Archive for December 2012

Translationista Wants YOU to Support Literary Translation

Newsflash: There isn’t much money in literary translation – in fact, there’s almost none. Except for the occasional runaway bestseller, books in translation tend not to sell enough copies to bring in the sort of big money that keeps publishing houses healthily afloat, so organizations and publishers devoted to making sure that all of us have regular access to wonderful books from around the world are often forced to operate at a loss. These folks can really use your help, and there are so many worthy organizations that deserve support. If you’re in a position to make an end-of-year contribution or two (think of the karma points! the tax write-off!), please read on, as I’ve selected a handful of them to recommend to you. And please don’t think I’m advocating against any organization not mentioned here – these were hard choices to make.

Words without Borders: Even back in the day when WWoB was “just” an online magazine specialized exclusively in publishing literature in translation, it did incredible work, presenting unprecedentedly huge numbers of writers (including lesser-known ones) translated from many different languages. Since the site is searchable by language, region and keywords as well as author, translator and genre, it is the best way I know to get a quick overview of what’s happening in the literary scenes of countries all over the world (especially as the site makes frequent use of guest editors who are experts in the literature of particular regions). WWoB also regularly publishes essays about translation, interviews with translators, and now has begun an education program that brings foreign-language authors into schools to meet with students and discuss their work. I want to see them bring translators into the classroom too. Donate here.

Center for the Art of Translation: This San Francisco-based organization puts on a large number of excellent and well-publicized public programs each year involving literary translation, as well as publishing the magazine Two Lines, an excellent journal of translated literature in which each work published is accompanied by a brief essay by the translator about the experience of working on the text, a great way to bring awareness to what the translator contributes to the English-language work. CAT also runs the most exciting educational translation program I know: Poetry Inside Out, which sends poetry translators into elementary schools and has them lead quite young students in translation exercises. The results are truly remarkable. Every year the best of these young poet-translators’ work is published in an attractive anthology (this year’s edition is entitled Cyclops Wearing Flip Flops – best title ever?). Donate here.

Archipelago Books is such a great high-class hardscrabble not-for-profit publishing house. It prints beautiful books in a distinctive square format, with a lot of attention to editing and a lot of persistence when it comes to promoting authors who are underappreciated in English but extremely important. I am thinking, for example, of the great late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (whose heartbreaking self-eulogy In the Presence of Absence, in the prizewinning translation by Sinan Antoon, was one of the most beautiful books I read last year). Or the major Lebanese author Elias Khoury, by whom Archipelago has published four books, including the stunning Gate of the Sun, which I can’t recommend highly enough. I read it with my graduate students at Queens College last year, and they couldn’t stop talking about Khoury’s artistry. I wouldn’t hesitate to call the book a masterpiece, and commend Archipelago for taking on Khoury, who (besides being internationally renowned) tends to write big fat novels of the sort that entail very high production costs. It would be almost impossible for this sort of venture to be commercially self-sustaining, which is why Archipelago has gone the non-profit route and operates with the help of grants and donations.

Which brings me to the stalwart Brooklyn-based “publishing collective” Ugly Duckling Presse, a nonprofit that specializes in all sorts of wonderfully whacky poetry and outside-the-mainstream literature of other genres too – much of it in translation. And guess what, there’s not a lot of money in poetry either, which is why UDP relies heavily on volunteer labor to keep its doors open. Even so (or perhaps because of this), it publishes some of the most lovingly produced books I’ve ever seen, many of them with letterpress printing. UDP is adventurous, always ready to take a risk on an unknown or “forgotten” author whose work interests the editorial crew, and it has become an important presence on the Brooklyn literary scene with frequent public events. I wouldn’t want to imagine the world of publishing without it. You can subscribe to its publications (receiving a big box of assorted books in the mail means you can make it Christmas any time of the year), or just donate.

Translationista would like to wish you all a very happy, healthy, prosperous, interesting and inspiring new year!

Got Yiddish? Want to Go to Lithuania?

I don’t usually blog contests with entry fees (which I’m really not comfortable with on principle), but this one is enough of a fun oddity that I couldn’t resist sharing for your delectation; it’s up to you whether you consider the $17 “pay to play” fee justified. The Lithuanian branch of the Summer Literary Seminars program has just announced a translation contest to honor the centennial of the important Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever. First prize is a full scholarship to attend SLS Lithuania in July 2013 (which has some truly excellent faculty lined up) plus a $500 travel stipend. Ed Hirsch will be judging the prize, which will go to the best translation of one of Sutzkever’s poems – though the organizers stress that they’ll let you decide for yourself what “translation” means:

We understand ‘translation’ in the widest possible sense. All entries must either translate one of Sutzkever’s Yiddish poems, or respond to a previously translated Sutzkever poem. By ‘respond’, we mean your poem should be an artistic reaction to one of Sutzkever’s – this can be a thematic tangent, or a re-translation, or really anything, as long as the poem’s inspiration clearly comes from Abraham Sutzkever’s poetry. Please indicate in your entry which Sutzkever piece your poem is responding to.

For samples of Sutzkever’s work and complete instructions, see the SLS website.

Talk Schleiermacher To Me

In my new life as a recovering academic I find that I have a lot less to say than I used to about Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834), beyond that he completely revolutionized our thinking about translation (indeed, can be argued to have invented modern literary translation as we know it today); that Goethe ripped off his ideas (on the basis of which Walter Benjamin decided Goethe was the man when it came to early 19th century translation theory); and that his work anticipated pretty much all the major ideas about the political implications of translation found in turn-of-the-21st-century translation theory. Schleiermacher understood that human beings are, among other things, linguistic beings, and that the language we grow up speaking influences our entire psychological makeup and worldview. He understood that transplanting literary works between languages involves so much more than negotiating mere semantics, since each work is, among other things, a product of the culture in which its author is rooted. Really there’s no reason to stop talking about Schleiermacher ever. Have I blogged yet about translating his seminal treatise “On the Different Methods of Translating” for the Routledge Translation Studies Reader (2nd and 3rd editions only); Lawrence Venuti hired me to do a “Schleiermachian” translation of it. In other words, I’m pretty heavily invested in the guy. So If I weren’t completely snowed under with other projects that I’m also in love with, I would seriously consider submitting a paper to the Big Schleiermacher Colloquium that will be taking place in Portugal next autumn. You, however, gentle reader, with your profound love of ideas about translation and your inexhaustible stores of free time (“free” = not already accounted for a year in advance), should definitely follow up on this opportunity, particularly as next year marks the 200th anniversary of Schleiermacher’s first presentation of his treatise as a series of lectures at the Royal Academy of Science in Berlin. The anniversary colloquium will be trilingual (English, German, Portuguese), and will be held at the University of Lisbon on Oct. 24 and 25, 2013.

Here’s the call for papers the organizers have sent around:

Two hundred years after his famous lecture at the Royal Academy of Science in Berlin, during the Napoleonic era, Friedrich Schleiermacher still remains an assiduous presence in Translation Studies bibliography all over the world. His definition of two (and only two) methods of translating has become indispensable to the common core vocabulary of both translators and researchers of translation alike. This binary opposition dates back to Saint Jerome, or even Cicero (De Oratore) and still retains all of its attractiveness, being referred to by different designations such as translation methods, strategies, procedures or norms. Among its best-known contemporary representatives are Gideon Toury’s initial norm of adequacy vs acceptability (Toury 1995) or Lawrence Venuti’s foreignizing vs. domesticating strategies (Venuti 1995), in either empirical or post-modern studies. Many other researchers, however, also structure their reflections on translation according to binomials that, when submitted to closer scrutiny, immediately reveal their close resemblance to Schleiermacher’s proposals.

However, such proposals are far from being circumscribed to the definition of methods of translating, since they encompass a basic reflection on the relationship between thought and discourse, the translator, the typologies of translation, translation quality assessment, the reader/addressee, or even the need for a translation policy within the framework of a language policy, which is evidently relevant for the cultural dynamics he aspired to find in his country and language at that time. Despite some features that may be considered controversial nowadays (such as the idea that “one must be loyal to one language or another, just as to one nation, or else drift disoriented in an unlovely in-between realm”, which is so dear to the proponents of the hybridity and the “in-betweenness” of the translator), Schleiermacher still inspires important reflections on translation to this day. This conference seeks to offer a privileged forum for such contemporary reflection on translation.

Papers will be accepted on the following topics (among others):

• Contemporaneity vs. timeliness of Schleiermacher’s proposals
• Translation and Language
• Language and translation policies
• Methods, strategies, tactics, procedures and translation norms
• Translation and ethnocentrism
• Translation and nationalism
• Translation and power
• Schleiermacher’s theory as the basis of historical or sociological approaches to Translation Studies
• Foreignizing translation and the translator’s agency

Keynote Speakers: Lawrence Venuti and José Justo

To submit a paper proposal or if you have questions, send an email to the organizers or visit the colloquium’s website.

WLT’s 75 Notable Translations 2012

Greetings from a snowy Manhattan where I sit among many hundreds of books rendered peaceful and silent by being encased in cardboard boxes from my move last week; I’m just starting to let them out so they can chatter once more. And I’m hideously behind with blogging, but didn’t want to leave unmentioned the fact that World Literature Today has produced a lovely best-of-2012 list of translations worthy of your attention, so if you didn’t find a few of these stuffed in your stocking yesterday morning, you might should go about getting yourself some of the best possible gifts. I’m happy for all the friends and colleagues whose books are included here (as is the one I happen to be reading at the moment, Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair, which was translated by Marian Schwartz).

For the complete list, see below or visit the WLT website, which has kindly provided links to reviews of each of the books. Congratulations to all these wonderful translators (oh, and to the authors too, of course).

75 Notable Translations 2012


Zeina Abirached, A Game for Swallows, Edward Gauvin, tr.
César Aira, Varamo, Chris Andrews, tr.
Roberto Ampuero, The Neruda Case, Carolina De Robertis, tr.
Jorge Amado, The Double Death of Quincas Water-Bray, Gregory Rabassa, tr.
Fabio Bartolomei, Alfa Romeo 1300 and Other Miracles, Antony Shugaar, tr.
Lutz Bassmann, We Monks & Soldiers, Jordan Stump, tr.
Mario Benedetti, Witness: The Selected Poems of Mario Benedetti, Louise B. Popkin, tr.
Attilio Bertolucci, The Bedroom, Luigi Bonaffini, tr.
Marcel Beyer, Kaltenburg, Alan Bance, tr.
Laurent Binet, HHhH, Sam Taylor, tr.
Roberto Bolaño, Woes of the True Policeman, Natasha Wimmer, tr.
Bones Will Crow: 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets, ko ko thett, James Byrne, et al. tr.
Giovanni Boteri, On the Causes of the Greatness and Magnificence of Cities, Geoffrey Symcox, tr.
Chico Buarque, Spilt Milk, Alison Entrekin, tr.
Sergio Chejfec, The Planets, Heather Cleary, tr.
Jacques Chessex, The Tyrant, Martin Sokolinsky, tr.
Artur Domosławski, Ryszard Kapuścinśki: A Life, Antonia Lloyd-Jones, tr.
Mouloud Feraoun, Land and Blood, Patricia Geesey, tr.
Manuela Fingueret, Daughter of Silence, Darrell B. Lockhart, tr.
Carlos Fuentes, Vlad, E. Shaskan Bumas & Alejandro Branger, tr.
Santiago Gamboa, Necropolis, Howard Curtis, tr.
Juan Gelman, Dark Times Filled with Light, Hardie St. Martin, tr.
Viola Di Grado, 70% Acrylic 30% Wool, Michael Reynolds, tr.
Michèle Halberstadt, La Petite, Linda Coverdale, tr.
Liliana Heker, The End of the Story, Andrea G. Labinger, tr.
Simonetta Agnello Hornby, The Nun, Antony Shugaar, tr.
I Lived on This Earth: Hungarian Poets on the Holocaust, George Gömöri & Mari Gömöri, ed., George Gömöri, Mari Gömöri, et al., tr.
Yusuf Idris, Tales of EncounterRasheed El-Enany, tr.
Pia Juul, The Murder of Halland, Martin Aitken, tr.
Bilge Karasu, A Long Day’s Evening, Aron Aji & Fred Stark, tr.
Etgar Keret, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, Miriam Shlesinger, Sondra Silverston, & Nathan Englander, tr.
László Krasznahorkai, Satantango, George Szirtes, tr.
Teddy Kristiansen & Steven T. Seagle, The R[e]ad Diary
Louise Ladouceur, Dramatic License: Translating Theatre from One Official Language to the Other in Canada, Richard Lebeau, tr.
Liu Xiaobo, June Fourth Elegies, Jeffrey Yang, tr.
Amara Lakhous, Divorce Islamic Style, Ann Goldstein, tr.
Nicolas Mahler, Angelman, Kim Thompson, tr.
Osip Mandelstam, Stolen Air, Christian Wiman, tr.
Diego Marani, The Last of the Vostyachs, Judith Landry, tr.
Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, The House of Jasmine, Noha Radwan, tr.
Rosa Montero, Tears in Rain, Lilit Žekulin Thwaites, tr.
Quim Monzó, A Thousand Morons, Peter R. Bush, tr.
Fuminori Nakamura, The Thief, Satoko Izumo & Stephen Coates, tr.
Andrés Neuman, Traveller of the Century, Nick Caistor & Lorenza Garcia, tr.
Harri Nykänen, Nights of Awe, Kristian London, tr.
Shizue Ogawa, A Soul at Play, Donna Tamaki, Soraya Umewaka, and the author, tr.
Kristín Ómarsdóttir, Children in Reindeer Woods, Lytton Smith, tr.
Olga Orozco, A Talisman in the Darkness, Mary G. Berg & Melanie Nicholson, tr.
Octavio Paz, The Poems of Octavio Paz, Eliot Weinberger, et al, tr.
Jerzy Pilch, My First Suicide, David Frick, tr.
Alessandro Piperno, Persecution: The Friendly Fire of Memories, Ann Goldstein, tr.
José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Selected Works, Guillermo Parra, tr.
Asko Sahlberg, The Brothers, Asko Sahlberg, Fleur Jeremiah & Emily Jeremiah, tr.
Magdy El Shafee, Metro: A Story of Cairo, Chip Rossetti, tr.
Adania Shibli, We Are All Equally Far from Love, Paul Starkey, tr.
Mikhail Shishkin, Maidenhair, Marian Schwartz, tr.
Diego De Silva, I Hadn’t Understood, Antony Shugaar, tr.
Christoph Simon, Zbinden’s Progress, Donal McLaughlin, tr.
Nichita Stănescu, Wheel with a Single Spoke and Other Poems, Sean Cotter, tr.
Luan Starova, My Father’s Books, Christine E. Kramer, tr.
Benjamin Stein, The Canvas, Brian Zumhagen, tr.
Walid Taher, A Bit of Air, Anita Husen, tr.
Abdellah Taïa, An Arab Melancholia, Frank Stock, tr.
Mutsuo Takahashi, Twelve Views from the Distance, Jeffrey Angles, tr.
Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Reticence,  John Lambert, tr.
Nicoletta Vallorani, Camera Obscura, John Gatt, tr.
Juan Gabriel Vásquez, The Sound of Things Falling, Anne McLean, tr.
Enrique Vila-Matas, Dublinesque, Anne McLean and Rosalind Harvey, tr.
Richard Weihe, Sea of Ink, Jamie Bulloch, tr.
Franz Werfel, Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand, James Reidel, tr.
The World Record: International Voices from Poetry Parnassus , Neil Astley & Anna Selby, ed.
Xi Chuan, Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems, Lucas Klein, tr.
Samar Yazbek, A Woman in the Crossfire, Max Weiss, tr.

GBO Translation Prize Goes to Kurt Beals

Translationista is in the middle of moving house (in real life, not virtually), so I should apologize for having been so derelict of duty recently – it’s not as if nothing has been happening in the world of translation, it’s just that I’ve been stretched too thin to squeeze in much blogging. But now here’s something I feel I do have to blog about (which I’m doing while eating dinner, taking a break from packing books into boxes – who bought all these books while I wasn’t looking???).

The German Book Office in New York created a new translation prize this fall that I blogged about here. And for the inaugural year of the prize I wound up getting invited to be on one of the two juries that picked the winning translator. Yes, this contest was judged in two rounds. The round one jury was made up of three American editors (Jenna Johnson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; John Siciliano, Penguin; Lexy Bloom, Random House). They looked at all 58 or so translations submitted (all of them Englishings of the same 750-word text, by Nora Bossong), and narrowed down the field to a shortlist of nine. Then a trio of translators (Burton Pike, Ross Benjamin and me) chose the winner. All of this judging was blind, by the way, with the contestants identified only by number – which I was especially glad about when the winner turned out to be someone I know: Kurt Beals, whom I met when he was working at New Directions – first as an intern, then eventually as an assistant editor. He’s now at Berkeley getting his PhD in German Literature and Culture. He also just published his first book of translations, engulf – enkindle, poems by Anja Utler. Kurt was chosen unanimously; Burton, Ross and I had decided that each of us would come up with a short-short list of two or three translators, and Translator #35 (Kurt) was the only one on all three of our lists. We also chose a runner-up, Elizabeth Janik. Big congratulations to both of them!

Here’s Kurt’s statement that was read out at the ceremony: “As a reader and a student of German literature, every so often I come across a work that’s brilliant, unexpected, and untranslated,” said Beals. “And as a translator, that’s the kind of problem that I like to solve. But I think that the more fundamental reason to translate, for me, is that there’s no better way to engage thoroughly with a work of literature, to think about each word, why it’s there and how it fits into the work as a whole.”

As the winner of this prize, Kurt will receive a $600 commission to translate the first fifteen pages of Nora Bossong’s novel Gesellschaft mit beschraenkter Haftung into English. This will then serve as the sample translation used to shop the book around to potential publishers.

The GBO Translation Prize was presented at an awards ceremony at the Goethe Institut after an excellent panel on translation featuring Burton Pike and Lexy Bloom and moderated by Edward Nawotka, editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives. I’d blog about the panel myself (it was great), but Alex Mutter already did such a good job of writing it up on the Publishing Perspectives website, and I really should go pack a few more boxes now.