Earlier this week, the NEA announced the recipients of this year’s Literature Translation Fellowships. To provide more info about the stellar group of people and projects the NEA is supporting, they’re going to be interviewing at least some of the authors for Art Works, their relatively new, and quite impressive blog.
First up is the stellar Esther Allen whose project sounds interesting and long-overdue:
NEA: Please briefly describe the project this grant will support. How do you choose the works you translate?
EA: I’m translating Zama, a 1956 novel by Argentine writer Antonio Di Benedetto, considered a great masterpiece in the Spanish-speaking world but never before translated into English. The project grew out of a trip to Argentina I made in 2005 at the invitation of the Fundación TyPA, which brings editors and translators from across the world to Buenos Aires for a whirlwind week-long literary boot camp each year. There I discovered that the Argentine writers who are known internationally are quite a different set of names from the ones everyone in Argentina is talking about. Antonio di Benedetto came up frequently in meetings with critics, writers, and editors, but I’d never heard of him before. I came home with a couple of his books and found them simultaneously intriguing and off-putting—I couldn’t quite enter into what he was doing. Edwin Frank, editor of New York Review Books Classics, went on the same trip a couple of years later, and he’s the one who brought Zama back. He asked me to have a look at it and see if it was worth doing—and I decided it was.
Quickly want to point out that the TyPA Editors’ Week is effing fantastic. I participated a few years ago—before we published Saer, before we published Macedonio—and absolutely loved it. (You can read all about it in excruciating personal detail by clicking here.) Came back with more knowledge of the Argentine literary scene—and tango, oh, yes, the beautiful tango—than I ever would’ve imagined. And yes, trips like these are one of the ways that publishers find titles to translate. And yes, I am now even more obsessed with Argentine literature . . . and the tango. In fact, I may well write a Publishing Perspectives piece about learning the tango at the Frankfurt Book Fair, but more on that project later . . .
Back to Esther and how much she totally rocks:
NEA: You’ve spoken of your work as “a kind of activism in defense of translation”—what do you mean by that?
EA: When I first started out as a translator in the early 1990s, it often felt as if it was the last thing in the world anyone should be idiotic enough to devote time to. There was a prevailing sense that translation, any translation, was some sort of shameful, lowbrow thing. Most publishers resisted doing translations—many were so out of practice they wouldn’t have been sure how to publish a translation even if they’d wanted to. Some academics were bringing out their translations under pseudonyms, to avoid the stigma of being a translator. It’s a wonder people kept doing it at all. There were a number of us at that point who started thinking about how to surmount those barriers and keep the conversation between literature written in English and the literature of the rest of the world going. I’ve been a reader of Borges from a very young age, and for Borges translation is the central literary activity; it was painful to see how belittled it had become in the English-speaking world. Now, twenty years later, our culture has certainly become far more receptive to translation. But it seems to be a cycle; American culture had previously been very receptive in the 60s and early 70s, and then moved back toward monolingual insularity. Eliot Weinberger has suggested that Americans become more interested in reading works from other languages when they are disenchanted with their own country—so perhaps these moments of increased attention to translation weren’t due to the work of “translation activists” but to misguided wars like those in Vietnam and Iraq. In any case, it’s clear that translation in the English-speaking world will continue to need defenders.
Esther is an amazing translation activist who accomplishes more in a year than most of us do in a lifetime. Anyway, read the complete interview for more insights into the process of translation, the balancing of the author’s voice and that of the translator’s, and the importance of what the NEA does. And I’ll re-post more of these interviews as they become available . . .
The National Endowment for the Arts just announced its 2010 winners of the Literature Fellowships for Translation Projects. And there’s a few Open Letter connections this year.
First, Charlotte Mandell won a grant to translate Mathias Enard’s Zone (“The narrative unfolds during a train journey from Milan to Rome, and interweaves the narrator’s experiences in the war in Yugoslavia with other stories of war — from the Trojan War to World War II to present-day clashes.”), which we’ll be publishing next year.
And two Open Letter alumna won this year too: Ellen Elias-Bursac, who translated Nobody’s Home for us, won a grant to translate the first modern Croatian novel; and Martha Tennent, who translated Death in Spring, won a grant to translate some of Mercè Rodoreda’s short stories.
Congratulations to everyone who won. (And now to send off some emails! Oh Martha…)
From the Alliance of NYS Arts Organizations daily e-mail:
Although the U.S. House of Representatives passed their version of the Economic Recovery Package on January 28 by a vote of 244 to 188 which successfully included $50 million in supplemental grants funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), now the Senate, during their consideration of the economic recovery bill, approved an egregious amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). The Coburn amendment stated that “None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project.”
Not really surprising considering how similar casinos and art centers are . . .
Americans for the Arts is organizing an e-mail campaign. Their site also has a few other interesting statistics:
National Endowment for the Arts funds, on average, leverage $7 in additional support through local, state, and private donations, for every one dollar in federal support. Fifty million in economic stimulus will leverage $350 million of investment in the nonprofit arts, which will help prevent 14,422 jobs from being lost.
I’m going to write more about this next week, but this morning, the National Endowment for the Arts announced the recipients of the 2009 Access to Artistic Excellence grants. A lot of fantastic organizations received funding this year, such as Archipelago, the Center for the Art of Translation, Graywolf, Copper Canyon, Words Without Borders, Conjunctions, etc., etc. And in today’s economic climate, I’m sure these grants are even more meaningful than usual.
I served as one of the panelists for this grant, and found the whole experience to be one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done. Obviously I can’t write or talk about the specifics of what happened at the panel, but I have been planning on writing about how this works and what these grants mean to nonprofit organizations. The whole process was fascinating . . . I think all the panelist would agree that this is a lot of work, but definitely worth it in the end. More on that next week . . .
Yesterday, the NPR news program Day to Day talked at some length about “The Best Foreign Books You’ve Never Heard Of”—a discussion spurred, like so many others, by Jean-Marie Gustave le Clezio’s recently awarded Nobel Prize for Literature and the general U.S. reaction of “Ba?”
So, Day to Day invited David Kipen—director of Literature and National Reading Initiatives at the National Endowment for the Arts—to discuss the premise:
If most Americans have never heard of this accomplished author of more than 30 novels, essays and story collections, perhaps it’s because there is so little emphasis on international books in the U.S. publishing world.
Kipen offered a list of some international lit starting points (such as Antonio Lobo Antunes and Carlos Fuentes), described the drought of literature in translation in America, and—at about four minutes in—he kindly recommends us (that is: Open Letter, Three Percent, and the University of Rochester) as the place to read and learn more about international literature in translation.
As reported in the New York Times Dana Gioia is stepping down from the NEA in January:
“I’ve given up six years of my life as a writer,” Mr. Gioia, 57, said earlier in the week from his office in Washington. “I felt I had to go back to writing when I still have the kind of stamina to do it seriously.”
The winner of the presidential election in November will decide his successor, but whoever it is, Mr. Gioia said he was confident that the next chairman would have a smoother transition than he did. [. . .]
“When I arrived in Washington six years ago, the N.E.A. was a wounded institution,” Mr. Gioia said. “It had been rocked by controversies for nearly 20 years. Half the people had been fired, the budget had been pretty much cut in half, and people were worried about the long-term existence of the agency.”
“We had let the enemies of our funding dictate the national conversation,” he added.
On a related note, The Onion has a fitting joke article about the NEA funding the construction of a $1.3 poem:
WASHINGTON—The National Endowment for the Arts announced Monday that it has begun construction on a $1.3 billion, 14-line lyric poem—its largest investment in the nation’s aesthetic- industrial complex since the $850 million interpretive-dance budget of 1985.
“America’s metaphors have become strained beyond recognition, our nation’s verses are severely overwrought, and if one merely examines the internal logic of some of these archaic poems, they are in danger of completely falling apart,” said the project’s head stanza foreman Dana Gioia. “We need to make sure America’s poems remain the biggest, best-designed, best-funded poems in the world.”
Gioia confirmed that the public-works composition will be assembled letter-by-letter atop a solid base of the relationship between man and nature. The poem’s structure, laid out extensively on lined-paper blueprints, involves a traditional three- quatrain-and-a-couplet framework, which will be tethered to an iambic meter for increased stability and symmetry. If the planners can secure an additional $6.2 million in funding, they may affix a long dash to the end of line three, though Gioia said that is a purely optimistic projection at this stage. [. . .]
“We’ve already put 200 hours of manpower into the semicolon at the end of the first stanza,” said Charles Simic, poet laureate of the United States and head author of the still- untitled piece. “And I’ve got my best guys working around the clock to convert all the ‘overs’ in the piece into one-syllable ‘o’ers.’ I got [Nobel Prize winner Seamus] Heaney and [Margaret] Atwood stripping all the V’s and tacking apostrophes in their place. It’s grunt work, but somebody’s got to do it if this poem’s going to get done.”
After reading about the Arts Council England’s troubles, this article in the Louisville Courier-Journal about the recent $20 million dollar increase to the National Endowment for the Arts budget comes as a welcome surprise. The current budget is $144 million, and according to the LCJ, this recent increase is the largest boost ever.
Before we get too comfortable though, it’s worth pointing out that the budget was $176 million in 1992, which in 2008 dollars way surpasses the current funding level.
Andrew Adler offers a few other words of caution:
fter the late-1980s dust-up over grants involving artists Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serano — creating a perfect storm of outrage among conservative U.S. House members and their outside-the-Beltway allies — the endowment teetered on the precipice of extinction.
Too many people seemed to believe that the agency handed out money almost arbitrarily, when in fact, its system of application and review was laudably cool and deliberate. Although the NEA chairman or chairwoman had to sign off on grants, the core evaluations are performed by peer-panels whose members are selected for their expertise and for their lack of inherent conflicts of interest. [. . .]
Meanwhile, allies of the endowment and public funding of the arts must keep a close watch on the evolving political landscape. Arts policy may not be as white-hot-relevant as combating al-Qaida and other terrorists, but it remains intrinsic to the peculiar notion that Americans ought to be free to express themselves through culture, and that a government that helps fund such expression is an enlightened government.
I can’t imagine the pressures of working at a funding agency, be it the NEA, ACE, or even someplace like NYSCA. What’s really sad though is that we have a system in which very admirable business are relying so heavily upon agencies such as these for grants—that in the greater scheme of government spending—are a pittance. (Case in point—the NEA’s budget is 0.03% of the budget for the Department of Defense. One percent of the DOD budget could fund arts in this country for decades . . .)
I’m not exactly sure when this was announced, but the list of the recipients of the FY 2008 NEA Literature Fellowships for Translations is now available online.
The NEA seems to do a consistently great job of supporting interesting projects from worthy translators, and this year is no exception. Among this year’s winners are:
Fourteen translators received awards this year in the amount of $10,000 or $20,000. And the link above not only lists all the recipients, but has descriptions of their projects as well . . .
I’ve heard from very reliable sources that the NEA doesn’t receive very many applications for this grant. Which absolutely boggles my mind. Aside from a few special prizes, there is no other grant that American translators can apply for where they can receive more than $10,000 for their work.
Seriously, the next deadline is January 7, 2008, and the application info can be found here.
From Publishers Weekly:
The NEA has partnered with XM Satellite Radio to bring its national community-based reading program, the Big Read, to an even larger audience. An audio version of the program, dubbed The Big Read on XM, will debut September 10 on Sonic Theater, a channel about audiobooks and theater.
Hoping to tap into XM’s over eight million subscribers, NEA chairman Dana Goia called the show “a major literary event” and described it as “the perfect marriage of art and technology.”
Paul Klee’s Boat, Anzhelina Polonskaya’s newest bilingual collection of poems available in English, is an emotional journey through the bleakest seasons of the human soul, translated with great nuance by Andrew Wachtel. A former professional ice dancer(!), Polonskaya left the. . .
In Seiobo There Below, Lázló Krasznahorkai is able to succeed at a task at which many writers fail: to dedicate an entire novel to a single message, to express an idea over and over again without falling into repetition or. . .
There are curious similarities in three Italian mystery series, written by Maurizio de Giovanni, Andrea Camilleri, and Donna Leon.1
They’re all police procedurals, and all set in Italy: Naples, Sicily, Venice.
The three protagonists are Commissarios: Luigi Ricciardi, Salvo. . .
Poetry always has the feel of mysticism and mystery, or maybe this feeling is a stereotype left over from high school literature class. It is generally the result of confusion, lack of time committed to consuming the poetry, and the. . .
Our Lady of the Flowers, Echoic is not only a translation, but a transformation. It is a translation of Jean Genet’s novel Notre Dame des Fleurs, transmuted from prose to poetry. Originally written in prison as a masturbatory aid (Sartre. . .
Equal parts stoner pulp thriller and psycho-physiological horror story, a pervasive sense of dread mixes with a cloud of weed smoke to seep into every line of the disturbing, complex Under This Terrible Sun. Originally published by illustrious Spanish publishers. . .
From the start, Daniel Canty’s Wigrum, published by Canadian press Talonbooks, is obviously a novel of form. Known also as a graphic designer in Quebec, Canty takes those skills and puts them towards this “novel of inventory” and creates a. . .