Archive for March 2012

Translation Lab at Ledig House

Back when I was teaching at Bard College, I used to drop by the writers colony at Ledig House from time to time because there were often German writers in residence. I wound up translating poetry by Matthias Göritz after hearing him read his work there. Writers Omi also has a long history of offering residencies to literary translators, and now they are announcing a very special program for Fall 2012 that will allow translators and their authors to spend a week working together in the beautiful Hudson Valley countryside. Translation Lab – as the program is called – will be held between Nov. 9 – 16, 2012. This special residency comes with a full fellowship that includes international airfare and local transport from New York City to the Omi International Arts Center in Ghent, NY.

Here’s the scoop:

Writers Omi will host five English language translators to the Omi International Arts Center for one week. These translators will be invited along with the writers whose work is being translated. This focused residency will provide an integral stage of refinement, allowing translators to dialogue with the writers about text-specific questions. It will also serve as an essential community-builder for English-language translators who are working to increase the amount of international literature available to American readers.

Writers Omi will be accepting proposals for participation until July 1, 2012. Translators, writers, editors, or agents can submit proposals. Each proposal should be no more than three pages in length and provide the following information:

➢ Brief biographical sketches for the translator and writer associated with each project
➢ Publishing status for proposed projects (projects that do not yet have a publisher are still eligible)
➢ A description of the proposed project
➢ Contact information (physical address, email, and phone)

Proposals should be submitted only once availability for residency participation of the translator and writer has been confirmed. All proposals and inquiries should be sent directly to DW Gibson, director of Writers Omi at Ledig House.

Keep an eye on the Omi International Arts Center website for further details.

Photo: Robert Melee on the grounds of Ledig House with his sculpture It Up (Bronze, 2008)

Talking Translation at the Chapbook Festival

Did you know that the word “chapbook” derives from the “chapmen” (merchants – it’s a cognate with the German word Kaufman) who in days of yore peddled pamphlets containing popular ballads, religious tracts and the like to literate villagers? Nowadays these little books play a very different role: they making it easier (read: cheaper) to bring together writers and readers of particularly challenging work – poetry mostly, in its many forms. And of course the next logical step in the evolution of the chapbook is adding translation into the mix. What better way to introduce a foreign-language author to an English-reading pubilc than through a brief, handsome best-of? Many of our classiest smaller presses have been producing gorgeously designed chapbooks of translated work (like this one), and now for the first time the yearly festival that celebrates the work of these presses is celebrating translation as well, with a panel discussion this coming Thursday, March 29, entitled “State of Translation: Trends in Innovative Publishing,” to be held in the Martin E. Segal Theater at the CUNY Graduate Center. I’ll be on the panel, as will an illustrious cast of characters including, alphabetically: Ammiel Alcalay, Esther Allen, Ivan Herceg, Anna Moschovakis, Damir Šodan, and Eliot Weinberger. The Graduate Center’s Ana Božičević, herself a poet and translator, will moderate. If I weren’t on the panel, I’d be in the audience; come watch me try to be both places at once!

You’ll also want to check out the book exhibits. The Chapbook Festival (now in its fourth year) always includes a book fair, at which some of the most beautiful little books you could ever hope to see – many hand-printed and hand-bound – are on display. That show alone is worth the price of admission. (Actually the whole thing is free.) The festival will be taking place this Wednesday through Friday (March 28 – 30) at the Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue at 34th St., and other nearby locations. Click here for the complete program.

Submit Your Translation Chapbook to Anomalous Press

Goodness knows there are more chapbook contests out there than you can shake several sticks at. But how many of these contests welcome works of translation as well as work in other genres? Anomalous Press has just announced such a one, and you can apply for it until May 15 for a $15 fee. The work selected will be published in a paper edition (possibly letterpress) as well as online, and will receive a $500 prize.

I asked Erica Mena of Anomalous to comment on the goals of the project. Here’s her response:

Part of starting Anomalous Press was to eventually provide a home, in chapbook form, for literary works that fall outside of the norm. The kinds of things that most contests specifically exclude: translations, collaborative, and hybrid works for example. We were encouraged by the launch of the journal Telephone, by the appearance of several amazing works of innovative translation last year (false friends; engulf — enkindle), and by the enthusiasm of our judge for the translation category, Christian Hawkey. We are creating both a contest and a context. A context in which the creative visibility of the translator is brought into focus.

For more information, visit the Anomalous Press website, where you can also read and download various issues of the journal that have been published since its launch in May 2011.

HotINK: International Theater in NYC

The HotINK Festival – which brings 10 international playwrights and their plays to New York each spring, presenting them in English translation – has been around for a good decade now. At first it was located at NYU, but then NYU decided to slash the program’s budget, so now it’s at the Lark Theater/Play Development Center, a venue that provides excellent support to local playwrights as well, as I know from following the work of Chiori Miyagawa and Gary Winter. This year’s festival is scheduled for March 22 – March 26.

Over the years, the festival has brought us plays from 50 different countries. This year’s offerings include works from Scotland, Ireland, Latvia, Israel/Palestine, Canada, Bulgaria, Belarus, Singapore, and Cyprus. Each is assigned to a team of actors and a director who prepare a professional-quality reading that is then presented exactly once in the course of the festival. Most of these readings are followed by a brief moderated conversation with the playwright, and sometimes the translator as well. This year I will be moderating one of these discussions, with Cypriot playwright Giorgos Neophytou, following the presentation of his play DNA at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 24.

This year the festival has begun a new partnership with the Translation Committee of the PEN American Center to draw public attention to the crucial contribution translators make in the presentation of international theater. The Translation Committee’s own Cobina Gillitt, who recently blogged about the festival for the PEN website and is herself a translator from the Indonesian specializing in theater, has organized and will moderate a panel discussion featuring playwright Aleksey Scherbak (Latvia); John J. Hanlon, the translator of Mr. Scherbak’s play Colonel Pilate; translator and author Judith Miller; and translator Laurent Muhlheisen. The panel will be held at 5:00 p.m. on March 24.

The Lark Play Development Center is located at 311 West 43rd Street, 4th and 5th Floors. For the complete schedule of the festival click here. All programs are free and open to the public, but note that reservations are required – and some shows are beginning to sell out, so if you’d like to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to check out theater from around the world, I suggest you reserve your seats soonest.

Translating the Literature of the Middle East

It’s traditional for every visiting faculty member in the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College to organize some sort of major project during her year on campus, and for mine I decided to put together a symposium along with some of my colleagues in the program. We picked the literature of the Middle East as a topic because we wanted to tie in with the college-wide “Year of Turkey” theme (there’s a different national focus on campus every year), but we also wanted our topic to be broad enough to appeal to a wider audience. Then it turned out that Archipelago Books was interested in collaborating with us, and that Lebanese star author Elias Khoury, who is published in English by Archipelago, was now teaching at NYU – and then all the cards began rapidly falling into place. We invited Sinan Antoon, an Iraqi-born novelist and poet who also happens to teach at NYU and translates the work of the great Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish, who until his death in 2008 was a frequent collaborator of Khoury’s. We decided to spend a chunk of our budget flying in Aron Aji, who won the 2004 National Translation Award for his translation, from the Turkish, of Bilge Karasu’s Garden of Departed Cats. We invited Barbara Harshav, a distinguished translator from the Hebrew who just stepped down as President of the American Literary Translators Association and teaches at Yale. We invited some favorite local colleagues: poet and translator (from the Turkish) Murat Nemet-Nejat, and translator (from the Persian) and editor Sara Khalili; CUNY colleague Ammiel Alcalay, a poet and scholar who translates from the Bosnian and Hebrew; and two distinguished editors of translations, Edwin Frank of New York Review Books Classics and Jill Schoolman of Archipelago. In all, we will be featuring writers and translators working in the literatures of Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Palestine and Israel.

The symposium will begin with a reading by graduate students and culminate with a keynote address by Elias Khoury. I just finished reading Khoury’s enormous novel Gate of the Sun, and am still reeling. What a masterful book. In these 550 pages, Khoury relates the story of the Palestinian struggle, but the novel is anything but a history book, even though it contains a huge amount of history. Khoury weaves a complex web of interconnected stories ostensibly being told by a generally somewhat befuddled doctor-who-isn’t-really-a-doctor at the bedside of a hero of the Palestinian resistance, who is now old and in a coma after having had a stroke. Telling story after story in the hope of effecting a “talking cure,” our almost-doctor patches together a portrait of a people and their homeland that is constructed of fragments, rumors and legends. The book is set in a very specific historical milieu, and filled with the sights, sounds and smells of Galilee, but at the same time there is something about the writing that transcends time and place; parts of it, in Humphrey Davies’s translation, read like snippets of fairytale, and yet there is nothing coy, fanciful or twee about a single sentence anywhere in the book. Khoury has a sharp imagination and vision of the world, and he manages to portray the beauty of a lost Palestine (the olive trees, the worms in the ice atop Mount Meron) without succumbing to cliches of nostalgic mournfulness. His characters mourn their homeland matter-of-factly.

Khoury has written over a dozen other books besides this one, and several of them exist in English translation. I look forward to reading them and to hearing him speak about his work at our symposium, which will be held on Wednesday, March 28. I am posting the schedule below. The full program and notes on the participants can be found on the blog of the Queens College MFA Program’s website.

Interwoven Worlds: A Symposium Celebrating the Literature of the Middle East

(All panels prior to 6:30pm keynote address located in
President’s Conference Room #2)

11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Reading by MFA Students, introduced by Nicole Cooley

12:00 p.m. – l:00 p.m.
Lunch break

1:15 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.
Workshop: Editing Translations, introduced by Susan Bernofsky

Jill Schoolman (Archipelago Books)
Edwin Frank (New York Review Books Classics)

2:45 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.
Coffee Break

3:15 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.
The Politics of Translation – On Navigating Cultural (Mis)understandings

Aron Aji (Turkish)
Sara Khalili (Persian)
Barbara Harshav (Hebrew)
Roger Sedarat, moderator

5:00 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.
The Writer as Translator – Multilingual Writer/Translators on Cross-Pollinations in Their Work

Sinan Antoon (Arabic/Iraq)
Murat Nemet-Nejat (Turkish)
Ammiel Alcalay (Hebrew)
Susan Bernofsky, moderator

6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Rosenthal Library 230 (2nd floor auditorium)
Keynote Presentation: Elias Khoury (Arabic/Lebanon): A Writer’s Journey

To be followed by light reception and book signing.

And here’s how to get here:
Queens College is located at 65-30 Kissena Blvd. in Queens, and is best reached by taking the E/F trains to Forest Hills (exit near the center of the platform) and transferring to bus Q64, which picks up right in front of the subway exit. This bus stops at Kissena Blvd.; cross the street and walk two blocks down Kissena to the main gate of the college. The trip from midtown Manhattan takes around an hour. All events will be held in Rosenthal Library on the main quadrangle (easy to find because it has a very large clock tower attached to it).

I hope you’ll join us for some or all of these events.

The Bridge Goes to Japan

Readers of this blog know all about the Bridge Series, which presents readings and conversations with outstanding literary translators to audiences in the NYC area. This month’s Bridge features two outstanding translators from the Japanese, Ted Goossen (you may know him as the English-language voice of Haruki Murakami) and Michael Emmerich (ditto for Banana Yoshimoto), but both of them have translated a large range of authors from the contemporary to classics of Japanese literature (Mishima for Goossen, Kawabata for Emmerich) and are highly knowledgable in the field. Both of them will also be featured in a new anthology (In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means) that Esther Allen and I have co-edited for Columbia University Press; it’ll be coming out in 2013 and, yes, we’ll be throwing a big party when the time comes. Meanwhile, why not celebrate in advance by coming to hear Goossen and Emmerich strut their stuff? It’s pretty much guaranteed to be a stunning evening. Monday, March 19, 7:00 p.m., at McNally Jackson Books at 52 Prince Street in Soho.

Oh, and speaking of celebrations: The Bridge is now one year old. Happy birthday Bridge!

Turkish Translator/Publisher on Trial

Last year, I reported on the trial of Turkish publisher İrfan Sancı and translator Süha Sertabiboğlu for their January 2011 publication of William S. Burroughs’s 1961 novel The Soft Machine (Yumuşak Makine), which received international notice, including in The Guardian, which both reported on the trial and published an editorial by Elif Shafak. After various postponements, the trial is set to continue tomorrow, March 13, 2012, at 9:30 a.m. at the courthouse Çağlayan Adliyesi 2. The publisher (Hasan Basri Çiplak of Ayrinti Publishing) and translator (Funda Uncu) of Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk are also set to appear in court on similar charges. If convicted, all parties face prison terms of six months to three years under Turkish law.

The International Publishers Association issued a statement last October calling for all charges to be dropped, as did PEN International. Nonetheless, oppressive legal action against these publishing professionals continues.

To protest the trial, write to:

Mr Sadullah Ergin
Minister of Justice
06669 Kizilay
Fax: 00 90 312 419 3370

You may also contact Turkish Ambassador Namık Tan:
Turkish Embassy
2525 Massachusetts Avenue,
N.W Washington, D.C. 20008
Telephone:+1 202 612 67 00
+1 202 612 67 01
Fax:+1 202 612 67 44

P.S. When I called the Ambassador’s office just now I was instructed to send an e-mail to

Update March 14: One of the expert witnesses failed to submit a report, so the trial has been postponed until May 8, 2012. That gives you more time to send letters of protest.


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