Making the Translator Visible: Erica Mena
OK, I’ve really fallen behind with this series of posts, but I’m getting back on track now. . . . Although in my defense, I’m still waiting for a few more photographs . . . But anyway, here we go with Erica Mena’s write up:
Meeting Erica was one of the real highlights of ALTA. I’ve already gone on and on about how cool passionate translators are, and how many are — to steal a phrase from Susan Harris of WWB — “alluringly short,” and Erica fits both of these categories. At the first panel I went to, she stood up for the rights of young translators to essentially “play jazz” when bringing literature from one language into another. (This might be too much to explain here, but to provide a bit of a context, this panel was in honor of Suzanne Jill Levine, and during the discussion she talked about how translation was essentially performance. That in a way, the original text was a score, and it was up to the translator to bring it to life in a new context/space. Then someone said you had to practice for decades to become skilled enough to be able to do this. All the younger people gasped—who wants to slave away at translation for decades to get to the part where it gets fun! Obviously, you need to know the rules to know how to break them, but starting with that in mind sounds a bit more appealing and productive.)
We spent a good deal of time together at the conference—including an epic dinner that featured Erica screeding about Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which she totally abhors—and have become close friends since, so I could go on and on here.
But sticking with the professional side of things, Erica was also on the “future of ALTA” panel and will definitely be playing a large role in this organization’s evolution. She’s the head of the publications committee and is also helping redesign the website into something much more useful than what currently exists. (No offense, but the ALTA site is barely more functional than the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website, which is most definitely the nadir of all publisher websites . . . at least until Ron Hogan gets over there and starts fixing HMH’s e-strategies.)
Most importantly, Erica and I will be launching a translation-centric podcast early next year. (Not written in stone, but we’re thinking of calling it the Reading the World podcast . . .) We’re planning on recording a half-dozen episodes at MLA with people such as Larry Venuti, Esther Allen, and Suzanne Jill Levine. As someone who’s wanted to podcast for years, I’m really psyched to finally have a plan to actually do these . . . in that way, Erica’s a bit of a catalyst for good things . . . I’ll definitely post about this again once we have more concrete details about when these will be available, etc.
Anyway, onto the questions!
Your Favorite Word in Any Language: Enmudecer, which means “to fall silent.”
Personally, I love verbs for non-actions. Reminds me of Vila-Matas’s Bartleby & Co. and the “Literature of the No.”
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: “Tales from the Autumn in Gerona” by Roberto Bolaño
Ok, so most everyone agrees that the poetry of Bolano’s collected in The Romantic Dogs isn’t really his best work. Or even necessarily great poetry. But according to Erica—and I’ve read a bit of her translation and have to agree—Bolano’s prose poetry is much, much better. “Tales from the Autumn in Gerona” is from Tres, which consists of three prose poems and which may be forthcoming from New Directions. (Although that’s a bit unclear . . . Maybe someone could e-mail/post a comment to clarify?) I know Erica finished a translation of this collection last year, and again, based on the part that I’ve read, I think Bolano fans everyone would appreciate reading this collection . . . In the meantime, Words Without Borders will be publishing “Tales from Autumn in Gerona” in their March issue . . .
Book that Needs to Be Published in English: String by Farhad Shakley, a Kurdish Poet
Another cool thing about Erica is the work she does helping collaborate on translations from Arabic into English. She’s not fluent in Arabic, but works wiht a fellow translator to transform a more literal translation into poetry. This sort of “collaboration” is always a bit controversial, with translators, publishers, writers, and readers coming down on both sides of the issue. See recent arguments about Pevear and Volokhonsky, etc. At Dalkey, we published a couple collaborations that Damion Searls did that were absolutely wonderful (I’m thinking of Jon Fosse’s Melancholy), and the retranslation of The Golden Calf that we’re releasing tomorrow is another excellent example of how translator collaborations can be extremely effective. In my opinion, however it happens, making more Arabic poetry accessible to English readers is indisputably a very good thing.
In terms of Farhad Shakley, here’s a link to his Wikipedia entry. [INSERT TYPICAL DISCLAIMER ABOUT WIKIPEDIA HERE.] Sounds like an interesting guy, both for his poetry and for the fact that he used to publish Mamosta-y Kurd, a Kurdish literary magazine.
Click here for the rest of the posts in the “Making the Translator Visible” series.