ALTA 2013 Part 3: Advocacy and Promotion

I wish I could blog every last thing I saw and learned at this year’s ALTA conference, which I think was one of the most interesting to date. But there’s a limit to the time and energy I can muster, so this here is going to be the last of my reports this year (at least I think so). One of the final panels of the conference was devoted to “Advocacy and Promotion,” moderated by Aron Aji and featuring Breon Mitchell, Christina Vezzaro, Chad Post, Russell Scott Valentino and a cast of thousands, i.e. all the other opinionated translators and translation advocates who packed the room. After all, don’t all of us care about finding ways to get more recognition for our work and more readers for the international authors we translate? Here are some of the advocacy projects that got discussed:

  • Breon Mitchell has for many years now been collecting translators’ papers at the Lilly Library at Indiana University. He reported that he was now collecting the manuscripts of 54 ALTA members (as well as those of many translators who aren’t members), so that years from now scholars interested in learning about how translators did their work will have material to draw on: multiple drafts of books, correspondence with authors and editors, etc. Breon recently retired as direct of the Lilly but reported that his successor is committed to continuing his work.
  • Christine Vezzaro has created a multilingual website entitled Authors and Translators containing brief interviews with authors about working with their translators and with translators about working with their authors. By including profiles of translators side-by-side with profiles of authors she means to help bring the formers’ work out of obscurity. “Authors are my superheroes,” she says, “but the Invisible Man is also a superhero.”
  • Chad Post’s blog Three Percent is one of the best websites out there when it comes to putting literary translation in the spotlight. On today’s panel he spoke about the Translation Database that he’s been assembling yearly since 2008 with the goal of creating an overview of what new works are being published in translation. You can download his spreadsheets to see this information sorted by publisher, language and country of origin.
  • Chad also reported that World Literature Today and Chinese Literature Today are teaming up to provide uploads of multiple drafts of translations by Howard Goldblatt for study and research purposes; perhaps we’ll see other translators’ work being presented in this way as well. Some might not want their drafts made public. I personally don’t think I’d mind, as long as the final version was available in print; maybe I have no shame, but I’m always trying to impress on my students how awful my own first drafts are (true story), to make the point that an actually thorough revision process can move mountains.
  • Words Without Borders will soon be launching an education portal with teaching materials designed around works published on the site.
  • Aron said we all should be putting our ALTA affiliation in our bio notes, to call attention to the organization and its work.
  • Translators seated in the peanut gallery suggested that ALTA should make its newsletter public by way of outreach (the current newsletter is for internal use only, and I agree that it’s been more inwardly turned than is interesting). Also that rapporteurs should attend and report on all the panels at the yearly conference so that others can learn about the information shared there; Translationista couldn’t agree more, she wants someone else to write up all this stuff instead of her so she can instead get to reading the big stack of books she brought home with her. Someone also suggested that ALTA should produce a Report on World Literature, another excellent idea. Aron Aji pointed out that it’s helpful not only to suggest ideas, but to volunteer to help put them into practice. This is correct: an organization like ours is only as strong as its members, and we’re a small enough operation that we really do need help pursuing ambitious projects like these.

The panel ended on a discussion about ways translators can get involved with promoting their own books. One audience member pointed out that many of the smaller independent bookstores in the country get all their stock from the Ingram catalog, making it a good idea for translators to make sure their publishers are getting their books included in it. And in terms of reaching reading groups and other members of the public, both local bookstores and public library branches are powerful allies. There’s no reason translators shouldn’t be approaching their local stores and libraries and offering to help put together an event of interest to the shop’s/library’s client base. Readers tend to produce more readers (via gifts, social media comments etc.), so anything you can do to find more readers is a service to the cause. But keep in mind that no one likes to be approached with a request for favor involving work on the part of the one being approached; think about what sorts of goals your local booksellers and librarians are likely to have and then what you can do to help them meet these goals. The magic words always at your disposal are: “I’d love to help.”

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