Friday, March 31, 2006

National Public Radio Saturday April 1st

John Ydstie interviewed me for National Public Radio about Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. The interview will be edited, so I don't yet know what will and will not make it on, but we did talk quite a bit about literary translation. It is scheduled to air on Saturday April 1st, and will also be posted on

Thursday, March 30, 2006

PEN World Voices: The New York Festival of International Literature, April 25-30, 2006

Like many if not most literary translators, my curiosity about foreign literature long predated my first translation attempts. It was part of the whole package--the vast array of backdrops provided by the great, wide world, the languages they spoke, the paintings, music, and architecture they created, the literature they wrote. This curiosity is fundamental to human nature at its best, it seems to me, witness the expanded interest we've seen in our lifetime in foreign literature written in English. If the number of books published by writers from India, Canada, Ireland, Australia, Anglophone Africa and the Caribbean, to say nothing of the immigrants from elsewhere who write in English, is any measure, then this is a viable part of U.S. publishing and, I would argue, a strong argument in favor of publishing more foreign literature in translation.

If foreign literature, whether written in English or translated, is your own true love, too, then you might check out PEN World Voices: The New York Festival of International Literature, to be held at various venues in Manhattan. The list of writers participating is impressive and reflects this mingling I've mentioned, of original English and translated authors: Salman Rushdie and Boris Akunin; Roberto Calasso and Nadine Gordimer; Huang Xiang and Chinua Achebe, and many many more.

I attended the festival last year, and although the larger, higher-profile events can be worthwhile, the best ones are more intimate, just two or three writers in conversation, or a reading at a bar. Demand is high for the big names, so be sure to sign up in advance and be prepared for lines, but if you go, I think you'll be glad you did. PEN is now steadily updating its information on the event at its website:

One caveat. Last year being the first time PEN attempted this, they did not do a good job of crediting translators. It was the classic case of me scratching my head trying to figure out what had and hadn't been written in English originally. The PEN Translation Committee was painfully aware of the problem at the time and vowed to improve the situation this year. I won't be able to attend this time, but if any of you do, I'd be interested to hear what improvements they've made for the translators.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion

MEXICO, the latest in the Whereabouts Press "Traveler's Literary Companion" series is out.

"This is a book to throw in a suitcase or mochila (backpack) on the way to Mexico or just settling into a favorite patio chair. It will open your eyes, fill you with pleasure and render our perennial vecinos a little less distante."
--- Los Angeles Times (review by Tony Cohan, author of Mexican Days)

"A banquet of pieces that reveal Mexico in all its infinite variety, its splendid geography, its luminous peoples. What a treat!"
--- Margaret Sayers Peden, leading literary translator and editor, Mexican Writers on Writing

Here's the jacket text:

Mexico has long been the top travel destination for Americans. But until now, there has not been such a panoramic vision of Mexico offered by some of Mexico's finest contemporary writers of fiction and literary prose. Here are writings--- many translated for the first time--- that bring you to the people of the beaches, the deserts, jungles, mountains, and mega-cities. The voices are rich and diverse, enthralling, and strange. These writings shatter stereotypes as they provide a rollicking journey from the Pacific to the Gulf, from Yucatán to the U.S.-Mexico border, from humble ranchos to a fabulous mountain-top castle.

Contributors include rising stars as well as many of Mexico's best-known writers, including Araceli Ardon, Ines Arredondo, Agustin Cadena, Julieta Campos, Rosario Castellanos, Martha Cerda, Ricardo Elizondo Elizondo, Laura Esquivel, Bruno Estanol, Carlos Fuentes, Jesus Gardea, Raymundo Hernandez-Gil, Monica Lavin, Guadalupe Loaeza, Angeles Mastretta, C.M. Mayo, Raul Mejia, Carlos Monsivais, Pedro Angel Palou, Fernando del Paso, Daniel Reveles, Alberto Ruy Sánchez, Ilan Stavans, and Juan Villoro.

Translators include Myralyn F. Allgood, Leland H. Chambers, Philip Garrison, Daryl Hague, Geoff Hargreaves, Eduardo Jimenez, Carl I. Jubran, John Kraniauskas, Stephen Lytle, Alfred MacAdam, C.M. Mayo, Harry Morales, Mark Schafer, Daniel Shapiro, Amy Schildhouse Greenberg, and Cynthia Steele.

The editor, C.M. Mayo, is yours truly.

Whereabouts Press, founded in 1994, is dedicated to publishing books that bring a greater understanding of peoples and cultures through literature. With its inauguration, it started the Literary Traveler's Companion Series, of which Mexico is the twelfth.

Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion
Trade paperback original: Travel / Fiction: 5 x 7 1/4, 256 pp., $14.95
ISBN 1-883513-15-4
Available from fine bookstores throughout the USA and also in many English language bookshops in Mexico. It is also available from all major on-line booksellers including and and

WHEREABOUTS PRESS1111 8th St, Suite D, Berkeley CA 94710-1455tel (510) 527-8280 / fax (510) 527-8780

Read more at Includes cover, table of contents, excerpts, Q&A, and extensive translator bios.

Indiana Review Accepting Translations

At AWP's bookfair in Austin, Texas, I happened by the table of Indiana Review. The editor advised me that indeed, they are very happy to consider translations. For more information check out the submissions guidelines on their webpage:

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Panels flew in and a good conference is expected

This month I was working hard as host committee chair fielding an incredible amount of panel proposals. We received many more panel suggestions than we have slots, so our committee meeting this coming Tuesday will be one of blood, sweat and tears. Shortly after that, moderators should be getting letters, though some on-topic panels have already been accepted. If you have not heard that your panel is accepted by April 5, do contact me, as you should have heard by then.
The panels arriving this year are incredibly varied, interesting and even entertaining. The list will be published in the upcoming April newsletter, and I encourage you to read through them and see how remarkable the variation is. Many proposals have come from folks who have not yet attended an ALTA conference.
SOOOOO, for those not yet in the know,
there are NO PAPERS READ on the panels. TALKS ONLY. Which means talks.
Those of you who have never attended an ALTA conference before may be surprised at this, especially as academics in the humanities are known for reading papers at other conferences, such as the MLA. Luckily, no one at ALTA is trying to impress (ok, maybe we are, but secondary literature is put aside for the weekend anyway). I know for a fact that those who were reading papers last year had to brave the not-so-subtle muttering at the back of the room for breaking this rule. And remember, many ALTA members, such as your humble host committee chair, are recovering academics, ie, freelancers, and so have gravitated to speaking Human again. (Humor, tenured folks, humor!)
And for first-timers, there is an early morning presentation prior to the official start of panels, in order to break you in gently to the ways of ALTA. I recommend you attend. The big mucky mucks are quite friendly and helpful.
Really and truly.
Since this is such an important tradition in ALTA, and since the moderators who have not received letters will be getting them very soon, do help your moderator out by not having that sheaf of paper to shuffle. (A notecard or two is fine.)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Translating gendered language

Philip Balma's article "Passing through Language(s)" in the latest issue of Translation Review was an excellent view into the process of translation. Balma takes the reader through the poem "Solo solo solo" [Only only only] by Edith Bruck. (By the way, it's a beautiful poem, and you can order copies of Translation Review through the ALTA web site or when you become a member of ALTA.)

I especially enjoyed Balma's explanation of the gender-related subtleties of the poem. The narrative voice, in Italian, has strongly gendered implications, a definitely female vision of the speaking self. This gendered vision was difficult to translate. He points out places where the speaker addresses herself directly, and also that the title, while it has intentional ambiguity, does not mean "alone alone alone" or "lonely lonely lonely" because the adjective would be masculine and singular.

He says, "Upon completing a rough draft of this translation of "Solo solo solo" I was faced with the fact that I had not been able to transfer any textual evidence of the speaker as a woman. In truth, I don't expect I will ever find a way to convey this notion effectively without compromising the integrity of the translation." This is a very difficult issue. Balma adds, "The only other choice I made in hopes of clarifying the femininity of the speaker was perhaps too subtle to achieve its purpose." From the lines "un colore/come un altro/non la stella/da cucire sul cappotto" Balma arrived at "a color/like any other/not the star/to sew on my coat" by choosing the more active form of "to sew" over "to be sewn", with the assumption that the (woman's) voice spoke of who would be likely to do the sewing.

In my own translation I swing very slightly to the side of inserting extra signifiers into the poem in exactly this type of situation, where gender is an important factor in the poem, and leaving it out fails to convey crucial information to the reader. I don't think this makes the poem a Lowellian "Imitation" any more than leaving gender out does - if it is done well.

Monday, March 06, 2006

We can live with them just fine, thanks

Here's an article about a translator who challenged The New Yorker to include his name in an article about the author he's been translating from Norwegian into English. They quoted Lyngstad's translations in their lengthy article... and then said that including his name would make the article too "cluttered".  The quotes didn't seem to clutter anything... so why would citing the translator who wrote the words?

Apparently some NY editors need to be brought up to speed, because it's not okay to pretend that translation just happens by some magic alchemical process. And maybe some of those editors missed reading "The Translation Wars", a long article by David Remnick, the New Yorker's editor-in-chief, on Russian translator Constance Garnett.

Thanks to Lucas Klein for passing this along to ALTA... and to Liz Andrews for providing the contact info for translators and authors to write to The New Yorker in protest:

Letters should be sent to or by fax to (212)286-5047,
and should include the sender's name, address and daytime phone number.

J. Peder Zane's article ends with a somewhat weak statement, "All of which reminds us of the central paradox of the relationship between readers and translators: We can't live with them, and we can't live without them."  We don't have to live with them - we just have to not erase their existence, and give them credit for their work. Surely it's not *that* hard to do. 

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Frivolous and funny

This is extremely silly... and fun... I was reading over a role-playing game book, a satire of sexist role-playing games, called Macho Women With Guns. It's a send-up of the ways that female characters in gaming are treated - a very funny book by Greg Porter, who I note is also the author of "Black Death", an excellent strategy board game in which everyone plays different medieval plagues and tries to kill the entire population of Europe.

What does this have to do with translation? Well, I noticed in the introduction to Macho Women With Guns, there's a boastful note:

How To Say It

Macho Women With Guns is published in a number of languages, which says something about universal tastes in gaming, I suppose. If you wake up in some strange country with a few local currency units in your pocket, and have a hankering to buy a game, ask for:

English - Macho Women with Guns
Etruscan - Ampuial.tur.lupulal
Finnish - Aseistetut Machonaiset
French - Nanas Macho et Chargées
German - Machoweiber mit dicken Kanonen
Irish - Mna Fearamhlacht le Gunnai
Italian - Maschiacces Armate Pesantemente
Icelandic - Hressar Stelpur med Byssur
Klingon - b'pu' yoH qeng HIchpu'
Norwegian - Toffe Damer med Skytevapen
Ruritanian - Muldr Deina gam Bangibangy
Russian - Muzhestvyenniye zhenshchini s'arudiyami
Spanish - Amazonas con Pistolas
Swedish - Machokvinnor med Vapen

*Both the designer and BTRC disavow all responsibility for faux pas, bodily harm, or extended incarceration as a result of actually using these translations.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006


Hello, this message is from Jessie Dickey, secretary of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA). From time to time I will be passing along bits and pieces of information which I hope will be of interest to translators and non-translators alike. The following are a couple of such items:

Item No. 1:
29th Annual ALTA Conference
Bellevue, Washington
October 18-21, 2006

Item No. 2:
ALTA Travel Fellowship Award
The ALTA Travel Fellowship Award is for beginning (unpublished or lightly published) translators. We offer fellowships for travel to the annual ALTA Conference held each autumn, which features an event of readings by the invited fellows. If you would like to apply for an ALTA Travel Fellowship, send a cover letter stating your desire to attend the conference, a CV, and no more than ten double-spaced pages of translation (translation into English), accompanied by the original text, to:
Jessie Dickey
ALTA Travel Fellowship Award
c/o The University of Texas at Dallas
P. O. Box 830688 – JO51
Richardson, TX 75083-0688
The deadline to apply for a travel fellowship is May 15, 2006.

Thanks, until next time.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Navajo Literature

I was pleasantly surprised to receive a lengthy mail on the state of Navajo literature in response to my earlier blog on the subject "Grammar is Fun." Simon D. Tapaha wrote to inform me that Navajo literature is alive and well, and I herewith pass on his suggestions for understanding Navajo culture via Navajo people themselves.
Irvin Morris has written a work called "From the Glittering World" which includes traditional Navajo stories. Poet Luci Tapahonso has also written a body of work from the Navajo world view.
Simon encourages us: "Reading Native culture is not black and white. We have special significance for everything we do. To understand these significances one has to have some knowledge of the respective language the literature is coming from. Read Native cultures with an open mind, patience and sensitivity."
Simon has also recommended a look at the book "Indigenizing the Academy" by Angela Cavender Wilson and Devon Abbott Mihesuah for those who are interested in Native and non-Native academic interaction.
My thanks to Simon for putting me in touch with where to begin with Navajo literature.