UNESCO Creative Cities of Literature celebrate International Translation Day 2021 with a collaborative global translation of poetry

30 September 2021 - News

The UNESCO Cities of Literature will celebrate International Translation Day on September 30 with a collaborative project to translate the same poem into languages spoken in their cities across the globe.

The UN General Assembly formally recognised the role of language professionals in connecting nations and fostering peace, understanding, and development in 2017, and declared 30 September as International Translation Day.

Slemani City of Literature in Iraq led the translation project, and will celebrate the day with discussions and workshops to discuss themes of translation. Panels will be about the challenges of translation, the impossibility of true translation, the need for translation and reverse translation, plus the importance of Mother Tongue in translation.

Two books that highlight translation work in Slemani also will be launched. One book is an anthology of poetry funded by the British Council, co-translated between Manchester City of Literature and Slemani City of Literature; and the other is a translation of Nali (a classical Kurdish poet) into English.

As our network of UNESCO Creative Cities welcomes new languages to its family, celebrating International Translation Day carries added relevance, with language exchange being at the heart of the values that our network cherishes.

It gives us immense pride as Slemani UNESCO Creative City of Literature to lead International Translation Day on behalf of the network. 

International Translation Day will be the right platform to highlight the breadth of languages that are represented in the UNESCO designated creative cities.” said Sarwar Taha, director of Slemani City of Literature and the project lead.

International Translation Day is meant as an opportunity to pay tribute to the work of language professionals, which plays an important role in bringing nations together, facilitating dialogue, understanding, and cooperation, contributing to the development, and strengthening world peace and security – all things at the heart of the Cities of Literature network, especially as they get ready to welcome more cities to the network later this year.

Around the world, fellow Creative Cities of Literature will get involved in the celebrations by translating W.S. Merwin’s poem, ‘From the Start’, into a language spoken in their city, and inviting anyone who speaks any language, dialect or has interest in the work to share and post it on social media on 30th September using hashtags: #COLTranslates #ITD #InternationalTranslationDay.

UNESCO Creative Cities of Literature taking part in the project include Odessa, Utrecht, Leeuwarden, Reykjavik, Bucheon, Granada, Dublin, Iowa City, Edinburgh, Ljubljana, Manchester, Krakow, Kuhmo, Ulyanovsk, Heidelberg, Quebec, Tartu and Nanjing.

Merwin’s poem is on theme of language. The poem’s concept and length resonate perfectly with International Translation Day to promote the vast number of languages spoken across the 39 UNESCO Creative Cities of Literature. September 30th is also Merwin’s birthday.

“Hearing one another’s stories is the best way to build empathy in our increasingly fractured world, and the art of literary translation is one of the best tools we have to spread those stories across the globe,” said John Kenyon, executive director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature and coordinator for the Cities of Literature.

Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education, and development, are of strategic importance for people and the planet. The Cities of Literature are passionate about the preservation and celebration of language and translation to bring us all closer together.