Way back at the start of the year, I promised that this year’s ALTA would be “THE GREATEST CONFERENCE IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE OF CONFERENCES.” Now, I’m not sure that was the case—although it was the most interesting ALTA I’ve ever attended—but it was awesome enough to get mentioned in the New York Times.
[A]mong the polyglots who convened this month in Rochester for the annual meeting of the American Literary Translators Association — where the topic was “The Translation of Humor, or, the Humor of Translation” — there is a sense of cautious optimism. At least some measure of levity, these dedicated professionals believe, must be able to migrate between languages. The French, after all, seem to appreciate Woody Allen.
“It takes a bit of creativity and a bit of luck,” said David Bellos, a professor of French and comparative literature at Princeton, who, as he prepared his keynote speech for this year’s conference, confessed to finding a disconcerting shortage of jokes beginning: “A pair of translators walk into a bar.”
(During the conference, Alex Zucker actually came up with a joke using that opening: “A pair of translators walk into a bar . . . (It was better in the original.)”)
The humor panels we had at the conference were pretty spectacular, especially one moderated by Open Letter editor (and U of R translation grad) Kaija Straumanis and featuring Emily Davis (fellow U of R translation grad), Matt Rowe, and Helen Anderson and Konstantin Gurevich, translators of The Golden Calf. One of the reasons this panel worked so well was because of Kaija’s introduction, which centered around the different ways George Saunders’s “Pastoralia” is funny in English and in the German translation.
Might some funny bits actually get funnier in translation? In the title story of George Saunders’s “Pastoralia,” a character is paid to impersonate a cave man at a theme park, his employers providing a freshly-killed goat to roast daily, until one morning he goes to the usual spot and finds it “goatless.” Among the many possible renderings of this made-up word, Saunders’s German translator chose ziegenleer, a lofty-sounding melding of “goat” and “void” with no exact equivalent in English.
“The German translation is accurate, but the word combination tickles some kind of orthographical, sound-receptive funny bone,” explained the Latvian translator Kaija Straumanis, the editorial director for Open Letter Books, the University of Rochester’s literature in translation press and one of the conference organizers. “The more high-minded you make it sound in your head, the funnier it gets, implying a rusted-out box into which this man is staring and seeing a severe and disconcerting lack of goat.”
The whole article is worth reading—and thanks to Jascha Hoffman for writing such an informative piece about such an interesting topic.
I’m still going to need a few days to process this year’s ALTA conference before I write something more substantial, but I just wanted to say that the conference went even better than expected. The panels were brilliant, David Bellos was incredible, the parties were drunken, and the conversations were stimulating. And nothing went terribly wrong!
(Well, our tattoo plans had to be delayed till this week due to unfortunate timing, but that’s not too tragic . . . We’re still getting the hyphellipses tattoos and will post pics when it happens.)
Anyway, over the next month or so, we’ll be posting videos from the conference. We taped a TON of events and panels for those who couldn’t make it, or are just curious about what goes on at ALTA. It’s going to take a little while to make this happen though, but we will get them up eventually.
In the meantime, if you attended, would you please fill out this survey about the conference? I’m very curious as to what people thought, and I’m sure the Dallas office and next year’s organizers would appreciate some feedback as well.
And now here’s the second half of Friday’s events. Remember, you can read the whole ALTA preview by clicking here.
Friday, October 5th
3:15 – 4:30 pm
Humor & Speculative Fiction
What are some of the challenges specific to translating humor in speculative fiction? Panelists will discuss examples from the works of Russian satirist Mikhail Bulgakov, French novelist Antoine Volodine, Haitian American short story author Ibi Zoboi, and French writer and illustrator Guillaume Bianco.
Sara Armengot: Moderator
Iván Salinas: “Irony and Alternate Worlds in the Post-Exotic Work of Antoine Volodine”
Edward Gauvin: “Billy Fog and the Pleasures of Doggerel”
Lori Nolasco: “The Loogaroo Laughed in Spite of Herself: Translating Ibi Zoboi’s Survival Epic The Fire in Your Sky into French and Spanish”
Lenka Pánková: “And the Canadians Didn’t Laugh: Culturally Conditioned Humor in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita in Translation”
Problems & Approaches in Translating Contemporary Polish Poetry
This panel explores problems particular to translating contemporary Polish and American poetry into English and Polish respectively. Topics will include interrogating the relative ignorance of the Polish language among translators now working in the U.S. and the UK; and the reciprocal influence between modern and contemporary Polish and Anglo-American poetry from the Soviet era and the New York School. A range of perspectives will be offered on these topics. Two panelists are native speakers of Polish who work in the U.S.; two are Americans with some knowledge of Polish; and the fifth is a Polish poet and scholar of American and Polish poetry.
Marit MacArthur: “Why (or Why Not) Collaborative Translation?”
Piotr Gwiazda: “Why (or Why Not) Collaborative Translation?”
Kacper Bartczak: “The New York School in Poland: Pragmatic Matters of Influence”
Piotr Florczyk: “Reading Polish Poetry in America”
William Martin: “On the Use and Abuse of Polish Poetry for America”
And remember, you can download the entire schedule here.
Couple more days of ALTA to preview, to help all of you decide which panels you might want to attend. Today we’ll highlight all of Friday’s events, cover Saturday on Monday, and then do all the special events and readings on Tuesday. It’s unbelievable that after a year of preparing for this conference, it’s finally almost here . . .
Friday, October 4th
9:00 – 10:15 am
Roundtable: The Routine of Translation: Strategies, Habits & Everyday Life
This roundtable brings together five or six ALTA members who have other professional commitments (teaching, editing, publishing), but still manage to remain productive as literary translators. The guiding question for the roundtable is a simple one: how do we make time for literary translation in the face of our other duties, especially when translation rarely pays well and often doesn’t “count” as scholarship at academic institutions? The panelists will speak about the practical aspects of planning their workday, and their insights will no doubt fascinate those of us who constantly scramble to make time for our own translation projects.
Jamie Olson | Sean Cotter | Sibelan Forrester | Bill Johnston | Erica Mena | Russell Valentino
Translating the Transition: History & Humor in Post-Communist Literature
This panel will explore the issues surrounding the translation of Eastern European literature written after 1989, and will especially focus on the themes of historical representation and humor. The panelists will refer to recently completed translations or to works in progress.
Magdalena Mullek: “East Meets West in the Backwoods of Slovakia: Culture Clashes in Lukáš Luk’s Považský Sokolec Tales”
Julia Sherwood: “Deep in the Heart of Europe: The Debunking of Slovak Nationalism in the Works of Pavel Vilikovský and Daniela Kapitáňová“
Peter Sherwood: “Transylvania and Other Troubles: Diversions and Subversions in Noémi Szécsi’s The Finno-Ugrian Vampire”
Alex Zucker: “Tradition Shmadition: Patrik Ouředník’s Attempts to Puncture Czech Provincialism.”
Janet Livingstone: “Socialism through a Child’s Eyes: Absurdistan Revealed”
10:45 am – 12:00 pm
Words on Music & the Music of Words
When the subject of poetry or fiction is musical experience, the writer is often moved to use special features to evoke that experience. Such features may include nomatopoeia, pacing, structural elements such as repetition, and patterns of rhythm or sound—all devices that can pose tough challenges for a translator. Of course, writers also use highly musical language for other purposes, such as the rendering of exceptionally lively speech or thought. The panelists will present examples of both types of writing and will discuss how they tackled the challenges these texts presented.
Carolyn Tipton: “Music in Alberti’s Chopin”
Stephen Kessler: “Luis Cernuda, Poet as Pianist”
Suzanne Jill Levine: “If Language Be Music, Play On”
Roger Greenwald: “The Peacock Dance and the Prince of Madrigals”
Humor & Its (Dis)Constraints
This roundtable will make a foray into the realm of translating texts that were written under constraint—and also happen to be funny. Despite translation guides that counsel against parsing humor (and translating it), the discussants will undertake to do just that. We will speak about translating humorous texts while replicating their constraints. After all, to paraphrase one translator, rendering a sonnet in free verse would be like sculpting the Venus de Milo in wet sand. We will also give particular emphasis to translating works written under Oulipian constraint.
Rachel Galvin | Camille Bloomfield | Jordan Stump | Pablo Martín Ruiz
And remember, you can download the entire schedule here.
Continuing the series of ALTA preview posts (for those of you who are coming, or who wish you could be here), here’s a list of choice events from Thursday afternoon (which is only one week from now!). Also, just as a reminder, we’ll be videotaping a bunch of these events, so if you see one that intrigues you, stay tuned—you might be able to watch it online by the end of next month.
Thursday, October 4th
1:45 – 3:00 pm
History, Myth & Language in Francophone Literature
In Francophone countries, French is still often the language of literature and thus of the very literate, creating a distance from the indigenous languages of myth, folklore, and the everyday. The way, then, that a Francophone writer chooses to bend and subvert French to reflect his/her experience as a member of an ex-colony is telling. What are the ways in which the translator recognizes and respects these subversions?
Addie Leak: Moderator
David Ball: “Why Translating ‘Francophone’ Writers Means Translating French”
Marjolijn de Jager: “Freedom with French or Freedom from French”
To MFA or Not to MFA: The Translation Question
More and more universities are now offering certificates and degrees in literary translation, and many creative writing MFA programs include translation courses among their regular offerings. What is the status of translation within the creative writing program? Should it be its own track, or program? Can thinking about teaching writing in general make us better teachers of translation?
Susan Bernofsky: Moderator
Geoffrey Brock: “Translation as Creative Writing”
Becka Mara McKay: “Getting MFA Students Involved with Translation”
Russell Valentino: “As Opposed to What?”
Sidney Wade: “The Importance of Imagination in the Pedagogy of Translation”
3:30 – 4:45 pm
Literary Translation & Creative Nonfiction
This panel will consider the ways in which nonfiction writing might serve as a productive
analog for translators. To what extent do literary translation and creative nonfiction share similar “genre” concerns? Can creative nonfiction serve as a feasible alternative to commercial translation for literary translators? And to what extent can translation itself be practiced as a form of creative nonfiction writing?
Annie Janusch | Jennifer Zoble | Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas
Rachael Small | Anne Posten | Janet Hendrickson
The Marketing Toolkit: How Translators Can Make Their Work Matter
A translator’s work isn’t over when the manuscript is submitted. This roundtable will offer a nuts-and-bolts approach to helping your publisher market your work, and to helping the media respond to it and to you. This roundtable is part of an ongoing series of events convened by the PEN Translation Committee as it updates its online Handbook for Literary Translators.
Minna Proctor (Moderator) | Margaret Carson | Tom Roberge |
Ira Silverberg | Matvei Yankelevich
And remember, you can download the entire schedule here.
This year’s ALTA kicks off officially on Wednesday night with the special opening event celebrating Open Letter’s poetry series—in particular Eduardo Chirinos’s Smoke of Distant Fires, translated by Gary Racz, and Juan Gelman’s Dark Times Filled with Light, translated by Hardie St. Martin—but the real meat of the conference gets going at 9:15 Thursday morning . . . Here are a few of the highlights from those first couple sessions (remember, you can download the entire schedule here):
Thursday, October 4th
9:15 – 10:45
It’s No Pun Anymore: The Loss of Wit & Other Cultural Misunderstandings in Persian Verse Translation
Despite a rich 2,000-year literary tradition, linguistic as well as cultural elements integral to Persian poetry continue to get slighted in English renderings. This panel surveys both the classical and modern tradition of Iranian verse, foregrounding key problems that considerably limit the appreciation of style and theme in translation.
Roger Sedarat: Moderator
Mojdeh Marashi: “Saffron Paper: Rosewater Ink”
Kaveh Bassiri: “The Text Is in the Context”
Sara Khalili: “On Navigating Cultural Misunderstandings in Persian Literature”
Translating Murakami in Europe
This panel gathers three European translators of Haruki Murakami to discuss his translation into languages other than English. Focusing upon Murakami’s latest novel, 1Q84, panelists raise such problems as shifting tense, visual wordplay, and strategies for handling the English expressions and American references that appear natural in the English translation, but which stand out in other European languages, as they do in Japanese.
Mette Holm: “In Search of Lost Time in Murakami: Movement Between Past and Present”
Ika Kaminka: “Style and the Translator: Re-Exporting English Idioms out of Japanese”
Anna Zielinska-Elliott: “Visual Presence and Subjective Absence: Conjuring Japanese in European Languages”
11:00 – 12:15
Linguistics & the Culture of Humor
What makes an original text humorous and what should a translator understand about language, culture, and linguistics—both in regard to the source and target languages—to make this humor translatable? This panel also considers challenges translators may encounter.
Kaija Straumanis: “On the German Translation of George Saunders’s Pastoralia”
& Helen Anderson: “The Elephant, the Hellephant, and the Quest for Dynamic Equivalence”
Matt Rowe: “Turning The Alienist up to 11”
Emily Davis: “Hypervelocity Cloudlets: Linguistic Precision and the Importance of
Register in Damián Tabarovsky’s Medical Autobiography”
This week’s podcast features special guest Kaija Straumanis to help preview the upcoming American Literary Translators Conference. Every fall, approx. 350 translators get together for three days of panels, discussions, readings, movies, and drinking. (Oh, and mechanical bull riding.)Read More...
One of the fall Open Letter titles that I’m most jacked about is Quim Monzó’s A Thousand Morons. I’ve been a huge fan of Monzó’s for a while now (maybe since I read, The Enormity of the Tragedy, I guess) and am so proud that we have him on our list. (If you want to check him out, I STRONGLY recommend checking out One Night which appeared in Guernica back in August.)
Anyway, to correspond with the release of this book, we’re going to be showing the movie version, A Thousand Fools, during ALTA. (To be specific, this will take place on Thursday, October 4th from 1:30 to 3:30 at The Little. And before the screening, translator Peter Bush will talk about Monzó, his work, and Catalan literature.)
There’s more to this event to share with you, but first, here’s a trailer:
OK, now thanks to the combined brilliance of George Carroll (our West Coast sales rep!), Paul Yamazaki (of City Lights), and Rick Simonson (of Elliott Bay), we’re going to be giving away t-shirts to promote this book. To be more accurate, we’ll be giving away one thousand t-shirts that look sort of like this (this is an low-res mock up):
And to drive home the promotional point of this, the back will be individually numbered, so each recipient will know exactly which “moron” he/she is:
So everyone coming to the showing during ALTA, all booksellers who are Open Letter fans, every single subscriber, bunches of friends, and any of you who email me can get your own free “Thousand Morons” t-shirt. The only criteria is that you take a picture of yourself wearing it and post it to our Facebook page. (You don’t have to do this, but it would be pretty awesome, and would make us feel loved.)
There you are: One more reason why you should come to ALTA.
I know that I’ve mentioned the fact that Rochester is hosting this year’s American Literary Translators Association conference before, but now that the dates are creeping up on us (October 3 is only 16 days away), it’s time to really start promoting this and filling you in on all of the insanely awesome activities.
Over the next 16 days, I’ll highlight different events and speakers, and hopefully post excerpts from the ALTA Fellows and some bilingual readers.
I’ll also share the hyphellipses tattoo that some of us are planning on getting during the conference. (And if you’re not into this particular tattoo, you should still consider coming along to ink yourself in some way. Translators who tattoo together, stay together. Or something.)
For now though, I think it’s enough to share the final version of the ALTA 2012 program, which may well be the most beautiful ALTA program in history.
Click here to download a PDF version complete with listings and descriptions of all the events, bios of participants, and ads from some of the sponsors.
Now that you’ve had a chance to see the awesomeness that is ALTA 2012, here are all the special details:
One note: Although the Radisson is the official hotel, basically ALL of the events are taking place at the Memorial Art Gallery, which is ten hundred trillion times more beautiful than the Radisson. (Sorry, Radisson, but we all know it’s true.)
OK, starting later this week, I’ll start previewing various aspects of the conference. In the meantime, you can email me (chad.post [at] rochester.edu) if you have questions, comments, or want additional information. It looks like there will be a number of media outlets covering this, and if you are a reporter or blogger or book lover and would like to talk with any of the participants about their particular panel, just let me know.
Finally, if you’re a University of Rochester student, you can get into the conference for free. Big perk of hosting this and of our undergrad and graduate translation programs.
So, ALTA just sent out the following info about applying for a fellowship for this year’s conference, which will take place from October 3-6 right here in Rochester. If you’re a young translator, you really have to apply for this for a few reasons: 1) ALTA will introduce you to mentors and contacts that will greatly influence the rest of your translation life, 2) a $1,000 goes a long way in Rochester, 3) I’m rearranging the schedule to bring a lot more attention to the ALTA Fellows reading, 4) there will be a lot of potential publishers at the conference, 5) I’m hoping to run excerpts from all of the winning pieces here on Three Percent, and 6) this is going to be The Best ALTA Ever—you do not want to miss out. (Decades from now, ALTA 2012 will be A THING OF LEGENDS.)
Here’s all the application info:
The American Literary Translators Association is pleased to announce that applications are now being accepted for the 2012 ALTA Travel Fellowship Awards. Each year, four to six fellowships in the amount of $1,000 are awarded to beginning (unpublished or minimally published) translators to help them pay for travel expenses to the annual ALTA conference. This year’s conference will be held October 3-6 in Rochester, NY.
At the conference, ALTA Fellows will give readings of their translated work at a keynote event, thus providing them with an opportunity to present their translations to a large audience of other translators, as well as to publishers and authors from around the world. ALTA Fellows will also have the opportunity to meet experienced translators and to find mentors.
If you would like to apply for a 2012 ALTA Travel Fellowship, please e-mail if possible a cover letter explaining your interest in attending the conference; your CV; and no more than ten double-spaced pages of translated text (prose or poetry) accompanied by the original text to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have difficulties with e-mail, please mail the above documents to:
2012 ALTA Travel Fellowship Awards
c/o The University of Texas at Dallas
800 West Campbell Road JO51
Richardson, TX 75080-3021
Applications must be received by May 15, 2012 in order to be considered for this year’s fellowships. Winners will be notified in August. Please keep in mind that you may not apply more than 2 times consecutively or more than 3 times total.
We look forward to receiving and reviewing your translations, and we hope to see you at this year’s conference. For more information, please visit ALTA’s website (www.literarytranslators.org) or contact Maria Rosa Suarez (email@example.com, 972-883-2093).
The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .
Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .
The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband.. . .
Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .
There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .
In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .
I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in. . .