Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while are no doubt used to my periodic handwringing over the fact that Translationworld is just so darn white, to such an extent that it might make you wonder whether the translation community is somehow inhospitable to translators of color. (I’m speaking primarily, of course, of those language areas not linked to countries whose majority populations would be considered “of color” in the U.S.) Changing this landscape to be more in line with and representative of the general and literary populations of this country will take some time and sustained, intentional effort, and I’m always happy when I see individuals and institutions taking practical steps that lead in this direction. The American Literary Translators Association did so last year when it added a new annual travel fellowship (ALTA fellows receive support to attend the conference and present their work there) earmarked for “an emerging translator of color or a translator working from an underrepresented diaspora or stateless language,” guaranteeing that at least one of the 4-6 fellows selected each year will fall into this category. And now the MFA Program in Literary Translation at the University of Iowa has gone one step further by creating a fellowship for “U.S. citizens from an underrepresented minority population,” allowing one student per year to enter the program fully funded with a generous stipend. This is huge. For one thing, offering this fellowship is an acknowledgment that graduate study in a field not likely to lead immediately to a lucrative profession is a luxury and requires resources that many simply cannot afford; this fellowship removes a financial hurdle significant enough to exclude many potential students of translation. (I note also that the inclusive language “underrepresented minority population” allows for a wide interpretation each year, depending on which candidates apply for the fellowship. I assume this opportunity was created particularly with students of color in mind, but students with disabilities might also apply, or members of other underrepresented groups. Also good!) In any case, I am thrilled to see this opportunity being offered to students with an interest in becoming translators. I’m sure there would be more similar fellowships if they weren’t so difficult to fund. I’m not sure how Iowa has achieved this – I’m guessing there must be a kind, generous donor behind the scenes – because to endow such a fellowship surely requires a donation of nearly 1 million dollars. I’m not a financial genius, but as I understand it, usually around 5% can be drawn annually from an endowment sum without depleting it, and in this case a yearly draw of something like $47,000 would be needed (to cover tuition and the stipend itself). It’s difficult to find a donor willing and able to endow a fellowship like this, and when it happens, it’s definitely worth celebrating. So thank you, University of Iowa MFA program (and director Aron Aji) for creating this opportunity. Every new student who enters the program brings us closer to the goal of someday achieving a truly representative translation community translating a truly representative sampling of international literature – from which we all stand to benefit.
This year’s application deadline is Jan. 4, 2017. For more information, contact program director Aron Aji.