Carrying the A.A. Message Through Literature

dealing with crosstalk
Keeping Crosstalk at Bay
March 30, 2017
AA Meeting Etiquette
March 31, 2017

“It’s a story I love to tell,” says David R., A.A.W.S. publishing director at the General Service Office, “not only because it’s filled with incident, but because it’s proof positive that the hand of A.A. is reaching folks all around the world – and in that hand is a life-saving item of literature.”

The story in question is the story of the translation of the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, into Twi, a language spoken by seven million people in Ghana. With A.A. active in over 180 countries, a steady surge in requests is being made each year for G.S.O. to license translation of A.A. literature, from pamphlets and booklets to Alcoholics Anonymous and twelve Steps and twelve Traditions. These requests are directed to the translations and licensing department of Alcoholics Anonymous world Services, Inc., the publishing arm of the General Service Board, which holds more than 1,300 copyrights for various A.A. writings, videos, audios, and the like. The requests generally come from a literature committee or General Service Board of the country in question, to whom G.S.O. issues licenses to translate and to print and distribute.

With the Twi Big Book, the process had its genesis in 2006, when a Ghanaian woman visited the U.S. and observed the use of A.A. literature in meetings and among the Fellowship. When she returned home, she set about undertaking a Twi translation of the Big Book.

“This is the way it so often happens,” says David, who first arrived at G.S.O. as licensing manager in 2014. “Folks in the Fellowship note a need for literature, and via group conscience, may come to a shared expression of that need, and a translation is sought.”

A.A.W.S. approved the Ghanaian request for a Twi Big Book, and over a five-year period, three large sections of the book were translated by three different Ghanaian women, and then submitted to G.S.O. for review.

“Translations are 99 percent of the time undertaken by local A.A.s, who come forward from the groups or the general service structure of each country,” David points out. “In the case of the Twi Big Book, three individual translators, all women, set to work, and each translation they submitted received impeccable reviews from our independent translation-evaluation service. Each woman’s A.A. experience embodied a classic tale of how Alcoholics Anonymous works. They came into A.A., got their lives back (got married, had families, or established careers and so forth) and passed the baton to the next able helper to continue the work.”

By 2014, the text translation of the Twi Big Book was complete – the original 164 pages, fully translated and approved. In 2015, 1,200 copies of the book were printed locally in Ghana. But they needed book covers. What to do? Sewing circles of women in Ghana formed to hand-sew leather covers on each book – and these hand-crafted books were, at last, distributed to A.A. meetings throughout the region in early 2015.

The Twi Big Book story has its unique elements, but is only one inspiring translation story among many, says Rosa Rodriguez, G.S.O.’s nonalcoholic translations and licensing administrator. “In 2016, we have had a large increase in requests for licenses to translate A.A.-copyrighted literature over 2015. Several countries are working at a fast pace on translations and re-translations; notably but not limited to Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, India, and Ukraine. The Cook Islands Fellowship completed a Big Book translation into Rarotongan. And work continues on the audio translation of the Navajo Big Book.”

According to David and Rosa, translations of the Big Book present particular challenges for each country. The concept of higher-power, for example. Translation is an art, not a science, so sensitivity to maintaining the integrity of the original English as well as the vernacular of the local Fellowship must be bridged. The Fellowship of Goa, India, is working on a version in the style of a drama, which is the traditional form for communicating material of spiritual depth in the Konkani language. A Zulu audio version of the Big Book has been licensed. And in meetings in Jerusalem, A.A.s of three faiths come together to read the Big Book in one and the same meeting in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

“I personally have found it invaluable to meeting face-to-face with trusted servants from other countries wherever and whenever I can, such as the International Convention in Atlanta in 2015, where I was able to meeting with reps from more than 20 countries and at the 24th World Service Meeting in Rye Brook, New York, where Rosa and I met with dozens of countries’ delegates,” David says. He also attended the 2015 Asia-Oceania Service Meeting, a zonal meeting in Dubai, where connections with people from countries including Australia, Bali, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Japan, Mongolia, Thailand, and many Middle Eastern countries were made. “I look at our work serving the Fellowship of A.A. via literature in all its translations as one of the world’s great global publishing success stories – forging veritable publishing partnerships the world over, driven by our profound shared mission to help the suffering alcoholic and serve the needs of A.As everywhere.”

By General Service Office, Box 459 Newsletter – Vol. 63, No. 1 / Spring 2017

Like this story? Join thousands of other A.A.'s who receive new stories each month delivered right into their inbox.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the AA Cleveland District Office.