The Goethe-Institut is Germany's state cultural institution. As part of its mission to "promote the study of German abroad and encourage international cultural exchange," GI offers grants to support the work of translators who translate German literature into other languages, a program that is only one of the reasons the Institut is a model for other nations that seek to integrate their national culture into the world community. According to the information available on the organization's website, for the nearly thirty years that the subsidy program has been active GI has sponsored the publication of nearly 4,000 books in 45 languages.
In 2006 alone, GI funded the translation 236 titles including Nietzsche in Ukrainian and Polish; Goethe in Lithuanian, Indonesian, Albanian and Croatian; Kafka in Farsi; and Brecht in Hindi. Contemporary writers are support as well, e.g. the translation of W.G. Sebald into Brazilian Portuguese and Galician, and acclaimed author Ingo Schulze into Rumanian, French, Greek, Italian and Dutch.
Translators interested in investigating this funding opportunity should be advised that the program supports book-length projects only. Information about conditions, application, and contacts can be found online.
Helpfully, the Goethe-Institut has assembled a directory of links to other grant sources for translators. Readers in the Boston area can join the GI mailing list so to be notified when the Boston branch office is hosting another of its many cultural events. Of course, not all of our readers are in Boston; luckily GI has locations all over the globe.
Is there an agency of the US government which has taken up the banner of cultural diplomacy? The clearest analogue I see -- and my knowledge of the federal bureaucracy is acutely lacking -- is the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, a unit of the Department of State, specifically the Cultural Programs Division. I invite readers with greater knowledge such programs to share what they know. Is there a Henry James Haus in Berlin? Are there government-funded Twain Institutes? It's not unlikely the US government balk at the likely criticism of its ostensibly hegemonic aspirations. The Cold War era Congress for Cultural Freedomwas arguably a very successful program, but the backlash against state intervention in the arts surely still stings. I fail to think of any credible way to be similarly suspicious of the Goethe-Institut; after considering the distasteful question of the policy being GI, I conclude that it is a politically benign effort if it is at all political.