with our reality every day. It was this intersection, and with it the exciting potential of engagement between translators and the public ­– through more interactive publishing, readers’ groups, blogs and literary festivals, as well as outreach work in schools and communities - which emerged as a recurring theme of this year’s International Translation Day.


The empowerment of readers in a fast-changing media landscape was the subject of the opening panel. Entitled “The Rise of the Reader” the discussion was chaired by Alex Clark and panellists included Gaby Wood, literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, Anna Jean Hughes, Founder and Editorial Director of The Pigeonhole; and Will Rycroft Community Manager at Vintage. We no longer inhabit a world in which publishers are alone in choosing which books to publish, and in which newspaper critics have the last say on quality. As Rycroft pointed out the fact that people are using a single app on which to play, talk and read – even reading on their phones – opens up possibilities for engaging new readers. Hughes described how The Pigeonhole publishes books in serial form online, including authors and readers in conversation, and hopes translators too might join that conversation. Hughes’s ultimate aim is to “enhance books through conversation across the globe” and suggested that we might experiment with the crowd sourcing of literary translations to speed up the process of bringing translated literature to the public.


One of the seminars I found of particular interest explored the growing interest in Translators in Residence. Translators in Residence schemes are comparatively new, but proving an extremely worthwhile initiative in engaging the public in translation. We heard from several translators who were involved in workshops in schools. Sam Holmes explained how sometimes the most productive work a translator in residence can do, is that which runs counter to what students might usually encounter in the classroom. Instead of focussing on the rigid expectations of an exam syllabus, children are encouraged to see their own potential as translators and to work creatively with language. Projects run by Lucy Greaves, during her residence at the Free Word Centre included a Translation and Creative Writing workshop in a refugee centre. Her workshops culminated in the event 'Signs', a showcase of the work of pupils from Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children as part of Islington Word Festival. Translator in Residence schemes are not only a wonderful way in which to generate interest in translated literature and foreign language learning but can be empowering for the communities which they reach out to.


There were countless other subjects that inspired animated discussion during the day. The eight seminars on offer covered a wide range of issues. Subjects included the running of translation workshops in libraries, bookshops and schools offering the public an insight into the art of translation; how book sellers and publishers might involve translators in the promotion of books at literary festivals and events; self-publishing by foreign authors and translators in collaboration; the new opportunities and challenges for the translation industry created by developments in the digitised games, video and AV; and the strategies used by translators to give cultural and historical background where needed, without overloading the text.


An interesting and amusing experiment opened a seminar entitled “Translation-Speak: Literary difference or bad English?” The audience and panellists were given anonymous passages from various published novels and asked to guess which had been written in English originally and which were translations. It proved an almost impossible exercise, with most passages splitting the vote. What was revealed was that there were often stylistic oddities in those texts originally written in English, that might have been regarded as awkward and therefore faults in a translation, and that the translated texts often read very (perhaps too) smoothly. This led to a discussion about whether translators and their editors are daring enough in their use of language, or often confined to producing texts that are an attractive and “easy read”, even where the original might be more stylistically demanding.


Translationspeak panel

The panel for the “Translation Speak” seminar: Chair Nicky Harman (translator), and panellists Meike Ziervogel (publisher, Peierene Press),  Shaun Whiteside (translator) and Laura Barber (Editorial Director, Granta).


The final panel of the day “From Page to Stage” included readings by actors from Sasha Dugdale’s translations of Belarusian playwright Pavel Pryazhko’s work.  In the discussion Dugdale and Chris Campbell, Literary Manager at the Royal Court, explored the journey made by a play as it passes through the hands of the translator, writer, dramaturg, director and finally the actors themselves.


The day was rounded off with the Found in Translation Award Ceremony, which was awarded this year to Ursula Philips for her translation of the novel Choucas by the Polish author Zofia Nalkowska.


International Translation Day 2015 is organised by Free Word, English PEN, and the British Library in partnership with The British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT), The Emerging Translators Network (ETN), Literature Across Frontiers (LAF), The Translators Association (TA), Wales Literature Exchange (WLE), Words Without Borders and the Writers Centre Norwich. ITD is supported by Bloomberg, The Booker Prize Foundation, the European Commission, the Arts Council England, Foundation Jan Michalski and ALCS.


25 September 2015

Celebrating Translation at the British Library

On Friday 2nd October, the British Library will open its doors once more to the translation community to celebrate International Translation Day. Translators, authors, students, publishers, booksellers, librarians, bloggers and reviewers, all with an interest in translation, will gather to debate significant issues and developments within the sector, as well as to celebrate its successes. This annual event, presented by Free Word, English PEN and the British Library in association with the British Centre for Literary Translation, Literature Across Frontiers, the Translators' Association, Wales Literature Exchange and Words With-out Borders has become one of the highlights of the British Library’s calendar. 

Translated literature may only represent between three and four per cent of books published each year in the UK, but most literature lovers will find that their bookshelves (real or virtual) hold a far greater proportion of translated works than such a statistic implies. The personal library of any serious book-worm is very likely to include international classics such as Homer, Tolstoy, Proust, Ibsen, Nietzsche and de Beauvoir, as well as examples of more contemporary authors such as Saramago, Kundera, Knausgård and Murakami…and perhaps some Scandinavian crime, for lighter, though somewhat dark, reading. Without this international literature our world would certainly be a great deal narrower, and our literature a great deal poorer.


Deborah's picture

It is easy to forget when discussing the latest work by Murakami that the words on the page are in fact those of his translator/s and as such represent an act of interpretation. We have no way of knowing the challenges that the original text has presented the translator with, or how much is lost (or perhaps even gained) in translation. Even more hidden from our eye is the collaborative pro-cess that goes into the making of a translated text: the discussions that took place between the translator and the editor, or original author, over issues of style or ‘meaning’. Neither can we guess at the various levels of negotiation that bring a work of foreign literature to our shelves:  the impassioned letters from a translator to a publishing house persuading them to publish the latest literary gem they have discovered; the fierce negotiations over foreign rights at the international Book Fairs; the wrangling over author’s and translator’s fees; the concerns of publishing houses about the marketability of a work. In a sense, then, it is not just the translator and his/her process which remain largely invisible to the public, but all the other professionals who collaborate to bring translated fiction to our shelves.

It is this ‘hidden life’ of a translation – the whys and wherefores of translators’ choices and the complex process of translated literature reaching our shelves – which is often revealed in the archives of translators. Within its contemporary literary manuscripts collections, the British Library holds the extensive archives of poet Michael Hamburger (1924-2007) and playwright Michael Meyer (1921-2000). Both authors in their own right, Hamburger and Meyer are best known for their translations. Hamburger was responsible for bringing some of the most important German language writers, particularly poets, to our shelves, including Paul Celan, Gottfried Benn, Friederich Hölderlin and W. G. Sebald. Meyer translated the works of the great Scandinavian dramatists, Ibsen and Strindberg, for the British theatre, radio and television of the 1950s and 1960s, bring-ing a freshness to the texts which helped to ensure their status in the twentieth century’s dramatic repertoire. These two archives, containing draft manuscripts of their translations alongside correspondence with editors, literary agents, publishers and other prominent literary figures shed light on the ‘hidden life’ of a translation.

Other equally interesting translation-related material is to be found in the recently acquired archives of contemporary poets Ted Hughes and Peter Dale, both prolific translators. Hughes believed passionately in the importance of translation, and the archive includes letters and papers relating to the journal Modern Poetry in Translation which he and the publisher Daniel Weissbort founded in 1965 with the express aim of bringing contemporary foreign poetry to the Anglophone reader. Hughes’s own translation work included the poetry of Ovid, and plays by Euripides, Racine and Wedekind. The archive includes correspondence about his translations of Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding as well as drafts of his translation of Aeschylus’s Oresteia. Peter Dale’s translations from the French include the poetry of François Villon and Paul Valéry and Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The Library’s archives collections do not only represent translations into English. A collection of correspondence between Harold Pinter and his Japanese translator Tetsuo Kishi not only throws light on the relationship between author and translator but also on the cultural transformation that Pinter’s plays undergo in translation, giving us pause for thought about the Pinter we know and love, and what it is it about his work that transferred so effectively to Japanese theatre.

Older translation-related treasures are to be found in the British Library vaults too. The archive of the nineteenth century drama critic, translator and author William Archer, who brought many of Ibsen’s plays to the British theatre for the first time in the late 1800s, includes papers related to performances of the time, and discussions with George Bernard Shaw about Ibsen’s work. The literary manuscripts of William Morris contain drafts of his translations of the Icelandic Edda and Beowolf, along with correspondence and notes. The archive of William Henry Fox Talbot, known chiefly as a pioneer in photography, but also an Assyriologist and one of the first decipherers of the inscriptions of Nineveh, includes a collection of notebooks with his draft translations.

And from even further back in time there are many Early Modern British and European manuscripts of translated works; not just into English but from English into Latin, Greek, Italian, Dutch, Swedish and Arabic (to name but a few). Some even earlier examples of translation are to found in our Arabic and Islamic Heritage collections - among them a thirteenth century manuscript of Ptolemaeus’ Almagest, an influential astronomical text thought to have been translated from the Greek into Arabic by al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf ibn Matar in about 900 AD. The manuscript was owned by the mathematician Tusi, and is annotated with his comments and improvements on Ptolemaeus’ system, as well as remarks where he finds fault with the translation (visit the Qatar Digital Library at http://www.qdl.qa/en  to find out more). Such documents offer important historical clues into the impact of translation in the history of the international ex-change of ideas on philosophy, medicine, surgery, theology, as well as politics, trade and diplomacy, from as early as the thirteenth century.

The fact that translation and international literature is an intrinsic part of our national heritage, both past and present, is not only represented throughout the British Library’s collection, but is celebrated in our calendar of events through-out the year. This June, for example, UCL held the ARTIS 2015 Conference: Multidimensional Methodologies: collaboration and networking in translation re-search. The conference included a panel discussion about the relationship be-tween Archives, Museums and the study of Literary Translation, followed by a “show and tell” session led by curators at the Library to showcase some of our collections.

For the general public with an interest in international and translated literature, there are a variety of events to be found on the British Library’s calendar, not only including the forthcoming International Translation Day, but The PEN Pinter Prize held this year on October 6th, European Literature Night held each spring, and a plethora of events throughout the year which offer audiences an opportunity to hear international and British authors from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, as well as translators, discuss their work.

Deborah Dawkin is currently working on a collaborative AHRC PhD project with UCL and the British Library focussing on the archive of Ibsen translator Michael Meyer.


27 June 2014

Performance Archives: SIBMAS TLA 2014 - New York City


I have recently returned from the biennial SIBMAS TLA conference, which took place in New York City, 10-13 June. SIBMAS stands for Société Internationale des Bibliothèques et des Musées des Arts du Spectacle (International Association of Libraries, Museums, Archives and Documentation Centres of the Performing Arts). TLA is the Theatre Library Association, USA.

SIBMAS connects professionals from thirty five countries around the world working on institutional and independent performing arts collections of all genres. The theme for this conference was Body, Mind, Artifact: Reimagining Collections, with a special focus on dance archives.

Most dance and performance archives hold a substantial amount of video and audio recordings. The collections are ongoing and are frequently accessed by performers, companies, researchers and enthusiasts. For this reason they are often credited as living archives or artist-driven archives. Capturing and documenting the creative process, working with artists and re-purposing legacy materials are core tasks for these archives.

At the SIBMAS conference, keynote speaker Marvin Taylor, Director of the Fales Library and Special Collections, made the following bold statement: ‘Stop making the digitization of paper a priority. Most of the paper from the last forty years will be OK in ten years. Video, audio, and digital files will not’.

Preserving video is a challenge for all archives. The main components of this challenge and how these compare with those for other media formats is what I am going to briefly highlight here.

Access to video and audio recordings requires machines to play a wide variety of formats. Playback machines quickly become obsolete and disappear from the market. Once this happens, finding spare parts for existing machines becomes the only option to keep them working. To palliate the shortage of machinery and spare parts eyes and hopes are now on 3D printing technologies, but this has not yet been implemented in an archival habitat and it wouldn’t solve the problem of obsolete electronics.

Hence, access and preservation needs make it mandatory that recordings are transferred into digital formats. Digitization resources are generally not extensive enough for the ideal purposes of most archives.

Archival standards regarding the transfer of analogue video and the archiving of born-digital video are in dispute and therefore inconclusive. For example, the short history of digital video has already generated a plethora of diverse file formats, and although there are principles, there is no formal agreement on which codec ought to be used.

So far archivists have narrowed codec choices to four compressed for long-term archiving and one for uncompressed. That is out of the three hundred plus available out there. Also, every manufacturer produces its own codec and format.

Intrinsic to all born-digital video archiving procedure is the question of storage. HD formats contain five times more data than standard definition videos and those proportions multiply by four when considering files on 4K (cinema and Ultra High Definition TV standard) resolution.

I thought Marvin Taylor’s statement pointing out what we are up against with video collections deserved attention. In his words once more: ‘If we do not act now, we will lose the ‘incunable’ period of born-digital and electronic media’.

The conference also coincided with the 60th anniversary of SIBMAS and to mark such a special occasion TLA New York hosts opened the doors to some of the most renowned performance collections of the city. It was very hard to choose which institutions to visit from a list composed of Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Mark Morris Dance Group, MoMa Archives, Museum of the City of New York, New York Philharmonic Archives, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, New York University Fales Library, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Roundabout Theatre Archive, and the Shubert Archive.

I visited the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the MoMa Archives. Both were very impressive, but I am sure that would have been the case for all the archives mentioned above.

Curators and archivists from the NYPL Performing Arts division had prepared a special display for delegates, which included drawings, prints, a scale model of the set of the Broadway show Cabaret, photographs, 3D paper objects, an actual Tony and an Oscar awards.

We also learnt that the NYPL Performing Arts has over 24,000 dance films and tapes which are currently being digitized. Due to copyright, the majority of the collection is accessible on the premises only. Please see here for more information.

The icing on the cake for me was the Library’s jaw-dropping video tool, which allows researchers to compare several videos at the same time and create a link to share the results with others. NYPL’s Digital Curator Doug Reside explained how they have developed this and other tools in the NYPL Labs. More about the Labs here.

At the MoMa archives we talked to Milan Hughston, Chief of Library and Museum Archives, and Michelle Elligott, Museum Archivist and regular contributor to Esopus Magazine. Their Department of Media and Performance Art  houses, among others, the Fluxus collection, which came to the Museum from a private collector. The Museum Archive provides researchers access by appointment; they have an onsite database of the collections and over 30.000 electronic images from MoMa exhibitions. Most of their collection materials are yet to be digitized.

The papers from the conference will eventually be published. For more information about the conference programme, publications and useful performance arts links please visit SIBMAS website. That’s all from now, to be continued at the next SIBMAS conference: ‘Freeze! Challenge the Hierarchy: Researcher, Artist, User!’, which will take place in Copenhagen 2016.

With thanks to SIBMAS TLA  and to my colleague Andrew Pearson, our video expert here at the British Library.

25 March 2014

Friends of Genius in Distress?

By Dr Matthew Sangster, cataloguer of the Royal Literary Fund Archive

RLF Ferstandig Poster Hi-Res
Bill Poster, ‘The Literary Fund’, by Matthew Ferstandig; Loan 96 RLF 1/508/37

In March 1840, Matthew Ferstandig, the self-styled ‘head of Oriental and Classical Languages in the Kingdom’, flypostered the headquarters of the Literary Fund with a bill proclaiming that the Fund’s Committee had ‘perverted and violated’ their charter ‘by introducing the worthless scribblings of women as a fair specimen of literary science’ and ‘withhold[ing] from public view every brilliant and valuable work that tended to enlighten the mind.’  He went on to accuse the Committee of keeping up ‘a seraglio of 82 women’ and voting ‘1,275l out of the Literary Fund for their support’.

Sadly for the interest of this blog post, Ferstandig’s accusations were largely baseless.  His animus against the Literary Fund was principally due to his having applied on sixteen occasions without receiving a grant; he was not eligible because he had not produced the book-length publication required by the charter he accused the Committee of violating.

The Literary Fund (or Royal Literary Fund from 1842) was not a den of sin and vice, then, but rather a benevolent organisation established in 1790.  It was designed, in the words of an early newspaper advertisement, to ‘withdraw those apprehensions of extreme poverty, and those desponding views of futurity, which lead Genius and Talent from the path of Virtue’.  In practice, this meant providing applicants with confidential financial assistance if the Committee judged that their published works possessed ‘literary merit’.

David Williams
Founder of the Literary Fund, David Williams (1738-1816) by John Francis Rigaud

Thanks to a succession of punctilious secretaries, particularly the fabulously-named Octavian Blewitt and his immediate successor Arthur Llewelyn Roberts, the Fund’s archive is remarkably complete and comprehensive.  The most extensive parts are the case files, which detail the applications of over 3,600 authors who sought the Fund’s aid.  These include famous names like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, James Hogg, John Clare, Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, Bram Stoker, Edith Nesbit and D.H. Lawrence.  However, the Fund also received applications from hundreds of more obscure authors.  Letters from these figures often comprise unique sources of biographical information which provide valuable insights into the difficulties authors faced in making livings from their works.

An early example is Eliza Parsons (Loan 96 RLF 1/21), who wrote gothic novels for William Lane’s Minerva Press.  In 1792, she was struggling to provide for her family after seriously injuring herself.  ‘Still confined to my Room,’ she wrote, ‘my leg on a pillow, splinters of Bones continually working thro’ which keeps me in extreme tortures, I have been nevertheless obliged to struggle with pain and try to write.’   In 1797, she had to flee her residence to avoid her creditors and in 1802 she was imprisoned for debt.   As Parsons herself put it when expressing her gratitude for the Fund’s assistance, ‘the Illiberality of the world ridicules and contemns an Unfortunate poor Author.’

The Fund’s records also bear witness to the struggles faced by now-canonical authors.  James Joyce applied when he was required to leave Trieste for Zurich after the outbreak of the First World War (Loan 96 RLF 1/2990).  His application was supported by heavyweights including W.B. Yeats, Edmund Gosse and Ezra Pound.  Pound’s bullish letter to the Fund describes Joyce as ‘without exception the best of the younger prose writers’.  He details Joyce’s difficulties in getting published, writing that he had ‘lived for ten years in obscurity and poverty, that he might perfect his writing and be uninfluenced by commercial demands and standards.’  While Joyce may have lacked commercial recognition, then, he did not lack recognition from supportive peers or from the Fund, which made him a substantial grant.

The Royal Literary Fund continues to operate today.  Its records can be searched on the British Library’s Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue; results can be limited to the RLF papers by adding ‘RLF’ as a search term.  The Library is hosting two events which draw on the Fund’s history and archive on Friday May 9th: a day-long symposium, The Royal Literary Fund and the Perils of Authorship, and an evening event, The Royal Literary Fund and the Struggling Author.


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