In Remembrance of Fred Stark

Translators generally work behind the scenes, and their comings and goings – and eventually passings – do not always attract as much public attention as those of artists engaged in other sorts of endeavors. Here’s a guest post by National Translation Award winner Aron Aji written in tribute to and remembrance of one of the great translators of Turkish literature, Fred Stark:

Fred Stark, the excellent and generous translator who let me use his translation alongside mine in Bilge Karasu’s  A Long Day’s Evening, died yesterday, March 19, 2013. Finding his translation was among the miracles that accompanied the making of this translation project. Here is the story: in 2006, when I received an NEA fellowship to translate Karasu’s book, I called the author’s Turkish editor, Muge Gursoy Sokmen, asking her to send me a copy of Fred Stark’s translation of “The Mulberry Trees,” (the brief coda that closes A Long Day’s Evening), for some reason recalling that she had previously shown the piece to me. Puzzled, Muge indicated that she knew only of Stark’s translation of “A Medieval Monk,” a different Karasu narrative. A year later, and almost every year thereafter, I kept calling Muge, asking if she could send me a copy of Stark’s translation of “The Mulberry Trees,” strangely forgetting our previous exchanges. Growing bit by bit more exasperated with my bizarre insistence, Muge said, “Dearest Aron, when will you stop your wishful thinking! Just sit down and finish the work already.” Then in 2010, at the Bilkent Symposium in Ankara, I met Fred Stark’s daughter, Linda Stark, who had delivered her father’s talk because he was not well enough to attend the event himself. On the way out of the auditorium, I approached her and told her about my repeated queries about her father’s apparently non-existent translation, and how much I had hoped I would be able to include it in the book, as a token of his deep friendship with Karasu. Linda and I laughed, “Oh, my dad will enjoy hearing this story,” she said. And, just weeks later, I received an email from Muge—subject line, “Guess What”—that included Fred Stark’s translation of “The Mulberry Trees,” completed over 30 years ago! Fred Stark was graceful when we established contact and overjoyed that I thought his translation of the brief coda at the end of the book would be a fitting closure to this significant project. Because works from less translated languages make to the world stage in large part due to the enthusiasm and uncommon curiosity of individuals—an editor here, a publisher there, a personal friend, and, of course, countless translators—I thought celebrating the friendship between an author and his translator was a fitting tribute to everything human that goes into making these translation miracles possible.

Fred Stark had been living in Turkey for the better part of his life. Karasu and Stark were close friends as well as associates as translators; they thought deeply about translation, and went over each other’s manuscripts. Karasu also credits him with helping conceive the human chess game featured in The Garden of Departed Cats. Stark has translated from Turkish to English works of literature as well as those on contemporary art, photography, art history and history. Yet there is very little that’s of public record about him. His life of quiet industry, his generous affection for his adopted country, and his care to lend voice to others rather than to be spoken of, sum up beautifully the life of a translator. I never got to meet Karasu, I never got to meet Stark, but somehow managed to gather around their absence a beautiful circle of friendships that has sustained my translation life.

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