As you likely know, we’re going to be hosting the ALTA 2012 Conference up here in Rochester this fall. Although that may seem like a ways off, it’s really not that long in conference planning time, so if you would like to propose a panel, follow the instructions below and send it my way . . . (And if you’re not a member of ALTA, you should be. You can sign up here.)
Oh, and the theme for this year’s conference is: “The Translation of Humor, or, the Humor of Translation.” (“The Unquestionable Importance of the Hyphellipses” came in a close second.)
Dear Fellow ALTA Members,
We’re now accepting panel proposals for the ALTA 2012 Conference, which will take place October 3-6 in Rochester, NY at the Strathallan Hotel and the Memorial Art Gallery. We welcome panels on all topics related to literary translation; however, we’re especially interested in proposals that touch on the translation of humor, publishing, translation in academia, translation and music, and new voices from around the world.
Proposals should include the following:
1. Title of the panel or roundtable.
2. 50-100 word description outlining the focus and nature of the panel.
3. Name and contact information of the panel organizer.
4. Name and contact information of the other members of the panel.
5. If you are open to additional panelists, please state how many; if you have been unable to recruit any panelists but would like to propose a topic, please indicate.
Panels are generally 75 minutes long, and there must be time for general discussion and audience responses (we suggest 20 minutes at least). Each panelist should therefore be allotted 10-15 minutes for his or her presentation, depending on the number of panelists (3-4 is ideal). Panelists should not read papers, but rather prepare talking points and examples from which to deliver an engaging talk.
The deadline for proposals is April 10, 2012. Panelists will be notified of acceptance by May 1st, 2012. Proposals should be sent in the body of an email to Chad W. Post, Conference Organizer, at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please also send any questions concerning the conference panels and events to the same address.
I look forward to welcoming you here in Rochester!
Edward Gauvin is simply awesome. I first met him when he was working at the French Publishers’ Agency. Actually, that’s not exactly accurate. I first corresponded with him when he was at the FPA, but I first met him in person when he was visiting Rochester. See? People do visit Rochester. Edward’s actually been up here twice (at least), including last fall when he was here to participate in a Reading the World Conversation Series roundtable with Michael Emmerich, Martha Tennent, and Marian Schwartz. (Click here to watch the video of the event—it really was one of the best RTWCS events to date.)
One of the things I really like about Edward is his broad literary interests. Sure, he’s well versed in the Oulipo, in all facets of “high art,” but he also knows a shitload about international science fiction and translates a lot of graphic novels for First Second Books. (Another reason to love Edward—and this isn’t an intentional attempt to bury the lead—is just how much he knows about international comics. It looks like I’m going to help put together a series of events at the next New York ComicCon related to international graphic novels, and along with Douglas Wolk and Laurel Maury, Edward’s one of my go-to people for info on who/what I should know about.)
Edward was also an ALTA fellow a few years back, and has since had a residency at the Ledig House and found a publisher for his first book-length prose translation (the beginning of which won him the fellowship . . . I think).
Anyway, to the questions:
Favorite Word in Any Language: “Indefferer” to be indifferent to as in “cela m’indiffere,” which is equivalent to “that leaves me cold.” “Thesauriser” (or “to amass”) comes a close second.
To amass something with complete indifference . . . sounds like b-school speak.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: has to be my labor of love to date and first book-length prose fiction translation: A Life on Paper, the selected stories of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud
Small Beer Press will be publishing this in May, and more info can be found here. Before linking to some of the online excerpts, here’s the jacket copy, which is sure to get more than a few people interested:
In many ways, Châteaureynaud is France’s own Kurt Vonnegut, and his stories are as familiar as they are fantastic. A Life on Paper presents characters who struggle to communicate across the boundaries of the living and the dead, the past and the present, the real and the more-than-real. A young husband struggles with self-doubt and an ungainly set of angel wings in “Icarus Saved from the Skies,” even as his wife encourages him to embrace his transformation. In the title story, a father’s obsession with his daughter leads him to keep her life captured in 93,284 unchanging photographs. While Châteaureynaud’s stories examine the diffidence and cruelty we are sometimes capable of, they also highlight the humanity in the strangest of us and our deep appreciation for the mysterious.
Sounds like something we’ll definitely be looking at for the 2011 Best Translated Book Award . . .
Most Difficult Translation You’ve Ever Done: “The Red Loaf” by Pieyre de Mandiargues. He’s another mid-century fantastical writer. His Goncourt-winning novel The Margin was translated by Richard Howard (as were a number of others through Grove, and Boyars), and his sadistically decadent The Englishman in His Château was recently published by Dedalus Press, in their notable European fantasy line. None of his many short stories have yet appeared in English.
This is sort of a bonus question from Edward since most translators either answered the “best translation you’ve done” or “most difficult.” But what the hell, Mandiargues sounds pretty interesting as well . . .
What Book Needs to Be Published in Translation: the stories of Noel Devaulx
As Edward mentioned in an e-mail to me, there’s not a ton of info on Devaulx available online, but there is a more academic article by Mark Temmer entitled “Noel Devaulx: His Fantasies and Allegories” that has a nice provocative opening:
Noel Devaulx writes as much to be misunderstood as to be understood. The resolution of the paradox lies in the nature of irony, which displays ignorance or weakness to further its own ends. It must be confessed, however, that such stratagems do not always succeed; initial defeats may be too great or adversaries too dull. And lest so much subtlety go to waste, it seems worth while to renounce human encounters in favor of anonymous readers on whose part one may suppose intelligence and sympathy.
Noël Devaulx is the secret master of the 20th century French fantastique. His prose has the shimmer of Mérimée and the seemliness of Flaubert; clearly, he keeps Nerval by his bedside, the better to read it by the light of a Baudelairean lunacy. In his hands, the Kunstmärchen—nine collections’ worth, over nine decades—is reinvented as the vessel of a personal metaphysics; evident in every one is his mandarin mastery of narration. Jean Paulhan, an early champion, famously called his hermetic, exquisite tales, oft-featured in the NRF, “parables without keys”: spellbinding, even when perfectly obscure, for the secret to his prose is promise. Some enticing deferral of revelation extends past his final lines, into silence. [. . .] Many of Devaulx’s tales are haunted by death and madness, but Sainte Barbegrise reads like a virgin spring, or a breeze from a summer kingdom. It belongs, for its humor, for its merry invention, for its skillful use of marvel, on a shelf with Little, Big, At-Swim-Two-Birds, or The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold.
Click here to read the rest of the posts in the “Making the Translator Visible” series.
I was actually a bit scared of Wendy when I first met her. Not because she was particularly frightening (I’ve gotten over my fear of librarians . . . well, at least most of them), or because she was so much taller than most of the other translators (“tall” being totally ALTA-relative), but because the first thing she told me was that she had been hoping to meet me so she could ask about the manuscript she had submitted months and months ago . . .
(Quick digression: Although we do try our best to read and evaluate all submissions in a timely manner, you have to understand that this is incredibly complicated and time-consuming. On the low end, we receive 5-10 queries or submissions every week. And E.J. VanLanen is responsible for reading them all. [That’s called “passing the buck.”] At the same time, he’s also responsible for the website, editing all the books we are publishing, contracts, etc., etc. So, yes, we fall waaaayyy behind. A more relevant excuse re: Wendy is the fact that she sent it to the “email@example.com” address. Don’t do that. Send all your submissions either to me or to E.J. at e.j.vanlanen [at] rochester.edu. And we will read them. Sometime. Promise. End digression.)
After withstanding the storm of embarrassment, I did spend a good deal of time talking to Wendy. She’s a very funny, bright person who works as a librarian at Mansfield University and has a few interesting alphabet obsessions. Namely, she works her way through her “to read” shelves based on the author’s last name (I think she told me she was into the F’s, but I might be misremembering), and seeing that she already knows English, French, German, and Hindi, she next wants to learn either Dutch or Italian to keep the alphabet streak alive. (I think she was half-joking about that, but hey, why not?)
On to the questions:
Your Favorite Word in Any Language: Potato, pomme de terre, kartoffel, आलू (aloo)
I feel like there was a story behind Wendy’s love of the word “potato” in all the languages she knows, but I’ll be damned if I can remember what that story might be.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: Chapter 1 of Wendy 2 ou les Secrets de Polichinelle (Wendy 2 or The Secrets of Punch) by Vincent Ravalec
Book That Needs to Be Published in English: Vincent Ravalec in general!
This is the chapter that Wendy submitted to us so, so many months ago, so I actually have a ton of info from her cover letter about Ravalec and this particular book. Here are the highlights:
Vincent Ravalec is a well-known contemporary French writer of avant-garde novels, short stories, poems, and pop songs. Born in Paris in 1962, he stopped his formal schooling at the age of fourteen, then worked as an apprentice carpenter and assistant movie producer before beginning to write in the early 1990s. In 1994, he was awarded the very first Prix de Flore for his novel Cantique de la racaille (Flammarion), which he later adapted into a film. He has since been rolific, publishing fourteen novels, five collections of short stories, one volume of poetry, three essays, and a work of non-fiction to date. His better-known works include Un pur moment de rock’n roll (Le Dilettante, 1992), Vol de sucettes (Le Dilettante, 1995), and L’effacement progressif des consignes de sécurité (Flammarion, 2001).
Wendy 2 (Flammarion, 2004) begins as the strange tale of a young Parisian girl named Wendy Angelier who finds herself contacted by the spirit of a murderer who died in a prison brawl when Wendy was eight and half. The catch is that the murderer is also named Wendy Angelier, and she claims to be an Angel sent by God’s Secret Service to initiate young Wendy into the fold. As Wendy senior explains the universe to her young charge, leading her down ever more dubious paths, Ravalec’s narration heightens the reader’s sense of unease with constant interjections alluding to some terrible purpose. Gradually Wendy’s friends and family get sucked into the unknown horror that seems to be lurking around every corner, and the prospect of a happy ending looks bleak.
But then, more than three-fourths of the way through, everything is suddenly uprooted from the fictional world and dropped abruptly into our own, with Ravalec himself not only meeting his characters but becoming one of them. This is the sort of meta-fictional twist that literary critics love to analyze, but Ravalec beats them to the punch. Very shortly after the narrative shift, he provides a careful list of all the ways in which it could be interpreted, leaving the reader unable to determine the truth with any kind of certainty. In the end, there are more questions than answers, and Ravalec has earned an unassailable place in 21st-century experimental fiction.
And there you go. And yes, I did read the sample immediately upon return from ALTA . . . E.J.‘s looking at it now. [Buck officially passed once more.]
Click here for other entries in the “Making the Translator Visible” series.
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.
Gary is another great example of the hyperactively funny male translator. He’s incredibly fun, warm, and without going into any ALTA politics, one of the important people on ALTA’s board and committees who is liked by all sides. In addition to his ALTA work, and serving as review editor for Translation Review, Gary teaches at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus (in contrast to the most excellently named C. W. Post campus).
Anyway, this ALTA conference was the first time I met Gary in person, although I’ve talked with him by phone and e-mail over the past year or so while serving on ALTA’s publications committee. He really does have boundless enthusiasm, and I’m sure will be a huge player in ALTA’s development—especially in terms of its publications, website, and involvement with younger translators.
On to the questions:
Favorite Word in Any Language: carpetovetonico, which refers to a fustian madrileno
I so love the specificity of this word. Not just a pompous Spaniard, but a fustian Madrileno. Now I just need to find a good moment in which to use this . . . Hopefully without starting a bar fight . . .
Best Thing You’ve Translated to Date: La vida es sueno (Life Is a Dream) by Pedro Calderon de la Barca
Calderon (1600-1681) is considered by many to be one of Spain’s greatest playwrights, and, according to Wikipedia (the internet’s greatest quick hit informational resource), he “initiated the second cycle of Spanish Golden Age theater.” Here’s a description of Life Is a Dream (also from Wikipedia—which I feel the need to apologize for, but seriously, this description kicks ass all over the one you can find on the Penguin Classics website):
In the play, the king of Poland has had his son Segismundo imprisoned all of his life because it has been prophesied that the son will bring disaster to the country. The king tells his subjects that his son died after childbirth. After his son has grown to be a man, the king reveals to his court that his son lives, and allows the court to vote in favor of allowing the son to become heir. However, the son turns out to be violent, killing a man and attempting rape. For this he is drugged and returned to his prison, and told upon waking that the previous day’s events were merely a dream. Still, his jailer scolds him for his un-princely behaviour, which prompts remorse in Segismundo. Rebels who are working against the king, who have found out about the treatment of Segismundo, break him out of prison. The rebels defeat the king’s army; however, Segismundo doubts again if he is in reality or a dream, finally deciding that even in a dream we have to behave well because “God is God” and forgives the king . The play ends in a wedding.
(Totally side note, but I think it would be great to do some special panel/podcast/interview with drama translators to talk about the special issues involved in translating plays . . .)
Book that Needs to Be Published in English Translation: Retranslation of Jose Hernandez’s Martin Fierro
As one of the most important Argentine works of all time, I approve this recommendation. In fact, it’s almost shocking that there aren’t new translations of this every few years . . . Maybe it’s time for a Penguin Classics edition?
Don’t mean to play favorites here, but to be honest, in my opinion, Marian Schwartz is one of the smartest, most talented translators working today. Especially in terms of Russian translation. And retranslation. In recent years, she’s translated Envy by Yuri Olesha, Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov, A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov, and I know of an unpublished version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
The real reason I chose to feature Marian today though is to congratulate her on winning this year’s AATSEEL Award for Best Translation into English for her translation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard, which came out from Yale University Press. (As a sidenote, one of my interns is preparing a review of this which should run in the next few weeks.)
Marian is also a former president of ALTA, a great speaker on all things translation (she gave a couple killer presentations here at the U of R—including a great speech on retranslations), and a very encouraging, very engaged, very realistic reader, translator, and thinker . . . Personally, I think all young translators should spend some time with her if at all possible—Marian would be an excellent mentor.
Anyway, gushing aside, here are her answers and comments:
Best Translation that You’ve Done to Date: The Tattered Cloak and Other Stories by Nina Berberova
Since I have my issues with Russians and their
lack of understanding of copyright issues, I want to share a brief story (which I’m hopefully not screweing up too bad) Marian told me about Berberova. Back when Marian’s first translations of Berberova were about to come out, she got a gall from Berberova in which Berberova was all excited about all the different places publishing her story. “It’s going to be in here, and also here, and here. . . . “ In Russia, more is obviously better and legal conventions be damned!
Book that Needs to Be Published in English Translation: Cranes and Pygmies by Leonid Yuzefovich, and The Man Who Couldn’t Die by Olga Slavnikova
This is a sort of perfect response. Not necessarily for the choices themselves, but for the googleability of the translations. As it turns out Cranes and Pygmies — which won the Big Book Award — is one of the projects Marian’s currently working on and you can read a sample by clicking here.
And an excerpt from The Man Who Couldn’t Die appeared in Word Without Borders.
Robin Myers is one of the very cool young translators that I met for the first time at this year’s ALTA conference. In many ways, she’s the perfect example of the benefits of ALTA’s fellowship program . . . A student at Swarthmore who is focused on translating Spanish poetry, I can’t imagine she would’ve ever attended ALTA if she hadn’t have received a fellowship. But thanks to that, she was able to attend a lot of panels (which I think she liked), meet a lot of fellow translators (such as Stephen Kessler who talked to her about translating Luis Cernuda), present her own translations (which must be an amazing experience), and have a great night out at Liquid Kitty (and yes, I’m just going to let that statement ride).
It’s meeting people like Robin (and Erica and Sarah and Andrea and Wendy and Lucas and Jason and J.P. and a host of other young, hip translators, many of whom will be featured here in the near future) that makes the ALTA conference so much fun, and gives me a great deal of hope about the future of the organization and translation as a whole. That there are so many energetic, brilliant, passionate people involved in this field is incredibly encouraging and exciting.
Anyway, on to the questions and comments:
Favorite Word in Any Language: Luciernaga (“firefly”)—for the sound!
This really is a beautiful word to pronounce—or hear pronounced. Much more so than “firefly.” What’s really funny about Robin’s answer is that “luciernaga” was Megan McDowell’s second favorite word, and at one point, Robin tried to change her answer to “murcielago,” which is Megan’s absolute favorite word.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: “Don’t Copy Pound” by Gonzalo Rojas
Again, I can’t find a copy of the English version of this poem online (Robin—you should post it in the comments or e-mail it to me), but here’s a write up on Rojas from Poetry International that mentions it:
Rojas is a hard-to-classify, somewhat enigmatic poet, whose work nonetheless convinces instantly. He admonishes, jokes, complains and protests, in a poetry that defies all existing hierarchies. It is even anarchistic, in every possible way. There is a constant tension between colloquial speech and poetic license, between the ordinary and the absurd.
Rojas likes to drop names, from the past as well as the present. Past and present freely intermingle. Nor does he leave out the future. The dramatic unities of time, place and action are abandoned with an obvious vengeance and even the syntax is free. All in all, one might argue that he is not unlike Ezra Pound. Significantly, one of Rojas’s funniest poems bears the title ‘Don’t copy Pound’. Rojas does not copy Pound, but he shares the American’s awesome vitality. And he, too, needs many words. There is, indeed, a talkative quality to this poetry. We are continually being talked to, engaged in polemics, in dialogue. We, the readers, are kept on our mettle. The poem rarely shows us where it is going until we have reached the end. While reading, we seem to be determining the outcome ourselves.
‘Desocupado lector’ (To the idle reader) has such an ending, which determines the perspective in retroaction. In this case the perspective is abysmal, yet the effect is bracing rather than depressing. It is all part of Rojas’s careful design.
Book that Needs to Be Published in English Translation: Poems of Ezequiel Zaidenwerg (Argentina) and Hernan Bravo Varela (Mexico). Both are young gifted poets, and are themselves wonderful translators into Spanish.
Not a lot available online about either of these poets, but is that all that surprising? I’m echoing something Erica told me (and hopefully not overlooking some kick ass website), but there really does need to be a better hub for information on international poets. There is lyrikline.org but they can only do so much . . .
I first met Matt Rowe when he attended his first ALTA conference a few years back as an ALTA fellow. Matt’s an interesting guy with, at expense of making a fool of my memory, an interesting history, having started his career in computers, working for, among other companies, Microsoft. Then he abandoned that all (well, sort of, he’s still involved heavily in fonts) for Indiana University and the study of translation. He translates from the Italian, gave a great presentation on the “Translator as Fiction” panel (which is a great example of what is so cool about ALTA: a whole, chatty panel about the appearance of translators in fiction and how they were portrayed), and is now living out Port Townsend way batting around a book idea about puzzles (can’t say more here lest someone steal his incredible idea) and obsessing over the Oulipo. (There are many worse movements you could obsess over.)
Very recently, like over the weekend type recently, Matt took the step to make himself more visible, launching Local Character a blog that combines his interests in contemporary world fiction, typeface design and typography, voice, community, travel, cognitive science, eccentrics, oddballs, and misunderstood geniuses, and puzzles. In his own words:
Since I’m a translator, writer, and editor, my major focus will be on fiction, translation, and book publishing worldwide. A number of other excellent blogs and web journals already focus on these topics; I’ll play nicely and support them as I work to develop my own niche, but Local Character will definitely range into areas those resources don’t touch. Exactly what “Local Character” ends up meaning will depend on your encouragement, responses, and participation.
As Local Character (both company and website) develops, this blog will continue to be its center. Here I will review books (and occasional work in other media), report and comment on news and developments, and link to other sources, both web and print. Over the next few months, I’ll fill out the links and the rest of the site design, mostly silently as I figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Really looking forward to following the development of Local Character . . . and now onto the questions:
Favorite Word from Any Language: Chiaroscuro
A very literary word that’s also fun to say: kee-ahr-uh-skyoor-oh.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: “Inviti Superflui” by Dino Buzzati, which became “Unwanted Invitations” in my version
Unfortunately, I can’t tell if Matt’s translation of this prose poem has been published or not . . . Regardless, Buzzati is a really interesting author, and Godine recently reissued The Tartar Steppe (“Often likened to Kafka’s The Castle, The Tartar Steppe is both a scathing critique of military life and a meditation on the human thirst for glory”) and NYRB brought out Poem Strip which sounds awesome. (“Featuring the Ashen Princess, the Line Inspector, trainloads of Devils, Trudy, Valentina, and the Talking Jacket, Poem Strip — a pathbreaking graphic novel from the 1960s — is a dark and alluring investigation into mysteries of love, lust, sex, and death by Dino Buzzati, a master of the Italian avant-garde.”)
What Book Needs to Be Published in English Translation: Fata Morgana by Gianni Celati
I’m not familiar with Celati, but after reading the brief Wikipedia entry—his first book included an intro by Italo Calvino! he translated Swift, Twain, and Celine into Italian!—I’m hoping Matt has a sample he can send our way . . .
Since I already wrote about her once, it only seemed fitting to make Pam Carmell a bit more visible . . . I met Pam at the first ALTA conference I ever attended. If I remember right (and trust me, I probably don’t), we ended up standing next to each other in a line for something (food?) and Cristina de la Torre introduced us. Pam’s big interest is in translating Cuban literature, and the special Cuban fiction issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction came out of this meeting. (As did Pam’s translation of Jose Lezama Lima’s Oppiano Licario, which won her a NEA fellowship, but now may or may not see the light of day.)
Anyway, on to happier and more fun moments—questions and italicized comments!
Favorite Word in Any Language: Serendipity
No need to define this word . . . But to wax longingly for a second, serendipity is a perfect word to apply to conferences like ALTA. Or Frankfurt. Or BEA. Things just sort of happen at these gatherings. You randomly meet someone in line for food who loves Lezama Lima. There are happy accidents that lead you to finding out about some great writer from some more remote corner of the world. It’s great. Almost magical. Serendipitous discoveries make up part of the unquantifiable good that makes it worth investing in attending conferences like these.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: Women on the Frontlines by Belkis Cuza Male
This collection of poetry was published in 1987 by Unicorn Press (Greensboro). I was hoping to find a poem of hers to reproduce here, but I’m not having any luck with that . . . Nevertheless, you can check out her blog, and her bio is pretty fascinating:
Belkis was born in Guantánamo, Cuba. She studied Humanities in la Universidad de Oriente. In 1967 she married Cuban poet Heberto Padilla. Though initially a supporter of the Castro Revolution, Belkis later became a censor critic of his regime. She was jailed with Padilla in 1971 charged with “subversive writing”, It was known later as the “Padilla affair”. She went into exile in the United States with her little son in 1979, until the Cuban goverment authorized him to leave Cuba. She founded Linden Lane Magazine, a review of Latin American and North American writers in 1982. And in 1996, La Casa Azul.
Book that Needs to Be Published in English Translation: Cien botellas en una pared by Ena Lucia Portela
_Portela is a very young Cuban writer who has published a number of books over the past decade. (Her Wikipedia page has more details and general information.) Full publishing disclosure: Pam sent Open Letter a sample of this book, but unfortunately, we can’t fit it into our schedule . . . So, if any publishers out there are interested in taking a look, e-mail me (chad.post [at] rochester [dot] edu) and I’ll put you in touch with Pam . . . We are a full-service blog . . .
Russell Valentino is a superstar in the world of literary translation. Just look at his bio from the University of Iowa:
Russell Scott Valentino is professor of Slavic and comparative literature and chair of the Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature. He has published a monograph on nineteenth-century Russian literature and seven book-length literary translations from Italian, Croatian, and Russian. His essays, translated fiction, and poetry have appeared in journals such as The Iowa Review, Two Lines, POROI, Circumference, Asia, Modern Fiction Studies, Slavic Review, and 91st Meridian. He is the recipient of a 2002 NEA Literature Fellowship and a 2004 Howard Foundation fellowship, both for literary translation, as well as two Fulbright research awards to Croatia.
And if that’s not enough, he’s also the founder and publisher of Autumn Hill Books (a few months back we reviewed Becka McKay’s translation of Suzane Adam’s Laundry, which was published by Autumn Hill), and was recently named the editor of the Iowa Review, replacing David Hamilton, who has been editing the journal for the past 2 years. (And yes, Russell has plans for bringing more translation to the pages of the Iowa Review. And launching an online review section that may even cover some books not yet translated into English.)
Unfortunately, we interviewed Russell before coming up with the “favorite word in any language question” (Russell: maybe you could add something in the comments?), but here are the rest of his responses with my comments in italics:
Most Difficult Translation You’ve Ever Done: Persuasion and Rhetoric by Carlo Michelstaedter
As you might have noticed, Russell rephrased our question from “best thing you’ve ever translated” to “most difficult,” pointing out that it took him ten years to complete this book, which was published by Yale University Press in 2004 and is available (in part) via Google Books. I don’t know much about the book itself, but this brief description from Amazon.com sounds intriguing . . . and a bit depressing:
Ostensibly a commentary on Plato’s and Aristotle’s relation to the pre-Socratic philosophers, Michelstaedter’s deeply personal book is an extraordinary rhetorical feat that reflects the author’s struggle to make sense of modern life. This edition includes an introduction discussing his life and work, an extensive bibliography, notes to introduce each chapter, and critical notes illuminating the text.
hours of completing Persuasion and Rhetoric, his doctoral thesis, 23-year-old Michelstaedter shot himself to death. The text he left behind has proved to be one of the most trenchant and influential studies in modern rhetoric, a work that develops Nietzschean themes and anticipates the conclusions of, among others, Martin Heidegger.
Books You Think Need to Be Published in English: La Langue maternelle and Apres J.C. by Vassilis Alexakis
One of the joys of asking a lot of translators what books should be published in English is finding out about authors you’ve never heard of . . . although maybe you should have. Alexakis isn’t exactly unknown, having won the Prix de l´Académie Française in 2007 for Apres J.C. Of course, there’s not much info available on him in English, but according to Wikipedia (World’s Favorite Go To Source for Quick Info), he “is a Greek-French writer of numerous novels in Greek, his mother tongue, and French. His works, drawn from two cultures, are full of tender irony; his style gives the reader an intimate and personal perspective on his stories.” Although neither of these two books are available in English, Autumn Hill published Alyson Waters’s translation of “Foreign Words“http://www.autumnhillbooks.com/foreign_words/foreign_words.htm a few years back. Here’s the AHB description:
Foreign Words is a book that takes us on a journey through time and space with the story teller as he travels from Paris where he lives as the book opens, to Greece where he grew up, and where his father has just died, to the Central African Republic as he undertakes the study of Sango.
Why learn Sango is a question the book’s narrator himself has trouble answering. His ruminations on the surprising decision to study it are both humorous and penetrating.
So after the first ALTA panel—on the “subversive” translator and the idea of making the translator “visible” without interfering too much with the original text—Megan McDowell (pictured above) and I came up with a project idea. (Or what some may call a gimmick.) We thought that we could help literally make translators visible by posting pictures of ALTA attendees and asking a few questions. We thought it would be a cool way of letting non-translation world people get to know who these “invisible” translators are, while pointing out how cool the ALTA conference attendees are, and getting some good book recommendations along the way.
I think we did about 25 profiles, which I’ll be posting over the next couple weeks. I’ll include everyone’s answers, maybe another anecdote or two, and possibly some additional information about these people. (Translators tend to be pretty humble people and not very good at self-promotion . . .)
Anyway, re: Megan—I first met her ages ago, when she was a fellow at Dalkey Archive’s short-lived Chicago office. She was one of the best fellows we ever had. Very energetic, and very bright. Post-Dalkey, she spent some time in Chile, attended the University of Texas-Dallas where she studied translation, and got heavily involved with ALTA. (She was at the conference as the official photographer, making her the perfect partner for this project, and a good reason to feature her first.)
On with the questions with my comments in italics below:
Favorite Word, in any language: murcielago, which is Spanish for “bat.”
Weirdly, another translator picked this word as well . . . I’ll point this out again when I feature her, but not only did Robin Myers try and choose “murcielago,” but her other favorite word happens to be Megan’s second choice. It’s like translator telepathy.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra.
Which will be published by Open Letter this May . . . And in the meantime I HIGHLY recommend checking out Zambra’s Bonsai, which Melville House did last year, and which was a 2009 Best Translated Book finalist.
Book that Needs to be Published in English Translation: Ayer by Juan Emar.
We actually have this on submission . . . I have a feeling I’ll be able to repeat that a number of times over the course of this project, usually followed by “for the past eighteen months.” Which is not so cool. But seriously, Emar sounds very interesting and was featured in RCF a couple years back.
With this year’s American Literary Translators Association conference just around the corner (Kansas City better prepare itself), this seems like a good time to announce that the 2012 conference will take place from October 3-6 right here in Rochester, NY.
We’ll be posting a lot of details about this over the next few months, but I really wanted to share my excitement about being able to host one of the best annual conferences out there. ALTA is the best place to network with other translators, to discuss interesting facets of translation, and to generally have a good time.
ALTA Rochester is going to be amazing, with the host hotel being the Strathallan and most of the events taking place at the Memorial Art Gallery. On top of that though, we’ll have a lot of after-hours stuff going on throughout the city, and I’m personally committed to making this one of the most memorable ALTAs ever. (I realize how that might sound, especially considering my unwavering desire to throw a rave in Rochester’s abandoned subway system. But trust me—no one will get hurt.)
For those of you who will be in Kansas City later this month, we should definitely talk about possible panels, etc., etc. And for everyone else—especially translators and NY-based publishing folk—mark your 2012 calendars now.
I’ll post a 2011 ALTA preview next week, and will be sending many dispatches from the conference itself the week after, but in the meantime, be sure to check out the current schedule of events.
Well. Sometime over the past couple days, ALTA posted pictures of a number of people who attended the conference. (A lot of these are the same photos we’re planning on using for the Making the Translator Visible series, so you can kind of get a sneak preview of sorts.)
That’s all fine and good. But what’s funny is that they have a picture of me in there, but under the name “Lucas Klein.”
Lucas is a great guy, a good translator, and is soon to be featured in our series, but we are two separate people. (Although my mother’s maiden name is “Klien”’ so maybe we’re like slightly skewed doppelgangers or something.)
As if it isn’t obvious from my earlier posts about ALTA, I’m a huge fan of the conference, the people, the panels.
(To riff on the nature of the panels for a second: these are almost anti-MLA type events. It’s an unwritten—or maybe even written—rule that you don’t read a paper on an ALTA panel. You talk. You expound. You discuss and share. And you use concrete examples. Which is why these talks are so interesting. Russell Valentino gave one of my favorites of this conference when he talked about the tricky business of translating dialogue. About when to use “he said” and how frequently, and how never to use “he exclaimed” and how these sorts of writerly guidelines are different in different languages and it’s up to the translator to sort it all out according to English conventions.)
That all said, there’s still the possibility of letdown. And for me, that came in the form of Ilan Stavans’s speech about the “future of language.” There’s so much about his presentation that bugged me—not to mention the fact that he basically just flew in to give this speech and took off almost immediately afterward—that I’m not even sure where to start.
To be honest, I’m not even sure I can really encapsulate what it was he was going on about. He started by making a fairly-dubious connection between the fact that you never really use the future tense in Spanish and the lack of Latin American science fiction. Seriously.
I can’t say that I’ve read a lot of international science fiction, but it took all of a minute to uncover Cosmos Latinos, an anthology of Latin American and Spanish sci-fi that includes works from as early as 1862 and quite a few from the “First Wave” of sci-fi writers who were working in the 60s and 70s. (And even found a review in case anyone is interested.)
It’s not terribly surprising that Stavans didn’t mention this (or might not even know about it), since he seemed only able to reference the most predictable of all writers and books in the most unsurprising of manners. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Carlos Fuentes. Borges. And in terms of Latino/Latina authors, we heard about Junot Diaz (and oh how we heard about Junot Diaz) and Sandra Cisneros. It was like being back in Freshman Comp! He even managed to work in Saul Bellow as an example of a writer whose new books would be read by everyone as soon as they came out—back in the days when people still cared about books. Putting aside the possibility that literary tastes have simply moved on, it’s not unusual in a time of rapidly proliferating choices—even the crappiest of B&Ns has a selection that dwarfs what you would’ve found in Lima, Ohio’s best bookstore back in the days when we were still “cultured”—that people would choose to read different things.
The most mental of statements though was when Stavans said that he “didn’t agree that we were writing less.” Writing less? Who thinks that? We all know (and here I am pulling that same Gladwellian “we” . . . ) that there are way too many books being written, published, and packed on bookshelves. You can debate whether we’re reading less these days or just reading different, but I don’t think there’s much support that writing is on the decline . . .
From this swirl of confusion came Stavans grand conclusion about the role of Spanglish in the future of language. Which is totally fine and probably true . . . until he went on about the Great Spanglish Work that would have to be translated into both English and Spanish. What sense does this make? That language and culture will be more bifurcated and isolated in the future? If so, that’s kind of stupid, right?
Ah well, whatever. I should say that other people at the conference really liked this (he even drew some spontaneous ovations during his speech), so I might be on my own here. It just reminded me a bit too much of Malcolm Gladwell’s style. The odd proclamation at the start, the dubious assertions, the grandiose conclusions, the somewhat contrarian conclusions, etc. Since I think Gladwell is a danger to society, I’m feel like it’s a public service to link to a few anti-Gladwell commentaries from Deadspin, The Nation, the New York Times, and Three Quarks.
There. I’m done screeding for the day and can get back to all things happy. Like mailing out copies of The Golden Calf and finishing our Spring/Summer Catalog . . .
OK, so I may have cocked up the title of yesterday’s ALTA post—my typing/hearing skills are pretty suspect . . . It should’ve read “Short Stop Only While Getting It Off,” although “short drop” might be a bit more, um, dirty—but I’m positive I have today’s right.
It actually came from John Nathan’s plenary lecture “Translating Style,” which was an extremely interesting and engaging presentation about the difficulties of capturing the author’s voice when translating Japanese literature. Anyway, the title of the first Mishima book that Nathan translated can be literally translated as “Tugging in the Afternoon,” but the Japanese word for “glory” is homonym for “tugging,” a bit of word play that would totally be lost in English. So instead, Nathan suggested “Glory Is a Drag,” which didn’t go over too well . . . Eventually—thanks to Mishima’s ability to come up with dozens of great titles—the book came to be known as The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea.
Anyone who reads this blog or thinks about/is involved with literary translation knows that this sort of bold departure is rather common. Translators are always faced with difficult choices—whether to cling to the original or cut and compensate in the target language, how to translate dialects, etc.—and it’s the way that great translators solve these questions through their great skill, imagination, and understanding of the literary art that makes them Great Translators in the first place.
Suzanne Jill Levine’s The Subversive Scribe is dedicated to exactly this. The first event I attended at ALTA was a special session in honor of Dalkey Archive’s recent reissue of this collection. (Unfortunately, none of the editors from Dalkey attended ALTA, although I did have a chance to meet the very cool Jamie Richards, who is one of the current translation fellows.) A lot of interesting things came up on this panel that sort of highlight what it is that I really love about translators and ALTA as a whole.
A lot of the discussion revolved around the idea that the translator is responsible for “recreating the reader’s relationship with the text.” In contrast to more academic activities and papers in which the professor tries to enact a fake sort of “critical distance” from the text they’re discussing, Jill (and translators as a whole) are much more personally engaged with the book. Aside from those instances in which loaded independent publishers use our enormous wealth to convince a translator to take on a project they’re not interested in (something that happens, well, like, never), translators work on books that they love. And they translate because they want to share that love with others who can’t experience the pleasure of reading the book in its original language.
One of the more fruitful metaphors to apply to the process of translation is to talk about it as a performance. That the original text is like a musical score and the translator the musician who jazzily reproduces the original in a new form. Obviously, there are many valid ways to “play” a text, and the art of the translator is being able to nail those verbal runs and bring the new set of readers into the author’s amazing world.
Which means that a translator has to be pretty damn creative. (Not to mention extremely talented. That’s why I’m just as in awe of great translators as I am of great authors.) And that’s sort of what Jill was getting at with her use of the word “subversive.” It’s not that she was sowing the seeds of revolution (although why not?) but pointing to the fact that translation is a creative process. That subversion = creativity. (Leading to an awesome quote about her relationship with the person who translated The Subversive Scribe into Spanish: “I was subverting him while he was subverting me.”)
(Sidenote for all who were there: I totally agree with the very awesome Erica Mena who objected to the comment that young translators have to spend a couple decades—couple decades?—practicing before they perform in this way. It’s always good to try these things with a partner, but it’s important for young translators to approach this as an enjoyable, playful, creative act. And that they should mature in the tradition of translation as jazz performance—it’ll only pay of bigger dividends in the long run.)
One of the more disheartening stories of ALTA revolved around Jose Lezama Lima’s Oppiano Licario. On a panel about Cuba, Pam Carmell—who received a NEA Translation Fellowship for her work on this translation—talked about why she translated Lezama Lima’s baroque masterpiece in the way that she did. That she made very conscious decisions to retain the baroque, stuffed, labyrinthine sentence structure of the original, instead of simplifying and boiling the book down to its basic plot structure. What I’ve seen of her translation is beautiful, and as a fan of Paradiso, I’d LOVE to read this . . . but, alas, the publisher didn’t quite agree with Pam’s approach and apparently this book is either never coming out, or is being retranslated into something that’s “easier” to understand. . . . And yes, I do know more about this particular situation, but I honestly can’t write about it here . . .
Anyway, tomorrow I’ll write a bit about Ilan Stavan’s plenary speech, which irritated me in the way that Malcolm Gladwell irritates me . . .
I can’t express how disappointed I was to have to miss the ALTA conference this year. This is by far my favorite annual conference for any number of reasons. (I once wrote a piece for Words Without Borders about how I loved ALTA because most of the translators were shorter than me. That’s incredibly unusual and still true.) Translators are some of the nicest, most interesting, most open, people in the world. Translators love to talk about books, and in contrast to the MLA (which, for a lot of people, is a do-or-die job fair), there’s a levity to the ALTA that makes it incredibly enjoyable and fun.
Unfortunately, this year ALTA and the Frankfurt Book Fair coincided, so I had to miss it.
Thankfully, Lucas Klein wrote an amazing summary for the CALQUE blog.
Translators are, by definition, interested in more than one thing. This makes translators great people to talk to, and marks a distinction between translators and academics, who are often interested only in one thing . Translators are also different from writers, many ALTA participants reminded me, who also tend to like to talk about one thing: themselves. You can’t be a translator and be egocentric. While we all bemoan the translator’s invisibility, in Lawrence Venuti’s words, the benefit of being under-noticed is that as a group we’re generous, considerate, and, because we’re conscious of how much we haven’t read and grateful for what we have, very warm to each other. Of course we all enter this profession for money and fame, but somehow in pursuit of that we have learned the value of listening to others before we speak, and of incorporating the viewpoints of others into our self-expression. With translators, you get lots of personality without lots of ego.
This also means that, as opposed to an academic conference, where people go not to learn but to cherry-pick, and where possibilities for discussion boil down to possibilities for one-upmanship, at ALTA the panels are very well attended and discussion is abundant. I was in two panels where panelists found ways to contradict each other and yet somehow be in total agreement. People actually want to go to panels.
[. . .]
Saturday morning began with Esther Allen’s Plenary lecture, “Pastiche, Imposture, or Commentary? Thoughts on the Scholarly Status of Translation,” focused mostly on the problem of tenure-review committees ignoring translation. Such a speech could have been little more than preaching to the choir, but in bringing up—and pushing through—any objections to talking about the necessity of making translation tenurable (which is not to say making translation “scholarly”), she ended up with both a sociology of our culture’s academic sphere and a number of new approaches to understanding translation as scholarship and commentary. She says she hopes her talk will be published in the PMLA, and I say if they do not print it, we should all withdraw our subscriptions in protest (by a show of hands, the vast majority of her audience at ALTA were academics of some stripe).
The whole piece is worth quoting—and reading—in its entirety. I haven’t seen too many other posts/reports on ALTA, but as I find them I’ll put them up. (I have heard from a number of attendees that this was one of the best ALTA conferences ever.)
The biggest hubbub at ALTA this year was about Colonel Gregory Fontenot, director of the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies at Fort Leavenworth, KS, who gave a speech entitled, “Translating in Support of Military Operations.”
For reasons that probably don’t need to be explained, this title didn’t sit well with a large portion of ALTA members, who came ready to take Fontenot down no matter what he said . . . And to be honest, the only reason I attended this was to see what erupted.
In the end though, his speech really wasn’t nearly as offensive as I expected. Sure, he rambled a bit, and granted, at times he did come off as the guy attending a panel who stands up to ask a “question” and instead gives an endless explanation of his life, ideas, etc., but aside from some poor word choices and mentioning a discussion of the pro and con side of female genital castration (which is just something you shouldn’t bring up in front of such an audience), his talk was fairly safe and filled with platitudes we could all agree with such as “literary translations help us to understand other cultures.”
In a way, it was enlightening to see that someone in the U.S. Military actually has an interest in translations—One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of Col. Fontenot’s favorite books—and even if his appreciation and discussion of the issues was a bit simplistic, at least he’s aware.
I should say that a number of people who were there would be much more critical than I’m being. Personally, I wasn’t as offended as sort of perplexed and mesmerized by his speech, especially some of the terms he used. My favorite was “google up,” as in “google up Eco to find out about The Name of the Rose. It’s got such a nice feel to it—much more active than simply “googling” something. And it works well with an exclamation point: Google Up!
There’s never a lack of interesting panels at ALTA, but “The Role of Translation Centers” was one of the best that I’ve ever attended. This panel brought together representatives from a number of different programs/centers to talk about the different things they’re doing, and the roles these Centers could play in the study and promotion of literary translation.
So, in order of the speakers, here are some details:
The UTD Center was founded in 1978 with the mission “to develop new ideas related to the art and craft of translation to bring about change in curriculum.” It’s part of the School of Art and Humanities (which just got a beautiful new building) and offers and MA and Ph.D. degrees in translation studies and creative translation projects. It also houses two publications: Translation Review and Annotated Books Received.
Looking toward the future, one plan is to design a website for the purpose of teaching translation workshops. This new website would include guidelines, exercises, and other resources, which will be incredibly useful to professors everywhere.
The main aspect of this Center is its library, and the fact that it’s remote—a great place to stay for a time to work and interact with others involved in similar activities. In Scheck’s own words, it’s like “An ALTA Conference going on forever!” But with more wine . . .
The Center offers translation classes and workshops, but currently functions much more as a place where people can connect. The website has a number of lists ranging from translators to publishers interested in translations, to various awards to other translation programs.
In March 2008, the Center for Literary Translation will be hosting the Graduate Student Translation Conference a biannual conference bringing together established and emerging translators to share information and experiences.
This program started five years ago and is similar to Ledig House, but is for translators instead of international authors. Each summer, 15 professional translators and 3 graduate students are awarded residencies. They also bring in 6-7 authors each year to work one-on-one with their translators.
Most of the time is spent working on projects that already have a publisher and a deadline, although three times a week there are group meetings to exchange thoughts on a variety of subjects. Supposedly, this place is absolutely beautiful . . .
There was a “Panel 2.0” moment during this event in which Esther asked me to explain what’s going on at Rochester, giving me an opportunity to talk about the establishment of Open Letter and the developing literary translation programs at UR. (I’m a big fan of panels that ask questions of their audience.) In contrast to the Centers mentioned above, our program offer students not only an academic background, but also an opportunity to work with the press and learn the business of publishing translations, including how books are acquired, marketed, promoted, and supported.
Marilyn Booth from the University of Illinois also talked briefly about the establishment of their Center, and the way they’re trying to work with the Worldwide Universities Network.
Echoing a theme from the Translation Marketplace, one of the things that came up during this discussion was the need to collaborate and keep in touch. Olivia Sears of the Center for Art in Translation and Two Lines is determined to help make it easier for all of the different centers to collaborate and exchange information. Which would be fantastic, since all the centers complement one another nicely, overlapping in various ways that present the possibility for unique opportunities to work together. In this day and age, it’s of utmost importance that we all share information and resources, and by establishing such a network, I truly believe that everyone will benefit.
Unfortunately, because of my stupid decision to spend two hours taking the “subway” from DFW Airport to the hotel, I missed Steve Wasserman’s keynote speech, which I heard was pretty fantastic. I did make it to Esther Allen’s panel about the recent PEN/Ramon Llull report To Be Translated or Not To Be, which has been mentioned here before, and which I plan to talk about in detail in a couple weeks.
Outside of the report’s findings, this panel featured a lot of interesting statistics worth noting:
One of the most interesting aspects of the panel was Roger Greenwald’s presentation about the situation regarding Sweden’s recent decision to end—and then reinstate—funding for translations of Swedish works into other languages.
I knew a bit about this from the London Book Fair, but didn’t know many of the specifics. Basically, on April 11th, the Swedish Institute announced that they were ending support for translations abroad. At this time they had been funding a total of about 100 translations a year, giving translators approx. $3,000 on average. Not a ton of support, but enough to make the publication of many of these books possible.
Shortly after this announcement, various protests sprung up, including Christopher MacLehose’s outraged statement at the Nordic cocktail during the London Book Fair. . . .
That was the last I had heard of this until ALTA. Apparently, in July, the Swedish government announced that they were going to re-establish funding for the translation of Swedish literature, including nonfiction and children’s books. The situation of how these funds will be disbursed is complicated, and I won’t go into it here, but it’s worth noting that the government is allocating $7 million SEK to this, up from $2 million SEK in 2006 . . . Not bad, not bad.
To be honest, after the announcement at the LBF, I started ignoring all Swedish recommendations and submissions. Not so much because there wasn’t funding available for the translation, but because they had taken it away. That seems so insulting and short-sighted that I basically gave up on Sweden. This changes things . . .
A couple years back I wrote a blog post about my first ALTA experience for Words Without Borders entitled “Why I Love ALTA.” It was right after the Montreal American Literary Translators Association Conference where I met Niloufar Talebi, Dwayne Hayes, Pam Carmell, Rachel Galvin, Susan Harris, and hosts of other translators.
This has vanished from the internet, but basically it was about how I was blown away by just how much fun all the translators had together. And the fact that almost everyone was shorter than me. Which, I admit, is something that I find very important.
Anyway, this was my second ALTA Conference, and although Dallas is no Montreal, it was just as fun and interesting. So in addition to the panels described in the upcoming posts, I thought it would be worthwhile sharing some more general observations.
First off, aside from Idra Novy, who has no business being so tall for a Jewish girl (Rebecca McKay’s quote, not mine, I swear), once again, most everyone was around my height. And as a group, translators are incredibly witty, funny, and enjoyable to hang out with. (Who else would call Casket Store to find out if it’s open 24 hours? BTW, the answer is no. They are, however, on call for “casket emergencies” . . . )
Translators are also resilient. They’re underpaid, underappreciated, run into hundreds of problems with their editors—those lucky enough to have them—yet at the ALTA conference, there’s a general buzz about projects, books, and authors that is really refreshing. Part of the reason is thanks to programs like the ALTA fellowships, through which a number of younger translators are able to attend the conference.
It’s important that people like Megan McDowell and Edward Gauvin have a chance to meet figures like Peter Bush, Olivia Sears, Marilyn Booth, and Esther Allen. It’s a great way of encouraging people to continue on in the profession, an invaluable learning experience, and one of the reasons this organization is so vital and its conference so much fun.
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .