Translation at the 2015 PEN World Voices Festival


2015 PWV cover image: The Root of all Eves (detail) by Wangechi Mutu

There’ll be some terrific-sounding translation-flavored events at this year’s PEN World Voices Festival, to be held May 4 – 10 in various NYC locations. Here’s the lineup:

Friday, May 8:

Translation Slam: This one is a perennial Festival favorite, moderated as is traditional by Michael Moore. This year’s slam will feature competing translations from Spanish and French, as performed by Allison M. Charette, Marjolijn de Jager, Mónica de la Torre, Boubacar Boris Diop, Mariposa Fernández, and Urayoán Noel. This is a ticketed event, more information here. Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 236 E. 3rd. St., 7:00 p.m.

Saturday, May 9:

Who We Talk About When We Talk About Translation: Women’s Voices: You know the grammarian in me is dying to add back the missing “m” at the end of that initial “Who.” This is a panel I’m speaking on, with great enthusiasm, since the topic is the gender gap in the reception of translated literature by women authors, both on bookshelves and in terms of prizes. I’ll be joined by Jen Fitzgerald of VIDA, Rob Spillman of Tin House (and winner of a 2015 VIDO award for his contributions to the cause) and author Véronique Tadjo, moderated by Margaret Carson (Co-Chair of the PEN Translation Committee) and translator Alta L. Price. Admission free, RSVP recommended, more information here. Albertine Books, 972 Fifth Avenue (at 79th St.), 1:00 p.m.

Then stay for: Who We Talk About When We Talk about Translation: The Bloggers: Given that literary translation is, almost by definition, out of the American mainstream, independent publishers and independent writers writing about literature (in many cases bloggers) have played a crucial role in keeping interest in (and access to) translated literature alive in this country. Bloggers Tara Cheesman-Olmsted, Scott Esposito, Nana-Ama Kyerematen, and Michael Orthofer will tell you how it’s done, moderated by the excellent Sal Robinson. Admission free, RSVP recommended, more information here. Albertine Books, 972 Fifth Avenue (at 79th St.), 3:00 p.m.

These are the main three translation-themed events at this year’s festival. Some other events that include literary translators include:

Monday, May 4:

Monkey Business: A Japan/America Writers Dialogue in Words & Pictures. This panel will be moderated by three editors of the journal Monkey Business, including two (Ted Goossen and Motoyuki Shibata) who are also translators. Also featuring Ben Katchor, Satoshi Kitamura, Kelly Link, Aoko Matsuda. Ticketed event, more information here. Asia Society, 725 Park Ave., 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, May 6:

Armenian Genocide: A Dark Paradigm: Translator Maureen Freely (also President of English PEN) participates in this event also featuring Peter Balakian, Eric Bogosian, Nancy Kricorian, Robert Jay Lifton, Ronald Grigor Suny, and Ragıp Zarakolu. Ticketed event, more information here. SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd St., 7:30 p.m.

Also Wednesday, May 6:

The Arrivants: This panel focusing on Kamau Brathwaite’s classic New World trilogy The Arrivants includes, in its lineup, translator (and poet) Nathalie Handal, and is moderated by translator (and scholar) Brent Hayes Edwards. Also featuring Teju Cole and Binyavanga Wainaina. Ticketed event, more information here. Crosby Street Hotel Screening Room, 79 Crosby St., 8:30 p.m.

Also Wednesday, May 6:

Divine Punishment: Nicaraguan author Sergio Ramírez and his translator, Nick Caistor, will read from and discuss the author’s political thriller, Divine Punishment. Introduction by the book’s publisher, Bruce McPherson. Ticketed event, more information here. Americas Society, 680 Park Ave., 7:00 p.m.

Thursday, May 7:

The Witnesses: This panel on the role of “elders” includes Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who founded the legendary Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine. The event also features Vinie Burrows, Boubacar Boris Diop, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Achille Mbembe, moderated by Rashidah Ismaili. Free admission, RSVP recommended, more information here. The Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse, 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, May 7:

H.G. Adler: A Survivor’s Dual Reverie. Adler’s translator Peter Filkins will be joined by Jeremy Adler, Ruth Franklin, and Daniel Mendelsohn to discuss Adler’s double view of the Holocaust in two different books, moderated by Edwin Frank. Ticketed event, more information here. The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave. (at 92nd St.), 7:00 p.m.

Friday, May 8:

The Literary Mews at NYU: This festival-within-the-festival – a sort of literary street fair – held all day (starting at 10:30 a.m.) in NYU’s Washington Mews (map here) features several events of interest to translation enthusiasts:

Reading Between the Lines/Languages: Moroccan Poetry in Text, Translation, and Performance: Translators Omar Berrada, Alexander Elinson, and Deborah Kapchan join Moroccan poets Idriss Aissa and Driss Mesnaoui. 4:00 p.m.

The Passion of Elena Ferrante: Ferrante translator Ann Goldstein joins Rebecca Falkoff in a conversation about the anonymous Italian author. 6:00 p.m.

No reservations needed, more information here.

So those are my recommendations if you’re interested in PEN World Voices Festival events with a translation tie-in. This is one of the richest festivals to date in terms of translation goodness, so I hope you’ll turn out for at least part of it. I don’t suppose too many translation fans will be feeling so enthusiastic about this year’s PEN Gala, though, seeing that one of the 2015 honorees is Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House, now the largest trade publisher in the world, and one whose Spanish branch recently distinguished itself by slashing its translators’ paychecks across the board. Who knows, maybe Dohle will announce that this scandal has only just come to his attention and that he plans to remedy the situation at once? (I’m not holding my breath, but you can’t blame a girl for dreaming.)

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