Stephen Spender Trust 2021: The Year in Review

The SST year always culminates in the award of the Stephen Spender Prize, and this year we were delighted to give prizes and commendations to more entrants than ever before, and to recognise translations from twenty-one languages amongst the winning and highly commended poems. Just as the prize grows, so our work with young people has increased hugely in scope and reach over the past year, facilitated by our new website, new creative translation facilitators and new partnerships.

Read more about the Stephen Spender Prize here.

Urdu letters

Urdu Spotlight

Every year the Stephen Spender Prize includes a special strand for a language spoken widely in the UK. This year the spotlight rested on Urdu, with poet and translator Sascha Aurora Akhtar developing teaching resources and running workshops for primary-age children, all based on translating Urdu poetry into English. Crucially, these activities are designed to be accessible to all young people, regardless of their linguistic background, and the entries to the Urdu Spotlight prize bore witness to this levelling of the playing field. From young people who speak Urdu with their families to those who had never encountered the language before, the Spotlight workshops and prize encouraged primary and secondary school students all over the UK to read and translate Urdu poems. Our partnership with the Rekhta Foundation in India enabled us to share these poems widely, from well-loved classics to little-known poems – the latter in particular by women writers.

Urdu Spotlight 2021
Decode-Translate-Create model

Multilingual Creators

In early 2021 we launched a new training programme in creative translation, in partnership with the National Centre for Writing, New Writing North and Comma Press, co-funded by Arts Council England. We recruited and trained twelve translators and writers to design and deliver creative translation activities in schools. Selected from close to 100 applicants, our twelve trainees took part in a virtual course during the summer, developed and run by our education team of Stacie Allan, Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and Rahul Bery. Based on SST’s ‘Decode-Translate-Create’ workshop model, the trainees learnt to design activities and workshops that transform the young participants into multilingual creators, able to access and interact with literature in multiple languages, and to use it as a springboard for their own creative writing. Autumn saw delivery in schools across our three target regions of Newcastle, Greater Manchester and Norfolk, and the workshops will continue into 2022.

Multilingual Creators
Rohmann & Ahmedzai Kemp

Creative Translation in the Classroom (CTiC)

Our flagship education programme entered its third year in autumn 2021, with new partnerships with ten schools across Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, supported by funding from the Rothschild Foundation and Polonsky Foundation. Over the past 18 months we have transformed this project, conceived before the pandemic, into a blended programme of virtual and in-person, teacher- and translator-led activities and workshops for young people aged 8-14. A highlight of the CTiC year was the first iteration of our remote CPD strand for teachers, with a series of three webinars designed and delivered by SST with translation in schools expert Katrina Barnes. Meeting monthly from March to May 2021, this committed and creative group of teachers explored and tested approaches to creative translation and the Stephen Spender Prize. We continue to support this group through a new network of teachers who are dedicated to increasing the use of authentic texts and creative translation in the Modern Languages classroom. The network now meets termly, either virtually or in person, and we aim to jointly develop and publish a guide to using authentic texts and creative translation that is accessible to all teachers.

In autumn we partnered with the Children’s Bookshow to bring creative translation to yet more schools in Buckinghamshire, with a visit to Milton Keynes by German author Kathrin Rohmann and SST translator Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp. With support from the German Embassy, Kathrin and Ruth performed to 250 primary school children and ran workshops with 60. The events focused on Kathrin’s book Apple Cake and Baklava, translated by Ruth, about migration and belonging.

Creative Translation in the Classroom

Website and Virtual Resources

When the 2021 Stephen Spender Prize opened for entries in May we also launched our brand new website, presenting our increasingly dynamic and inclusive activity. As well as providing a submissions platform for the prize, the site brings together information about our work with young people, and opportunities for people of all ages to get involved in our programmes. Throughout the year, and with support from the Foyle Foundation, we have been populating the site with our virtual resources, turning it into a one-stop-shop for all interested in creative translation. From our guide to poetry translation, aimed in particular at emerging translators, to our PowerPoints and worksheets for educators and young people, the SST website has become a trove of creative resources, and we look forward to the activities and encounters that this will generate in 2022 and beyond.

Map of Berlin

Partnerships with Oxford University

The past year saw our partnership with the Queen’s College Translation Exchange (QTE) strengthen, as we supported the first year of the new Anthea Bell Prize for Young Translators and QTE’s ambassador workshops in schools, which are inspired by the SST workshop model. We have also worked with the Oxford English Faculty on two projects: ‘Translating Berlin’ and ‘Prismatic Jane Eyre’. Both initiatives bring world-class research on international literature and translation to state schools across the UK, through workshops, resources and competitions for young people.

Translating Berlin
EAL journal cover

Advocacy for Languages

As language learning in UK schools continues to decline, along with the intercultural understanding that goes with it, SST advocates for language learning and multilingualism, and supports educators and activists who share our mission. This year our Director Charlotte Ryland co-founded the ‘Future of Languages’ forum, developing and sharing a bold vision for language learning across the country. Charlotte, Stacie (SST Education Coordinator), and other members of the SST team also presented creative translation at lectures and seminars including the national Festival of Education and the British Centre for Literary Translation Summer School, and published articles about SST’s work in the journals of the Association for Language Learning (ALL) and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI). There is an energetic, supportive and creative group of educators and activists committed to finding a remedy for the decline in language learning across the UK, and we at SST are proud to be part of this.