Over the last 25-years of New Books in German, we have worked with many interns. In this article, Sarah Buckmaster catches up with seven individuals who have experienced the NBG internship to find out what they're doing now, and how they look back on their time with New Books in German.
As New Books in German turns 25, we want to celebrate the many people who work behind the scenes to make it all possible.
Each year, New Books in German (NBG) features two rounds of German-language book recommendations (announced in the Spring and Autumn of each year). This involves sorting through hundreds of submissions each year, before bringing together a panel of experts from the publishing, translation, and cultural sectors to handpick the most promising books for each cycle; books that are judged to have a high chance of success in an English-speaking market, and that will benefit from financial support for their translation into English.
For each of these cycles (the 50th cycle was completed this year!), there is often an intern working alongside the Director – sometimes more than one. They support the book selection process, attend the jury meetings, write articles for the website, and can also pursue an independent research project, allied to their interests, which helps New Books in German with its strategic development.
Over the last 25-years of New Books in German, there have been many NBG interns and I’ve been lucky enough to catch up with seven of them to find out what they’re doing now, and how they look back on their internship experience.
“The internship gave me a better understanding of the processes and considerations involved in bringing a foreign book into English”
Jackie Smith (2015 Internship)
Award-winning translator Jackie Smith was an NBG intern in the second half of 2015.
“I heard about it because I’d just been through the NBG Emerging Translators Programme, and I decided to apply as it seemed like a great way to learn more about how German-language books make it into the English-language market”.
Now working as an English Translator for the German Embassy in London, Jackie spent several years after her internship doing a combination of commercial and literary translation from German and French. She has translated and co-translated non-fiction books as well as a book of short stories and a novel, and in 2021 she won the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation for her translation of Judith Schalansky’s ‘An Inventory of Losses’.
For Jackie, attending jury meetings with publishers, translators, and representatives of cultural institutions during the internship gave her more of an insight into what publishers and readers look for and what can make a book successful. The experience gave her the confidence needed to start a new career, as a fulltime translator.
“I was really interested in getting involved in literary translation but wasn’t quite brave enough to make the leap by leaving my job of the last 15 years. Doing the internship helped me understand more about how the market works, and by the end of it I was sure this was something I really wanted to do. Soon afterwards I handed in my notice, went freelance and started actively looking for literary work.”
“The internship – and the freelance work I was doing alongside it at the time – helped assure me that a career change was the right move for me personally”
Adam Hill (2018 Internship)
Like Jackie, 2018 intern Adam Hill also feels the internship provided him with the insight and confidence needed to redirect his career towards what he truly wanted. Currently studying for his masters in English Literature at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, Adam’s specialisation is contemporary American literature, but his research has already covered literature in translation from a wide range of original languages. He hopes to use the degree as a springboard to redirect his career into the literary sector and is finding his NBG internship is coming in useful during his studies.
“I am currently working within a group of graduate students establishing a new interdisciplinary academic journal called Caret. This means I am able to refer to my experiences from the internship, both in the minutia of how to process submissions, as well as the wider approach to jury meetings”.
Adam also appreciated the exposure to such a vast selection of high-quality German-language literature that he may not have discovered otherwise.
“One of the contemporary novels I reviewed during the internship was Mein Leben als Hoffnungsträger by the Swiss author Jens Steiner. Although my bachelor’s degree was in German literature, I had not been exposed to much contemporary German-language writing at all. It was therefore in particular a real breath of fresh air to get to know this unique, quietly very funny novel centring on a recycling plant.”
“The internship is one of the reasons that I am now good friends with a number of other literary translators. They, and the community as a whole, are incredibly supportive.“
Tyler Langendorfer (2014 Internship)
Tyler Langendorfer was a grad student in arts management in London when he interned with New Books in German in 2014. Now working as a freelance arts and culture translator in Berlin, many of Tyler’s current literary passions centre around underrepresented voices and the respective histories of their communities, human rights, animal welfare, and the environment. His interests in fiction and non-fiction feed off one another and shape his focuses as a translator.
For Tyler, the opportunity to meet the translators, authors and cultural representatives that make up the NBG community was a particular highlight.
“I don’t recall ever having met a literary translator before I studied in London (despite the fact that I was nearly 30 and had at that point read far more translated fiction than English-language works!), and my internship played an integral role in helping me learn more about this profession. Just to actually meet and hear about literary translators was quite eye-opening.”
His translated excerpt from the YA novel Als ich mit Hitler Schnapskirschen Aß (When I Ate Schnapps Cherries with Hitler) by Manja Präkels, was published last winter in No Man’s Land (No Man’s Land is an online journal publishing original English translations of new German literature) and he’s soon hoping to find the time to pitch the book to publishers.
“The internship was a foundational experience for my current career“
Jen Calleja (2013 Internship)
For Jen Calleja, a New Books in German intern in 2013, being immersed in the behind-the-scenes work of each book selection cycle provided the opportunity to meet some of her translation heroes like Anthea Bell and Jamie Bulloch.
Jen is now a writer and Literary Translator. She was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019 for her translation of Marion Poschmann’s The Pine Islands, and the Schlegel-Tieck Prize 2018 for her translation of Kerstin Hensel’s Dance by the Canal. She also writes a column on literary translation for the Brixton Review of Books, and recently started a small press for Maltese literature in English and English translation with a friend called Praspar Press.
For Jen, the NBG internship was foundational to the success of her current career.
“Immediately after my internship, the editor at the time, Charlotte Ryland, invited me to become acting editor while she was on maternity leave, and that basically changed my life. I gained so much experience on so many levels – reading hundreds of reader reports, meeting and talking with editors and translators, getting an overview of how things work in terms of rights and marketing. […] it was a foundational experience for what came after.”
“It was such a great experience. I am so pleased I did it.“
Maxine Hart (2021 Internship)
Having completed her internship this year, Maxine Hart hopes her experience will also help shape her future career. Maxine was inspired to apply after a friend of hers, having completed the internship, shared how much she had enjoyed it. Keen to have the same experience, Maxine applied a total of four times to the internship programme and is thankful to current Director, Sarah Hemens, for reaching out and providing feedback that made her fourth application a successful one.
“Sarah reached out to me after she noticed my name coming up several times in the applications. She told me about other New Books in German volunteering opportunities, and also offered feedback on my application. I appreciated the friendly and supportive outreach, someone going above and beyond. And that supportive community is one I feel I experienced during the internship too”.
As well as now working as receptionist for the German Historical Institute, Maxine volunteers as a committee member of the Emerging Translators’ Network – a forum and support network for early-career literary translators working primarily into English with over 1,000 members. And proving just how supportive the wider translation community is, Maxine also shared how it was a previous NBG intern (Jozef van der Voort) who alerted her to the vacancy for her current role at the German Historical Institute.
“Knowing I had studied German and History, Joe thought I’d be interested in working at the Institute and told me about the role. I applied and got the job!”.
“Seeing how the book trade works and how books in translation come into being was a highlight for me.“
Jozef van der Voort (2020 Internship)
Jozef van der Voort currently works as a Translator and Editor at the German Historical Institute based in Bloomsbury, London. He spends his time working with historical research, which completely aligns with his deep interest in academic translation.
With his own internship experience in Spring 2020, Joe found great value in seeing how New Books in German works behind-the-scenes and listening to the different perspectives when it came to the book selection process.
“I appreciated the opportunity to attend the jury meeting. I’m a translator and I often speak about books with other translators, but it was interesting to attend the meeting with literary agents and editors and to hear how they approach the selection process and what questions they ask when considering whether to recommend a book.”
The internship also introduced Joe to Für immer die Alpen by Liechtensteinian author Benjamin Quaderer. Joe’s translation of an excerpt of this book was published in online journal, No Mans’ Land this year; “Without the internship, I never would’ve discovered this book which has made such an impression on me”
“It’s often difficult to quantify the direct impact something has on your career, but I met a lot of editors who seemed reassured by my having done the internship — I feel like it’s seen as a hallmark of quality and commitment to the profession.”
Emma Rault (2017 Internship)
Emma Rault is a writer and a literary translator from German and Dutch. Much of her writing is about (non)belonging and cultural confusion – the same core preoccupations that drove her to translation. Emma was an NBG intern in the summer of 2017 and feels the internship is a good opportunity for people to get to know who you are as a translator and translated literature advocate and what you care about.
“So much of translation is about that sweet spot of projects you’re uniquely qualified for and motivated to do, so figuring that out and talking to people about it is key. For me that has ended up leading to sample and reader’s report commissions for books that were extremely my jam. The internship is a good opportunity to try out various translation-adjacent activities, since a lot of translators supplement their work with other activities in the industry”.
As well as the internship providing the opportunity to meet and engage with the literary community, Emma appreciated the editor at the time, Charlotte Ryland, publishing several of her translations of German Jewish poet Hilde Domin’s work.
“I think that was actually the first time ever that I had poetry translations published, and I’m really grateful that she was open to me pitching these poems to her that I was just in love with. I think it paved the way for a lot of poetry commissions that followed.
For me, the internship gave me a sense of a book as the outcome of a creative process that I could be involved in. It helped to demystify the process. And the jury meetings themselves, talking with other translators, literary scouts and so on about forthcoming titles and what their place in the English-language market might be, were eye-opening too.”
Interns get a chance to experience what happens behind-the-scenes at New Books in German, seeing the great range of books submitted to the project for consideration but also, and perhaps crucially, being a part of the book selection process, learning what goes in to making a decision, what can help tip the balance one way or the other.
The flexibility and scope of the NBG internship (most tasks can be organised around existing commitments and there’s a good deal of opportunity to tailor the internship to meet the needs and interests of the individual interns) attracts individuals from a wide range of backgrounds, often translators or students but this is by no means a pre-requisite. Some come from other backgrounds, including our Director Sarah Hemens, who was working in international human rights when she did the internship in 2018.
“Interns are such an important part of the New Books in German community. We are lucky to have had – and to continue to have – so many people passionate about literature in translation and with so many skills to offer come and work with us.
When I open the applications inbox, I am always impressed with the number of applications from enthusiastic and well-qualified people.
We want very much for New Books in German to be an open and supportive network and for interns to stay in touch and continue to be involved – perhaps by becoming a reader, sitting on a jury, writing an article for the website or attending events.”
– Sarah Hemens, NBG Director
With thanks to Adam Hill, Emma Rault, Jackie Smith, Jen Calleja, Jozef van der Voort, Maxine Hart, Sarah Hemens and Tyler Langendorfer for their contributions to this article.
Read interviews with other former interns.
Read more about what a New Books in German internship involves.
Sarah Buckmaster is New Books in German Social Media and Website Co-ordinator. She is a Writer and Communications Specialist. Currently working on her first novel focused on raising awareness of mental health challenges, Sarah carries out freelance work for global charities and non-profit organisations – helping to improve their engagement and outreach. She is also the host of the How to be Good? Podcast.