Translating Sebastian Barry – author and translators celebrate European Day of Languages

Posted on: 27 September 2023

Bestselling Irish author Sebastian Barry was joined by three of his translators at an event in Trinity College Dublin to mark European Day of Languages [Tues, Sept 26th].

Hosted by Trinity Centre for Literary and Cultural Translation at the Trinity Long Room Hub, the event was a conversation between Barry and his French, German and Polish translators. The event also looked forward to International Translation Day, which is taking place on Sat, September 30th.

Sebastian Barry with translators Aga Zano, Hans-Christian Oeser and Laetitia Devaux 

At the event, translators Laetitia Devaux (French); Hans-Christian Oeser (German) and Aga Zano (Polish) discussed the delicate art of translating Sebastian Barry for readers of other languages.

Novelist, playwright and poet, Sebastian Barry was named Laureate for Irish Fiction, 2019–2021. His work has been translated into nearly 40 languages. Notable works include The Steward of ChristendomA Long Long WayThe Secret ScriptureOn Canaan's Side and Days Without End. His most recent book, Old God’s Time, was long-listed for the 2023 Booker Prize. Barry served as Writer Fellow in Trinity’s Oscar Wilde Centre in 1996. 

The event is the latest in a series of collaborations between the Trinity Centre for Literary and Cultural Translation, Trinity’s flagship centre for the promotion of translation-based activities, and EUNIC Ireland – European Union National Institutes for Culture. 

Each year, the two organisations come together to invite a prominent Irish author whose work has been widely translated, along with several of the people responsible for producing the translations, to explore what goes into making outstanding Irish literature work in translation. Previous authors who have featured in the event include Sally Rooney, Edna O’Brien and Colm Tóibín.  

This year the event forms part of the programme of Trinity Arts and Humanities Research Festival, being hosted by Trinity Long Room Hub, which runs from Monday 25th September  to Friday 29th.  

Commenting on the event Ulrike Gasser, President of EUNIC-Ireland and Director of the Goethe Institute said: “EUNIC is a collective of national and cultural institutes for culture from across the EU, which build trust and understanding. It plays a pivotal role by serving as a dynamic platform for cultural exchange and collaboration.

"Now, more than ever, cultural relations and their value in friendly, peaceful collaboration between the people of Europe and beyond, are clear. European Day of Languages is one opportunity to celebrate the continent’s linguistic richness and diversity, and this event joins a host of others all across Europe taking place through September and October, which promote multilingualism and language learning.”

Dr James Hadley, Director of Trinity Centre for Literary and Cultural Translation added: "There are few nations globally that can boast so many widely recognised authors as Ireland. Names like James Joyce, W. B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, and George Bernard Shaw are known all around the world, in large part, thanks to the works of translators who dedicate years of their lives to deciphering and reworking Irish literature in other languages.This phenomenon is not a historical one. Writers like Sebastian Barry continue to offer new, Irish perspectives on the world, and new challenges for the Literary translators who increase the reach of their work manyfold.  

“Literary translation is an art that often goes unnoticed, especially if it is well executed. In literature, where form and function are two sides of the same coin, translators often toil for hours to render a single page of text not only meaningful, but as artistically captivating in another language. Muchof this work goes unrecognised, until we have chances like this event, to ask thetranslators to tell us about their work first-hand.” 

James Hadley, TCLCT, with Aga Zano  and Hans-Christian Oeser

More about the author and his translators: 

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. The 2018-21 Laureate for Irish Fiction, his novels have twice won the Costa Book of theYear award, the Independent Booksellers Award and the Walter Scott Prize. He had two consecutive novels shortlisted for the Booker Prize, A Long Long Way (2005) and the top ten bestseller The Secret Scripture (2008). He has also won the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize, the Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He lives in County Wicklow. His latest novel is Old God's Time (2023). 

French Translator,Laetitia Devaux, studied French and English literature at Paris Cité University and Trinity College Dublin. Since then she has developed a passion for Irish life, literature and pubs.She has been translating Sebastian Barry’s novels since Days Without End(2016). She is also the French translator for Eimear McBride, Sally Rooney, Ali Smith, Zadie Smith, and Vivian Gornick, among other writers. 

German translator,Hans-Christian Oeser, who was born in Wiesbaden in 1950, lives as a freelance literary translator and editor of anthologies and foreign language texts in Dublin and Berlin. Among the many Irish authors he has translated are Brendan Behan, Maeve Brennan, Anne Enright, Claire Keegan, Bernard MacLaverty, Eugene McCabe, John McGahern, William Trevor, and Oscar Wilde. In 2020, he received the Straelen Translation Prize of the Kunststiftung NRW for Days Without End by Sebastian Barry and for his lifetime achievement in translation. 

Aga Zanois a Polish translator and interpreter, and currently Vice-President of the Polish Literary Translators Association. She studied at the University of Warsaw and Queen’s University Belfast and received numerous academic scholarships, including the Michael Pallin Award at QUB and the College of Humanities and Social Science Research Scholarship at the University of Edinburgh. She has translated over 60 books by authors such as Sebastian Barry, Bernardine Evaristo, Lucy Caldwell, Colum McCann, Sylvia Plath, John Maxwell Coetzee, Joshua Cohen, Charles Yu, Megan Nolan, and Lydia Millet. In 2023, she was nominated for the Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński Translation Work Award for her translation of Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. 

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