A Catalan translator says his version of the Amanda Gorman poem read at US President Joe Biden’s inauguration was rejected because he had the wrong “profile”.
Víctor Obiols completed the commissioned Catalan translation of Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb last month. Afterwards, the publishers said they wanted a translator who was “a woman, young, activist and preferably black”.
The poem’s Dutch translator recently stepped down after online criticism.
Amanda Gorman, 22, was the youngest poet ever to perform at a US presidential inauguration, in January.
In her five-minute poem she referenced the storming of the Capitol. Subsequently, she received global praise following months of debate about racial justice in the US and abroad.
What was the translation issue?
Obiols previously translated work by Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. He was asked to translate Gorman’s poem, and a foreword by Oprah Winfrey, into Catalan several weeks ago.
On Wednesday, the editor of Barcelona publisher Univers told Spain’s Efe news agency that once the work was complete, they received a request from the US group Viking Books for the work to be carried out by a female activist with African-American origins, if possible.
The decision follows controversy in the Netherlands that a white poet had been chosen to translate The Hill We Climb into Dutch.
“They did not question my abilities,” Víctor Obiols told the AFP news agency. He noted that the publisher promised to pay him for his work.
“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 added.
There has been no announcement regarding a new translator for the project.
What about the Dutch translation?
Amanda Gorman selected poet Marieke Lucas Rijneveld herself, seeing them as a fellow young writer who had also come to fame early, said Dutch publisher Meulenhoff.
The publisher described Rijneveld as a “dream candidate”. Rijneveld became the youngest author to win the International Booker prize in 2020 with debut novel The Discomfort of Evening, aged 29.
Rijneveld is also outspoken on issues including gender equality and mental health, identifying as non-binary and using the pronouns they/them.
However, there was outcry because the renowned author is not black. Critics claim the issue is not just skin colour but identity. They say Gorman’s poetry cannot be interpreted and accurately reflected by someone of a different ethnicity, genre, and mother tongue.