Archive for September 2014

Translation on Tap in NYC, October 1 – 15, 2014

Rejoice, translation fans, the equinox is behind us, so it’s high season for translation events. Here’s what’s crossed my desk so far:

Saturday, Oct. 4

Translator Paola García joins with Eduardo Alejandro Chirinos Arrieta to discuss García’s new translations of the poetry of Peruvian poet Juan Gonzalo Rose. More information here. McNally Jackson Books, 52 Prince Street, 7:00 p.m.

Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz, ©Nina Subin

Monday, Oct. 6

Acclaimed writer and translator Eliot Weinberger joins poet, translator, Guggenheim Fellowship recipient Coral Bracho and award-winning Mexican poet María Baranda to discuss the work of Octavio Paz, the iconic Mexican poet, essayist, and statesman in celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth. This event will be held at the Americas Society at 680 Park Avenue, and will have a $10 admission fee for non-members. Advance registration recommended: click here. 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 7

More Paz! Translators Mónica de la Torre, Eliot Weinberger, Nathalie Handal and Idra Novey will be among the readers celebrating Octavio Paz at the big Centennial Celebration at Poet’s House. More information here. 10 River Terrace, 7:00 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 11

This time Translationista will be on tap in the afternoon, interviewing multilingual Swiss author Arno Camenisch, who writes in German and the least known of Switzerland’s four languages, Romansh, typically using both in his books with an occasional sprinkling of French and Italian. He’ll be presenting his novel The Alp, the first of his “Alpine Trilogy” to appear in English (the other two are forthcoming, all translated by Donal McLaughlin). Swiss Institute, 18 Wooster Street. RSVP recommended, details here. 4:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 14

Come Share My Meal: Poets from the Arabic Diaspora: Translator-poets Marilyn Hacker and Sinan Antoon join Deema Shehabi, Lawrence Joseph and Marilyn Nelson for an evening of contemporary poetry from the Middle Eastern diaspora. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Saint James Room, RSVP requested. More information here. 7:30 – 9:00 p.m.

also Tuesday, Oct. 14

Words without Borders presents an evening of writing from Guatemala, with translator/poet Idra Novey interviewing authors Rodrigo Fuentes and Eduardo Halfon, guest editor of WWoB’s special issue on Guatemalan writing. The Community Bookstore, 143 Seventh Ave., Brooklyn, 7:00 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct 15

Living to Write about It: Guatemalan author/translator David Unger speaks with author and former Nicaraguan vice president Sergio Ramírez in a conversation about the intersection between politics, history and literature. More information here. Instituto Cervantes, 211-215 East 49th St., 7:00 p.m.

Why We Need a Prize for Women in Translation

VIDA-footer-logoIt’s been five years now since VIDA: Women in Literary Arts started its famous count of the percentages of women represented in major U.S. literary awards, and four since it started tracking the numbers of women represented (as writers, reviewers and reviewees) in a number of our top literary journals. The numbers were staggering, confirming a bias in publishing that many women had always felt to be present without really being able to prove it – especially as we all know plenty of incredibly successful women who work for these journals, write for them, get reviewed in them. But overall, the report was disheartening. In 2010, The New Yorker reviewed 9 books by women and 36 by men (that’s 25% women). For The New York Review of Books that same year, just 19% of the books reviewed were by female authors, and the vast majority of reviewers in both cases were men. The VIDA Count occasioned a lot of anti-feminist backlash. It also opened a lot of eyes to the realities of how large swaths of the publishing industry work and started an important conversation that continues today, even though the numbers for many of the journals surveyed are only very slightly better now than they were four years ago. In 2013, The New York Review of Books published reviews of books by women 25% of the time. The New Yorker is doing better: it’s now up to 40% women writers on average (or 45% if you count their “Briefly Noted” column). There’s still plenty of backlash. I recently posted on Facebook about an email sent around by NYRB on Sept. 16 announcing its new issue, listing 9 articles by male authors, 0 articles by female authors (and as a bonus: both books advertised in the email were by men). I quipped that they might rename themselves The New York Review of Men’s Books. And promptly received an email from a male editor I actually respect a lot, saying “Have you read the issue? It’s the best in months. Which of course doesn’t have anything to do with it’s being men.”

One of the insidious things about privilege is that part of the privilege package is having the luxury to be blind to the privilege you yourself enjoy. As an ethnic Jew, I feel lucky that I was born in a decade when widespread discrimination against Jews was on its way out. As a white person, I have invisibly enjoyed any number of privileges, including repeatedly being given the benefit of the doubt and offered opportunities on the basis of my apparent potential. For example, when I was 24, a former professor of mine (female, not coincidentally) hired me for a full-time one-year university teaching appointment even though I’d only ever taught a single college-level class; she had a hunch that I would be a good teacher and trusted me enough to hand over the keys to ten different courses (the load was 5 courses per term) and an office. It worked out fine in the end, and I learned a lot about teaching, but I certainly wasn’t technically qualified to take that job at the moment when it was offered me. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the fact that I am white and did not grow up in poverty made it infinitely more likely for opportunity of that sort to knock in my life. Yes, I worked hard to establish myself professionally – life wasn’t handed to me on a silver platter by any means – but it’s pretty clear that the professional scales are tilted in favor of those who belong to traditionally privileged groups. Which is why the United States has definitely not outgrown affirmative action, and why it’s important for organizations like VIDA to collect hard figures on who’s getting published where. For great journals to publish almost exclusively men is bad for literary life in general (just as it is for them to publish almost exclusively white authors). Like other sorts of professionals, writers and scholars grow through the opportunities they are given, and if you help raise a diverse generation of thinkers by offering them assignments to grow into early in their careers, you are helping to build a rich intellectual mainstream that is as multifaceted and vibrant as the population of this country. If you don’t do that, you’re helping to maintain a status quo that I, for one, can’t help seeing as outdated.

woman_writing_422639386.jpg_detailAnd what about literature in translation? No one’s crunched those numbers yet with a VIDA-like thoroughness (though Alison Anderson set the ball rolling last year in a Words Without Borders dispatch). Now the ball is rolling. At the London Book Fair this year, Sophie Mayer chaired a panel sponsored by English PEN entitled “Where Are the Women in Translation?” In her report on the panel (which featured Anderson as well as For Books’ Sake editor Jane Bradley and novelist Krys Lee), she notes that most of the people who attended the panel were women, prompting her, as she reports, to realize that “the question wasn’t ‘Where are the women in translation?’ but ‘Where are the (often) male gatekeepers prepared to listen to us and help make change?’” The under-representation of female authors in the books published in English translation – Anderson eyeballs the figure as 26% women – may have to do, in many cases, with the relatively small numbers of women getting published in the countries whose literatures we are translating. But is that the whole story? Anderson’s speculations on the topic are very much worth reading. Where’s the Translation VIDA Squad who’s going to look into this? It would make a great project. I hope someone takes it on.

And of course there’s the question of what we can do about the dearth of translated women. Katy Derbyshire of the Love German Books blog has just published a call to establish “a women’s prize for translated fiction” to “raise awareness for great women’s writing from the non-Anglophone world.” I assume there’s going to be some backlash. But I agree with her wholeheartedly that such a prize is badly needed. The first step in eliminating a disparity is to call attention to it. And while no one with privilege (including me) enjoys having their privilege pointed out to them, hearing – loudly – from those who have been excluded from the literary agora is a necessary step if change is going to occur. Celebrating these women’s work, with longlists, shortlists and a kick-ass prize ceremony, sounds to me like a wonderful, life- and literature-affirming project, and I want to be a part of it.

RIP Alastair Reid


Alastair Reid, ©Francis Hills

Scottish poet and translator Alastair Reid died last weekend, at the age of 88. Venerable and respected in translation circles, he was known particularly for his translations of Borges and Neruda, and for espousing a form of translation that insists on its own status as writing. Interviewed by The Guardian in 2008, he expanded on these views:

In translation, [Reid] says, “your obligation is to ensure that something that goes off wonderfully well in the original works just as well in English. The main thing is to make it sound like an English poem. “He delights in recalling Neruda’s advice: “Don’t just translate my poems – I want you to improve them.” He sees no reason not to depart from the basic text, “if it needs it, and it probably will need it at some point. If you can make the thrill of the original come across in translation, you’ve succeeded. Only bad translators insist on utter faithfulness.”

I feel lucky to have been able to hear him reminiscing about Borges at the Americas Society just last year. For many years, Reid was a regular contributor to The New Yorker, writing from the many corners of the world he peripatetically inhabited. For an appreciation of his contributions, see the articles published this week in that magazine’s Page-Turner blog and The New York Times.

2014 ALTA Fellows Announced

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 11.18.30 PMThis is a great year to attend the American Literary Translators Association conference, for a number of reasons previously discussed on this blog. And six emerging translators will be attending as all-expenses-paid guests of ALTA, where they’ll be feted and invited to present their work to the general assembly. These are very competitive fellowships, so these are definitely translators to watch. The six fellows and the languages they translate from are:

Megan Berkobien (Catalan)

Alice Guthrie (Arabic)

Sara Novic (Bosnian/Croatian)

Christopher Tamigi (Italian)

Tenzin Dickyi (Tibetan)

Annie Tucker (Bahasa Indonesian)

You’ll find more information about each of the 2014 fellows on the ALTA website. Come to the conference so you can hear them read their work! There’s other reasons too. Hope to see you there.

2014 Read Russia Prize Awarded

readrussia_front2__250The biennial Read Russia Prize was established in 2011 by the Institute of Translation in Moscow as a way to celebrate Russian literature and book culture by supporting the translation and publication of Russian works. This year’s competition drew 112 entries from 16 different countries, which were narrowed down to shortlists in four categories this past August. Each prize comes with a 5000 Euro purse for the translator and a 3000 Euro grant to the publishing house to be applied to the costs of publishing an additional work of Russian literature. And now the winners of the four prizes have been announced in a ceremony in Moscow reported on by Russia Beyond the Headlines.

Here are the prizewinning translators and their projects in each category:

Classic 19th Century Russian Literature: Alejandro Ariel Gonzales for his translation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella The Double (Argentina)

20th Century Russian Literature: Alexander Nitzberg for his translation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel Master and Margarita (Austria)

Contemporary Russian Literature: Marian Schwartz for her translation of Leonid Yuzefovich’s novel Harlequin’s Costume (United Kingdom)

Poetry: Liu Wenfei for his translation of lyrical works by Alexander Pushkin (China)

Congratulations to these stellar translators around the globe, and in particular to Marian Schwartz, representing the English-speaking world. She just did an interview, by the way, in which she talks about several other Russian books she’d like to translate for a U.S. audience.

By the way, the Read Russia team seems extremely serious about wanting to get the word out about Russian literature. To this end, they have put together a hefty (450 page) anthology of contemporary Russian writing in English, and posted it on their website to be downloaded for free. The price cannot be beat, and a raft of well-respected translators have participated in the project. You can read more about it and download your own copy here.

Translation at the 2014 Brooklyn Book Festival

The Brooklyn Book Festival – I’m waiting for them to rename it the Booklyn Festival some year – is always a good party, and there’s a great-sounding lineup this year, the ninth in the Festival’s history. It’ll be held at its usual venue: Brooklyn Borough Hall and surrounds, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 21. You’ll want to check out the entire schedule of events, but of course I’m particularly interested in the ones involving literary translators, some of which are “bookends” held before the Festival proper:

Monday, Sept. 15:

The Saint Ann’s Review Presents an Evening of and on Translation. Translators Harry Morales, Rika Lesser, and Alexandra Zelman-Doring read from their work, more information here. Saint Ann’s School, 122 Pierrepoint, Parlor Floor, 7:00 p.m.

Wednesday, Sept. 17:

Translation Talk at BKBF Bookends: a conversation on the art of translation featuring Other Press and New Directions translators Chloe Garcia Roberts, Kim M. Hastings, Yvette Siegery, Edgard Telles Ribeiro, moderated by Matvei Yankelevich, more information here. At Bookcourt, 163 Court Street, 7:00 p.m.

Thursday, Sept. 18:

Imaginary Gardens with Real Robots in Them: On Translating Science Fiction. Translators Ross Benjamin (German), Terry Gallagher (Japanese) and Michael Kandel (Polish) talk about their favorite cyborg and dystopian translation projects. This is an iteration of the illustrious Bridge Series, this time held in collaboration with the PEN Translation Committee, moderated by Sal Robinson, more information here. Singularity & Co., 18 Bridge Street, 7:00 p.m.

Translation on Tap in NYC, September 16 – 30, 2014

imaginarygardens-header Tuesday, Sept. 16:

The Italian blockbuster Elena Ferrante is a mysterious author. We don’t know much of anything about who she is, or even if she’s really a woman, as the name “Elena” implies. But if anyone might know something about her, I’m going to wager it might be her translator, Ann Goldstein. And it’s your lucky day, because you’ll have a chance to hear Goldstein talking about Ferrante’s work in the excellent company of novelists Stacey D’Erasmo and Roxana Robinson. They’ll be at The Center for Fiction, 17 E. 47th St. RSVP requested. Details here. 7:00 p.m.

Also Tuesday, Sept. 16:

Words Without Borders presents Writing Exile, featuring an exhibition of work by several artists as well as readings by writer/translator Nathalie Handal as well as writers  Israel Centeno, Kayhan Irani and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo. Verso Books, 20 Jay Street, Brooklyn. Reservations strongly recommended. More information here. 7:00 p.m.

Wednesday, Sept. 17:

Translation Talk at Brooklyn Book Festival Bookends: a conversation on the art of translation featuring Other Press and New Directions translators Chloe Garcia Roberts, Kim M. Hastings, Yvette Siegery, Edgard Telles Ribeiro, moderated by Matvei Yankelevich, more information here. At Bookcourt, 163 Court Street, 7:00 p.m.

Thursday, Sept. 18:

imaginarygardens-translators2Love science fiction? Love [literature in] translation? This is the one for you. The estimable Bridge Series is convening an evening in coordination with the Brooklyn Book Festival and in collaboration with the Translation Committee of the PEN American Center entitled “Imaginary Gardens With Real Robots in Them.” Three translators of fantastical work will be reading and chatting about what they do best: Ross Benjamin (German), Terry Gallagher (Japanese), and Michael Kandel (Polish). Given the Brooklynness of the partnership. this event will be held not in the Bridge’s usual venue (McNally Jackson) but at the bookstore Singularity & Co., located at 18 Bridge St. in Brooklyn. Details here. 7:00 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 19:

Launch event for Ready to Burst by Haitian author/artist/musician/public intellectual Frankétienne, translated from the French by Kaiama L. Glover. The event will feature the book’s author and translator in conversation with Madison Smartt Bell, and will end with a glass of wine. More information here. FiveMyles Gallery, 558 St. Johns Place, Brooklyn, 7:00 p.m.


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