Archive for April 2013

What I Learned at the 2013 London Book Fair

The week before last, I flew across the ocean to attend the London Book Fair as a guest of the LBF Literary Translators’ Centre (and thanks to the support of the Arts Council England). I’d never been to the LBF before and found it fascinating. It’s much smaller than the dauntingly gargantuan Frankfurt Book Fair, and the Literary Translators’ Centre – a co-production between the LBF and English PEN – was an amazing hub of activity throughout the Fair. One end of the Centre was a stage area in which panel discussions were held back to back all day (including two in which I was invited to participate: this one and this one),

“A Common Language: Literary Translation in the US and the UK, with Esther Allen, Kate Griffin, Antonia Lloyd-Jones, me, and Samantha Schnee. Photo by Lawrence Schimel.

and the other end was set up with a bunch of little tables where the translation crowd could gather to talk shop and network. The day before the fair began, representatives from translation organizations on both sides of the ocean assembled for what turned out to be a four-hour long powwow on the resources available in our respective countries; the idea was to think about ways to strengthen our transatlantic cooperation and also to learn what we can from each other to develop our individual resources on the national level. After the summit, Daniel Hahn, national programme director of the British Centre for Literary Translation, asked me to write up my impressions for publication in In Other Words, BCLT’s biannual journal. With his permission, I am posting them here as well:

What I Learned at the London Book Fair

The London Book Fair kicked off for me this year with a Translation Summit kindly hosted by the Gulbenkian Foundation and organized by the British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT) and the UK Translators Association. I learned a lot of things there. For one, I learned to envy my U.K. colleagues their excellent network of literary translators’ organizations. Three of them in particular work together to offer translators in the U.K. many kinds of support: the Translators Association (TA, a subsidiary of the Society of Authors); the Writers in Translation programme at English PEN; and BCLT, which is based in Norwich. In the United States, we have only two major organizations: the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) and the Translation Committee of the PEN American Center, and even taken together they have a narrower range of focus and activity than their U.K. counterparts.

Not that there aren’t also things that make my U.K. colleagues envy me. On some counts, U.S. translators are ahead. Those with established reputations can generally get their names printed on the front covers of their books and have been able to do so for at least the better part of a decade; I put this in all my U.S. contracts and rarely even have to have a conversation with my publishers about it, whereas my U.K. publishers regularly balk at this, and my U.K. colleagues report that front-cover credits for translators are rare. And grants are available in the U.S. that are designed specifically to provide direct support to translators. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) offers substantial fellowships in the amount of $12,500 or (in exceptional cases involving long, difficult books) $25,000, though the latter are rarely awarded; one can receive these fellowships once a decade.

There are also smaller grants that often go to emerging translators: the PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants, available to translators working on book-length projects, whether or not they have publishers lined up, and whether or not they live in the U.S. These grants were made possible by the generosity of translator and translation advocate Michael Henry Heim, who established the Translation Fund at the PEN American Center with a large endowment nearly a decade before his death in 2012.

In addition to administering these grants, the PEN American Center offers a model contract on its website. It also awards prizes for outstanding literary translations in poetry and prose, along with a lifetime achievement award, the Ralph Manheim Medal, which is awarded once every three years.

The second major U.S. organization, ALTA, is an academic-style association that puts on a large translation conference each year unlike anything that currently exists in the U.K. and offers travel stipends to encourage beginning translators to attend the conference. It also publishes a translation studies journal, Translation Review.

Like the PEN American Center, the TA in London publishes a model contract on its website. The TA also provides a legal consultation service—translators can submit their contracts for vetting before signing them—and suggests an “observed rate” (currently £88.5/1000 words) that translators can request in payment for their work. U.S.-based organizations cannot do the same for fear of prosecution under anti-trust laws, though the “observed rate” that tends to get talked about in New York as a recommendation is $150/1000 words. But in the U.S. many translators, particularly those without established records of publication, work for far below this rate (sometimes 50% below), while in the U.K. the TA’s “observed rate” is widely adhered to, even by publishers hiring younger translators who know what to ask for. The model contracts on both sides of the pond advise translators to ask for royalties in their contracts; in the U.K. royalties for translators are pretty much universal, while in the U.S. they must be negotiated for, and some publishers categorically refuse to provide them.

English PEN—unlike the PEN American Center—is able to make grants to publishers to support the translation costs and publicity/marketing expenses for translated books. U.S. publishers have only the cultural institutes of foreign countries to turn to, which means that it is considerably more expensive to publish translations of books from countries whose governments do not offer subsidies.

One more thing I envy is the U.K.’s Emerging Translators Network, which provides encouragement, career strategizing and other sorts of peer support to younger translators who haven’t yet made names for themselves. Younger translators in the U.K. can also apply to participate in an excellent mentorship program through BCLT that pairs experienced translators with translation apprentices—many of whom have already completed a masters degree in translation—for six months of editing and career guidance. The mentors are paid for their work. What a splendid idea this is. Certainly mentorship takes place in classrooms on both sides of the ocean, but extensive individualized guidance on a long-term project is rare. In the States, I was asked to serve this year as a mentor in a program organized by the Yiddish Book Center, but that was the first I’d heard of such mentorships in the U.S. I’d love to see a support framework of this sort established over here. BCLT also hosts summer courses at the University of East Anglia.

After the Translation Summit, the American contingent was left thinking it’s time for us to establish a Translators Association of our own to provide workshop training, mentorship, publishing/promotional subsidies and direct financial assistance to a larger number of literary translators. We’ll be working on that one. Both the U.K. and the U.S. colleagues agreed that it would be good to create an international Anglophone translators association to help us pool our resources across the pond (and the Pacific too, and in India). People kept bandying about the name World Translators Federation—in large part, I’m afraid, for the sake of the acronym.

In any case, it’s clear that establishing an international umbrella organization to link together a global network of local organizations of English-language translators (including a potential new one to be set up in the U.S.) would go a long way toward ensuring that Anglophone translators around the globe will be able to profit from the resources and advances developed in each of our respective countries and network internationally. In an era of Global English, it might well be time to call instead for an era of Global Translation.

Siri Hustvedt on Authors & Translators Blog

The idea behind the blog Authors & Translators – launched only this past March – is to give authors a chance to say something about the translators they’ve worked with and their experience of being translated, and to give translators a forum to talk about working with their authors. This collaborative blog has grown a lot over the past month. The blog presents a standard set of open-ended questions for each group to answer. Contributors can respond in any language, and then the blog uses Google Translate to make their comments accessible in other languages. Google Translate, as we know, is problematic, so I have mainly limited myself to sampling the contributions submitted in languages I can read, but I also note that pretty much all the authors and translators who are able to write in English tend to do so for the blog, so their remarks are accessible to readers of English without the help of a not-so-literate machine.

The most recent author to contribute to Authors & Translators is Siri Hustvedt, who reads several languages and speaks appreciatively of her translators and the profession as a whole:

I think of the profession with profound admiration. I think of all the books I have read, which would have been unavailable to me had they not been translated into English. Without translation, my literary life would have been greatly impoverished. I would have developed another mind altogether. I also feel ashamed about the tiny number of books in translation that are brought out in the U.S. by major publishers every year. This is a sign of both American arrogance and provincialism. And yet, writers continue to write all over the world, and translation goes on. I am deeply grateful to my translators for remaking my work into their own languages.

For the rest of her comments and to check out the other authors and translators featured on the site, visit the Authors & Translators website.

A Master Class with Michael Emmerich

English-language translators of Japanese literature based in NYC (or able and willing to travel) will be seriously in luck next week: The British Centre for Literary Translation is hosting a free-of-charge one-day workshop with the wonderful Michael Emmerich (translator of Kawabata Yasunari, Yoshimoto Banana, Takahashi Gen’ichirō, Akasaka Mari, Yamada Taichi, Matsuura Rieko, and Kawakami Hiromi) and editor Elmer Luke, who has an impressive resume as (among other things) an editor of literary translations from the Japanese. The two will come together to spend a long day (10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) on Friday, May 3 with workshop participants at the Center for Fiction in NYC. The workshop’s impressive price point (free) is made possible by a grant from the Nippon Foundation.

Here’s the workshop description:

This day-long masterclass will be structured around close work on texts sent in advance to participants. Discussion will centre on the differences in approach evident in variant translations of the same texts. Participants should have a good working knowledge of Japanese, as well as some experience in literary translation, and will be invited to prepare their own translations of some of the texts under discussion. This masterclass will also focus on the next stage of translation – editing the English text. As Michael Emmerich puts it, participants will explore “what happens when the translator begins to detach the English text from the Japanese text, to look at the English text as an English text that has to go out and live its own life.”

If you would like to participate, you must apply ASAP: the closing date for applications is Friday, April 26. To apply, send a note to Sarah Bower (click here for e-mail) outlining your literary translation experience and explaining why you would like to attend, and attaching your CV. BCLT writes, “We recommend you make your application early as places are limited, and we will be asking successful applicants to prepare some brief translations for discussion during the class. Participants will be sent the texts for translation in advance, to be completed by 29th April.” As you see, you’ll need to get your applications in ASAP, which probably means today. Happy applying, and I hope you’ll have the chance to participate in this excellent workshop!

Translation Events at 2013 PEN World Voices Festival

So this looks to be a pretty good year for translation at the PEN World Voices Festival. I just blogged about the workshop I’ll be offering, and besides that, there are several other events designed to warm the cockles of my translationista heart. The last two events on the list below are classics in different ways.

The Translation Slam has been a perennial PWV favorite since we started putting it on six years ago. The slam commissions competing translations of two different poems, and then puts each pair of translators on stage to duke it out discuss their work with each other, the poet of the original text, and the audience. Michael Moore (the translator, not the filmmaker) has provided hilarious moderation year after year, so I am sure he will not disappoint this year either.

And then there’s the yearly panel sponsored by the PEN Translation Committee. In recent years we’ve put on panels about Copyright and Translation, and Reviewing Translations, and this year the panel will be devoted to investigating the money trail behind the translation-publishing business. Should be eyeopening in all the best ways. So I hope you’ll check out these two panels and all the rest of the translation programing at PWV this year. I’ve linked the title of each event to its page on the PWV website, where you’ll find complete ticketing and venue information.

Behold the list:

TUESDAY, APRIL 30, 9:30-11 p.m.
AN EVENING WITH MCSWEENEY’S
Participants: Michal Ajvaz, Francisco Goldman, Clancy Martin, Wyatt Mason, José Luís Peixoto, Francesco Pacifico, and others
Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette St, NYC
McSweeney’s contributors read excerpts from their translations in McSweeney’s Issue 42—an ambitious experiment which took twelve stories through six phases of translation, granting each translator creative license to change the story at will.

THURSDAY, MAY 2, 1-3 p.m.
WORKSHOP: SUSAN BERNOFSKY: HOW TO BE A TRANSLATOR
The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, NYC
Acclaimed translator and PEN Translation Committee Chair Susan Bernofsky offers up some tips for navigating the rough waters of copyrights, permissions, publishing, getting paid, and then getting to do it all over again.

FRIDAY, MAY 3, 8:30-10 p.m.
LITERARY TRANSLATION WORKSHOP
Participants: James Byrne with Zeyar Lynn
Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House of NYU, 58 W. 10th St, NYC

FRIDAY, MAY 3, 8:30-10 p.m.
TRANSLATION SLAM
Participants: Staceyann Chin, Najwan Darwish, and others. Hosted by Michael F. Moore.
The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, NYC
A poet reads from his or her work in its original language, followed by a translator who will choose English words to replace the original text. The translators are then tasked with defending these choices to the poet—and the audience. A Festival favorite for six years running!

SUNDAY, MAY 5, 1-2:30 p.m.
MONEY AND TRANSLATION
Participants: Esther Allen, Jordi Punti, Ira Silverberg, Michael Reynolds. Moderated by William Marx
The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, NYC
This panel will explore how funding, policy decisions, and market forces determine which international literary works see the light of day—in English—and which do not.

Could you ask for a better line-up?

How To Be a Translator – Translationista at PWV2013

The 2013 PEN World Voices Festival is coming up in NYC next week, and as part of the festival I’ll be offering a workshop entitled “How To Be a Translator” covering everything you ever wanted to know about the profession besides the most obvious answer (be a translator by translating).

Here’s the official event description:

Translating is hard, and surviving as a literary translator is arguably even harder. Acclaimed translator and PEN Translation Committee Chair Susan Bernofsky offers up some tips for navigating the rough waters of copyrights, permissions, publishing, getting paid, and then getting to do it all over again. Come prepared to brainstorm marketing strategies and solutions for common practical problems translators face. Participants are invited to submit questions/scenarios in advance for discussion during the workshop.

In other words, I am making my brain (such as it is) available for picking. If you’d like to participate, by all means do submit questions in advance by email with “Translation Workshop Question” in the subject line.

This event will be held at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 2 in the “Library” – the beautiful new upstairs bar space at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased here or via the PEN World Voices website.

Cyprus, Divided Cities, and Translation Studies


As you no doubt know, Cyprus is a bifurcated island state with two official languages: Turkish and Greek, and their cohabitation has not always been peaceful. Just imagine the issues this bilingualism must raise not only in  politics but also in areas like education and literature – and what an interesting context for thinking about issues of translation. If you’ve never given it much thought, never fear: translation studies scholar Sherry Simon (Concordia University) has done this for you. She’ll be speaking tonight at Barnard on “Cyprus, Divided Cities, and Translation Studies.” Simon is the author of Translating Montreal. Episodes in the Life of a Divided City (2006) and Cities in Translation (2012), and is co-editor of: Changing the Terms. Translating in the Postcolonial Era, New Readings of Yiddish Montreal and Failure’s Opposite. Listening to A.M. Klein. I wish I could attend, but I’ll be hosting an event of my own this evening. If you go to hear this lecture, please drop me a note (or use the comments box below) to give us a sense of what she spoke about.

Free and open to the public. Reception to follow.

6:00 – 8:00 p.m., Tuesday, April 23.

James Room, 4th Floor, Barnard Hall, Barnard College campus, Broadway & 117th Street

Medvedev & Gessen at Columbia on Wednesday

Just a quickie plug for an event I expect to be terrific, though its 12:00 noon starting time might put it out of reach for those who work downtown. Gessen’s been doing some really interesting translations from the Russian recently (I loved his collaborative translation, with Anna Summers, of Lyudmila Petrushevskaya’s There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby). So here’s his latest project, which sounds fascinating: editing (and in part translating) It’s No Good, by Kirill Medvedev (with translations by Mark Krotow, Cory Merrill and Bela Shayevich). And here’s the official announcement for the event that will be hosted at Columbia this coming Wednesday:

KIRILL MEDVEDEV: IT’S NO GOOD
Wednesday, 24 April 2013, 12:00pm
Marshall D. Shulman Seminar Room (1219 IAB)
Columbia University

Please join the Harriman Institute and Columbia University’s Slavic Department for a reading and discussion with Russian poet Kirill Medvedev.

Medvedev, whose new collection It’s No Good: Poems/Essays/Actions was published last year (Ugly Duckling Presse and N+1), will be joined by the volume’s editor Keith Gessen for a reading and discussion of Medvedev’s work and the translation by Gessen and others. Medvedev, whom Gessen has dubbed “Russia’s first genuinely post-Soviet writer,” famously broke with the literary world in 2004 when he announced: “I have no copyright to my texts and cannot have any such right.” Two years later his poems were published under the title Without the Permission of the Author.

“It’s No Good offers a broad portrait of the author as an idiosyncratic and uncompromising thinker. It aims to encapsulate the diversity—and the interconnectedness—of his activities as a poet, a cultural critic and an activist.” —Rachel Wetzler, The New York Observer

“Kirill Medvedev is the most exciting phenomenon in Russian poetry at the beginning of the new century. To be fair, that’s not a compliment. It’s a judgment. You get the sense that Medvedev has no fear, and that this fearlessness costs him nothing. Such things are rarely forgiven.” —Dmitry Vodennikov

Hope to see you there: Wednesday at 12:00 noon, International Affairs Building (118th St. & Amsterdam), Room 1219.

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