The Catalan translator for the poem that American writer Amanda Gorman read at President Joe Biden’s inauguration said Wednesday that he has been removed from the job because he had the wrong “profile".
It was the second such case in Europe after Dutch writer Marieke Lucas Rijneveld resigned from the job of translating Gorman’s work following criticism that a black writer was not chosen.
“They told me that I am not suitable to translate it," Catalan translator Victor Obiols told AFP.
“They did not question my abilities, but they were looking for a different profile, which had to be a woman, young, activist and preferably black."
Gorman, a 23-year-old African American, was widely lauded for the reading of her poem “The Hill We Climb" at Biden’s January 20 inauguration.
The poem was inspired by the US Capitol attack and touched on how democracy “can never be permanently defeated".
She was the youngest poet ever to recite at a presidential inauguration, a role first given to Robert Frost by John F. Kennedy in 1961.
It also came at a time of intense debate in the United States over the country’s history of racism toward its Black population and the legacy of slavery.
Obiols, who has translated works by William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, received a request from Barcelona publisher Univers three weeks ago to produce a Catalan version of Gorman’s poem with a foreword by US television personality Oprah Winfrey.
After he had finished, his publisher received word from the United States that he “was not the right person", said Obiols.
He does not know if the rejection came from the original publisher or from Gorman’s agent.
“It is a very complicated subject that cannot be treated with frivolity," said Obiols, who is from Barcelona.
“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 nota 16th-century Englishman."
Univers could not be reached by AFP for comment. Obiols said the publisher promised to pay him for the work nonetheless.