Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Surviving the ATA as a Literary Translator

I've just survived the ATA, the American Translators Association blowout conference, as a first-time attendee and one of the ALTA-table ALTA promoters.
Survival is the word. After the relatively calm environment of Montreal, I was plunged into a world of vendors, balloons, seminars, techies, and in addition to all of the above, gave a talk about Swedish Literary translation at one of the Nordic division events.
While manning the ALTA table (womanning the ALTA table?), I met three sorts of people: Those who have tried literary translation and decided to make some money doing something else, those who are terrified to attempt literary translation ("much more difficult than tech"), and those who wanted to join ALTA and do literary translation as a sideline, knowing that they would be translating literature for fun and not profit.
By far, the largest number of people I met at this just-concluded ATA conference fell into the first category. Many of them have given up literary translation entirely, citing that they were losing money and had to earn a living somehow.
What does it say for our country that literary translators cannot make a living as literary translators? Do you know anyone making a living at literary translation? As far as I can tell, pretty much everyone has another line of work, whether it is academia, academia, academia, graduate school, private wealth to distribute, or cashier at the local independant bookstore.
In effect, the academic world is subsidizing the field of literary translation (correct me if I'm wrong!) and those who have not secured academic positions cannot continue for long in the field. Also (again correct me if I'm wrong), a great academic may or may not be a great literary translator (although many are). A great literary translator may not be a great academic...you get the drift.
So the question I'm pondering this week is...is making a living too much for a literary translator to ask for?
Meanwhile, any bookstores looking for cashiers this holiday season?

2 comments:

bettina said...

As someone who is considering literary translation as a career, I am interested to know what is the real wage for lit translation? And is it easy to get contracts?

Anonymous said...

Literary translator and academic are definitely two separate endeavors, though the two may coincide felicitously in the same person from time to time. I haven't gotten to the point of sustaining myself on it (though I've not been doing it full-time either), but I understand it can be done, as long as one doesn't have to support any dependents as well.

Which is a terrible state of affairs considering the skill level required.