Archive for August 2013

“Cultural Translation” Symposium at the Nida School

For the last few years, the Nida School of Translation Studies has put on a yearly symposium and invited some big names from the world of translation and translation studies to speak. Named for Eugene Nida, whose career took him from Bible translation to translator training for the UN, the Nida School is part of the American Bible Society in New York.

I don’t usually blog this symposium because admission comes with a hefty price tag ($75) that puts it out of reach for many translators (and isn’t a symposium supposed to be something an institution puts on as a public service, without charging admission at all?). But there are good people speaking, so I’m spreading the word anyhow; if this annoys you, I’m sure you’ll let me know.

This year’s symposium features two speakers (Robert JC Young and Bella Brodzki) and two respondents (Christi A. Merrill and Suzanne Jill Levine). Young is a British postcolonial theorist and cultural critic who teaches translation studies (among other things) at NYU. Bella Brodzki is a scholar of critical and literary theory who teaches translation studies (among other things) at Sarah Lawrence and is the author of a book I really loved when it came out a few years ago: Can These Bones Live?: Translation, Survival, and Cultural Memory, about the uses of translation for literature (particularly the intergenerational literature of memorialization and mourning) not only as a theme and device but as a textual strategy.

Their two respondents are equally illustrious: Christi A. Merrill, a translator and translation theorist who teaches at the University of Michigan and is the author of Riddles of Belonging: India in Translation and Other Tales of Possession; and Suzanne Jill Levine, a well-known translator from the Spanish and author of The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction who recently established a translation studies program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she teaches.

Sounds like a great program, doesn’t it? The symposium will be held on Friday, September 20 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at The College Board, 45 Columbus Ave. at 61st St. For more information or to register, visit the Nida School’s website. And who knows, maybe for that fee they’ll throw in lunch.

Apply Now for a Witter Bynner Poet Translator Residency

My esteemed translator colleague Kaveh Bassiri reports having had a wonderful time at this residency in Santa Fe a couple of years back, and now they’re soliciting applications for next year’s residencies, so if you translate poetry and are free to travel, why not apply? Here’s the deets:

The Witter Bynner Poet Translator Residency is a one month residency program at the Santa Fe Art Institute for a poet translating poems from any language into English. The $1,000 residency fee is covered and small stipends for travel and living expenses are provided. The time and space at the SFAI provides an oasis for poetry translators to work undisturbed, while the community of Santa Fe offers them a vibrant, receptive forum for presentation and discussion. 

 For more info about the Santa Fe Art Institute and the residency visit the Art Institute website.The application itself can be accessed here, and Residency Director Katie Avery is available to answer questions. The deadline is coming right up: August 31, so if you’re interested, carp that diem!

2013 PEN Translation Awards

The PEN American Center has just released the names of its 2013 literary award winners. Here’s the winning translation line-up:

• The PEN Translation Prize was awarded to Donald O. White for his translation of The Island of Second Sight by Albert Vigoleis Thelen (Overlook Press). Runner-up is Katherine Silver for The Cardboard House by Martín Adán (New Directions).  The judges for this prize were Margaret Carson, Bill Johnston and Alex Zucker.

• The PEN Award for Poetry in Translation goes to Molly Weigel for her translation of The Shock of the Lenders and Other Poems by Jorge Santiago Perednik (Action Books). There were two runners-up this year: Rosa Alcalá for Spit Temple by Cecilia Vicuña (Ugly Duckling Presse) and Rosmarie Waldrop for Almost 1 Book/Almost 1 Life by Elfriede Czurda (Burning Deck). This year’s judge was Don Mee Choi.

I am so happy to see books from these excellent smaller presses being honored. Action Books, Ugly Duckling Presse and Burning Deck are all run by teams of writer-translators who have been strong supporters of their fellow translators over the years, Overlook also publishes a good deal of work in translation, and of course New Directions is legendary as a publisher of international literature.

This is also an opportune moment for me to announce the winners of the 2013 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants. These are grants intended to support book-length works in progress, whether or not they already have publishers. Interested in publishing one of these great projects? See the PEN website, which contains more detailed information on each of these books, in particular which of them are still available for publication.

Daniel Borzutzky, El País de Tablas (The Country of Planks), a collection of poems by Chilean poet Raúl Zurita (from Spanish)

Isabel Cole, At the Burning Abyss, a genre-bending book by East German writer Franz Fühmann (from German)

Sean Cotter, Rakes of the Old Court, a novel by Romanian poet and prose writer Mateiu Caragiale (from Romanian)

Chloe Garcia Roberts, Escalating Derangements of My Contemporaries, a collection of poems by Classical Chinese poet Li Shangyin (from Classical Chinese)

Edward Gauvin, The Conductor and Other Tales, a collection of prose fiction by French screenwriter Jean Ferry (from French)

Eleanor Goodman, Something Crosses My Mind, selected poems by Chinese poet Wang Xiaoni (from Chinese)

Marilyn Hacker, The Bridges of Budapest, a collection of poetry by French journalist and poet Jean-Paul de Dadelsen (from French)

Elizabeth Harris, Tristano Dies, a novel by Italian fiction writer Antonio Tabucchi (from Italian)

Jennifer Hayashida, Vitsvit, a debut poetry collection by Athena Farrokhzad, a Swedish writer of Iranian descent (from Swedish)

Eugene Ostashevsky and Daniel Mellis, Tango with Cows, a futurist text by Russian poet and playwright Vasily Kamensky (from Russian)

Jeremy Tiang, Nine Buildings, a creative nonfiction text by Chinese playwright Jingzhi Zou (from Mandarin Chinese)

Annie Tucker, Beauty Is A Wound, a novel by Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan (from Bahasa Indonesia)

Lara Vergnaud, France, récit d’une enfance (France, Story of Childhood), the final volume of an autobiographical trilogy by Algerian-born French writer Zahia Rahmani (from French)

One final announcement: Each year the Advisory Council for the PEN/Heim Translation Fund is invited to select one applicant who resides in New York State to be nominated for a larger ($5000) grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, which is then awarded in January of the following year. The 2012 nominee who was awarded the 2013 NYSCA translation grant is Iza Wojciechowska, for her translation of Farbiarka (The Dye Girl), by contemporary Polish poet Anna Piwkowska.

Translation School = Editor’s School?

The online journal of literature in translation Words without Borders, currently celebrating its tenth anniversary, is one of the best in the business, in large part because of the efforts of editorial director Susan Harris, who has chaperoned many thousands of pages of translations into print. Recently she was invited to participate in a series of workshops at the illustrious Translation Summer School at the British Centre for Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. The idea was that she would be “observing and offering suggestions and approaches from the editorial perspective” – and I’m sure she was hugely helpful to the seminars’ participants – but by the end of the week she reports that the experience made her think differently about her own editorial work.


Her full report on the experience can be found on the Words without Borders website, but I thought I’d give you a little taste of it here. To fully appreciate the first paragraph, it’s helpful to know how much she likes rabbits.

I spent a rapt and giddy week last month at the British Center for Literary Translation’s summer school, housed at the lagomorphiliac University of East Anglia in Norwich. (I’d heard that the UEA campus is chockablock with rabbits, but did not anticipate that they would be grazing on the lawn like herds of small cattle, whole warrenfulls ruminating and frisking about.) This annual program offers intensive workshops in half a dozen languages, at both beginning and advanced levels, in which participants collaborate on a group translation that’s presented on the final day. This program differs from others in that the authors are in attendance, available for questions, clarifications, and the occasional objection. The directors of the program, Daniel “Evil Mastermind” Hahn and his co-conspirator Kate Griffin, invited me to move between workshops, observing and offering suggestions and approaches from the editorial perspective. This was the first time I’d actually seen translations in progress;  it was like reading the blueprints when I’m accustomed to walking into the completed building and suggesting shades for the paint.

The advanced workshops were led by Katy Derbyshire, working with the German author Daniela Dröscher, Anne McLean (Spanish) with Javier Montes, and Jeffrey Angles (Japanese) with Aoko Matsuda, and the beginning/emerging by Kari Dickson (Norwegian) with Kari Fredrikke Brænne, B.J. Epstein (Finland-Swedish) with Johanna Hölmstrom, and Danny Hahn (Portuguese) with Cristhiano Aguiar. Just as each leader took a slightly different approach, author participation varied as well, from the responsive (Cristiano Aguiar not only attended every workshop, but in true collaborative spirit revised his original in response to the translation) to the less receptive. Watching the translators go through the texts line by line, each offering and arguing for her version, with the occasional contribution from author or leader, was sobering, and illuminating. I always knew how much work goes into translation, and how every word is agonized over; but I’d never been involved at this nascent stage, and  I realize how many of my editorial queries involve questions that would have already been raised and resolved far earlier in the process, and how much I’ve missed in the meantime. And of course I’d always suspected that I had the easy end of things, but this surely confirmed that concern, not to mention the patience and self-control of the translators I’ve inadvertently terrorized.

There’s a lot more interesting insight where that came from, but for the rest of “‘The Infinite Sequence of Minute Decisions’: An Editor at the BCLT Translation Summer School,” you’ll have to hop over to the Words without Borders website. While you’re there, look around; you’ll find plenty of great reading matter. The journal’s August 2013 issue is devoted to the literature of Brazil.

Book Expo America 2014 To Highlight Translation

After visiting the London Book Fair this past spring, I came home feeling sad that literary translation did not play a more central role in our own U.S. book fair, Book Expo America, which is held every May in New York at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. BEA has traditionally been more a commercially oriented booksellers fair than an international rights fair, which is why it is so much smaller and less overtly literary, but now BEA’s organizers are looking to change the fair’s profile by adding substantial new programming designed to interest a wider literary audience, including events both on- and offsite. And to my delight, one of the first big changes on the horizon is a new emphasis on translation. There was already some translation programming at BEA in 2013, but now the fair’s organizers have decided to make translation the central focus of BEA 2014. Usually the fair highlights the literature of one foreign country or region each year, but the title of the next BEA Global Market Forum is “Books in Translation: Wanderlust for the Written Word,” and part of the associated programming will involve a launch of a new Literary Translation Center at the fair (modeled on the one at the London Book Fair) that is to become a standard recurring feature at BEA, meaning that we can count on having interesting translation programming at and around the fair for years to come. BEA’s organizers have assembled a team of translation experts to help with planning, so I’m expecting to see a truly interesting lineup when the fair kicks off at the end of May. Meanwhile, if you’re in the industry and would like to suggest translation-themed programming or a partnership for the 2014 Global Market Forum, see the BEA website for more details and contact information.


Follow this blog

Get a weekly email of all new posts.

Email address