Armory Square Ventures Announces Groundbreaking Translation Prize to Fuel Literary Creativity and Extend Reach of South Asian Literature

SKANEATELES, N.Y.–()–Armory Square Ventures, a technology venture capital firm operating across New York State, announced its launch today of the Armory Square Prize for South Asian Literature in Translation. The new annual prize awards a talented literary translator with book publication. The winning manuscript, selected by a jury of peers, will be a translation of a literary work from one South Asian language into English.

The inaugural prize aims to cultivate a new generation of literary translators working with South Asian languages. The competition is also an effort to remedy the stark disparities in literary translation worldwide and support compelling storytellers from the Indian Subcontinent by recognizing them within the literary ecosystem.

“Despite the wealth and significance of literary work in South Asian languages, there have traditionally been limited investments associated with translating that canon into English,” says Pia Sawhney, Partner and Co-Founder of Armory Square Ventures and formerly a journalist and documentary filmmaker. “At Armory Square, we recognize entrepreneurial talent early and value risk-taking. Our hope is the prize will do the same and awaken a new space for literary creativity and industry.”

“Our investments consistently infuse optimism and momentum into promising but overlooked areas of the United States,” says Sawhney. “With this prize, we aim to build bridges of the future between readers from the United States and those from Asia. We are thrilled to collaborate with such an accomplished and extraordinary jury, and we could not be more pleased to have the privilege to introduce English-speaking readers to a fresh and provocative new body of literature.”

The Armory Square Prize for South Asian Literature in Translation was created to inspire new directions for translators into English from one of the most diverse, historically complex, and culturally vibrant regions of the world. Of the nearly 7,600 books published in translation in the United States over the past decade, only 64, or fewer than 1%, originated from a South Asian language, even though these languages are spoken by a full one-fifth of the world’s population.

In contrast, there is an overwhelming prevalence of literature translated from European languages in the United States. Recent initiatives supporting translations from Norwegian, Korean and Arabic, for example, have had a tangible impact on the number of books translated and published from those languages into English.

The new prize will be open to translators of literature written by a South Asian author in a language other than English. Any book-length work of narrative prose, fiction, or nonfiction, by a South Asian author (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives or the diaspora) will be eligible.

The jury for the prize, which includes Sawhney, brings together award-winning specialists in South Asian and non-South Asian literary translation. Originally from Buffalo, jury chair Jason Grunebaum is a literary translator from Hindi and an instructional professor at the University of Chicago. He is a translator of Manzoor Ahtesham and Uday Prakash, among other Hindi writers, and teaches both Hindi and literary translation.

The complete list of judges includes (in alphabetical order):

  • Jason Grunebaum (Jury Chair), translator from Hindi: shortlisted for DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, winner of an NEA Literature Fellowship in Translation, winner PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant.
  • Shahnaz Habib, translator from Malayalam: Winner of JCB Prize for Literature.
  • Anton Hur, translator from Korean: shortlisted International Booker 2022, double longlisted International Booker 2022, winner of PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant and PEN translates award.
  • Daisy Rockwell, translator from Hindi and Urdu: 2022 International Booker winner, winner of MLA Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize.
  • Pia Sawhney, Partner, Armory Square Ventures: Previous winner of the Amnesty International DOEN Award for Human Rights for work as a documentary filmmaker and journalist.
  • Arunava Sinha, translator from Bangla: Winner of 2022 Vani Foundation Distinguished Translator Award, twice winner of Crossword translation award, shortlisted for Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, shortlisted for the National Translation Award.
  • Jeffrey Zuckerman, translator from French: Shortlisted for the PEN Translation Prize, the Best Translated Book Award, the Albertine Prize, the TA First Translation Prize, and winner of a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant and the 2019 French Voices Grand Prize.

“This is an enriching and incredible opportunity,” says Grunebaum. “This prize brings together all parts of the literary ecosystem necessary to bring good translations of South Asian literature to bookshelves. Translators will find writers and works to fall in love with and translate, and editors and publishers will discover new voices for readers who are seeking different kinds of storytellers. It will also be a space to form ongoing, sustainable relationships between publishers in the Subcontinent and those beyond.”

The prize jury will first and foremost consider the quality of the translation, paying particular attention to the creative and artful solutions that the translator has used to address the translation challenges posed by the work. The jury will also consider the significance of the original work and its author, and the extent to which the language and author are underrepresented in English.

The deadline for applications is December 31, 2022. The shortlist will be announced in March 2023. Excerpts of the shortlisted work will be published and featured by Words Without Borders, an online literary publication with global reach. The final winner will be announced in April 2023, and the award recipient’s book will be published by Open Letter Books in fall 2024. The Armory Square Prize for South Asian Literature in Translation is sponsored by Armory Square Ventures.

Please visit the Armory Square Ventures website for more information and application instructions.

About Armory Square Ventures in Skaneateles, New York

Armory Square Ventures (ASV) is a diverse, leading technology venture capital firm that strives to be a community catalyst across all of New York State. With offices in the Finger Lakes and New York City, ASV arose out of the desire to seed opportunities and jobs for those based in our region and beyond. As such, we are an optimism engine for ecosystems outside of Silicon Valley, supporting B2B and tech-enabled software startups to source talent, resources and capital. Our focus lies in places overlooked by other investors. The fund’s investments include ACV Auctions (NASDAQ: ACVA), Agronomic Technology Corporation (acquired by Yara), BentoBox CMS (acquired by Fiserv), Clerio Vision, Good Uncle (acquired by Aramark), Heretto, RealEats, Squarefoot, StorySlab, Vengo Labs, Vizbee, UCM Digital, 8B and Moxie.

For more information, visit: www.armorysv.com.

About Open Letter Books in Rochester, New York

Open Letter—the University of Rochester’s nonprofit, literary translation press—is one of only a handful of publishing houses dedicated to increasing access to world literature for English readers. Publishing ten titles in translation each year and running an online literary website called Three Percent, Open Letter searches for works that are extraordinary and influential, works that we hope will become the classics of tomorrow.

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