Monday, November 07, 2016

A Banquet of Literary Translations for Travelers & ALTA Fabulosity

This post is dedicated to two of my favorite Spanish language translators, both ever and always the very souls of kindness and dedication and generosity, who could not be at ALTA this year: Cola Franzen and Margaret Sayers Peden. 

Dear reader, if you are at all interested in literary translation, whether you are the shyest of maybe-might-want-to-try-its or, shall we say, the Grand Poo-Bah of Literary Translation Theory Crunchiness, if you haven't already, take a look at the excellent work of ALTA, the American Literary Translators Association and their annual conference. For greater national coverage, the annual fall conference changes venue from year to year. In 2014 it was held in Milwaukee, last year, Tucson; this year, Oakland, California; next year (brrrrr) Minneapolis. 

Herewith, my recap of ALTA Oakland 2016:

Voila, the historic Whereabouts Press editors photo taken on October 7, 2016 in Oakland, after the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) Conference panel celebrating the Literary Travel Companion series-- and a dangerously caloric lunch of fried chicken and waffles at Miss Ollie'sFrom left: Jill Gibian, editor of ArgentinaAlexis Levitin, editor of BrazilWilliam Rodarmor, editor of France and French Feastour guru, visionary founding publisher of the Whereabouts Press Travelers Literary Companion series, David Peattie; and, far right, Yours Truly, editor of Mexico

The Travelers Literary Companions paperbacks are not guidebooks, but carefully curated collections of writing about a country by writers from that country, many in English translation for the first time. If you are planning any travels, for real or via armchair, to any of these countries or, say, Chile, Costa Rica, Greece, Israel, Italy, Vietnam and so many more... any of one of these "travelers literary companions" deserves space-- and it won't take up much-- in your hand luggage.

> Listen in to my interview with NPR about Mexico: A Literary Traveler's Companion, and read some of the stories by Araceli Ardón's "It Is Nothing of Mine";  Mónica Lavín's "Day and Night" (both my translations) and Geoff Hargreaves' translation of Ricardo Elizondo Elizondo's "The Green Bottle" at



The other highlight for me was the chance to see my amigas Patricia Dubrava and Clare Sullivan, among so many others, old friends and new:

Pamela Carmel

Ellen Cassedy, who has a new book out of translations from the Yiddish (more about that anon); 

Barbara Goldberg

Susan Harris of Words Without Borders

Jesse Lee Kercheval, who continues doing wonders for Uruguayan poetry

Dennis Maloney of White Pine Press

Amanda Powell

Jessica Powell

Mahmud Rahman

Carolina de Robertis;

Zack Rogow, co-author of the play Colette Uncensored and blogger extraordinaire at Advice for Writers (see his take on the Nobel Prize for Bob Dylan) ;

Alberto Ruy Sánchez;

and, surely having left aside a football team's worth of excellent people, I must now conclude with the deftly brilliant translator of Mexican poetry Mark Weiss.

One especially memorable panel included the reading of works by the late poet Eduardo Chirinos by his translator, G.J. Racz. Check out Still Life with Flies, published by the elegant Dos Madres Press.

For the Spanish bilingual readings I read an excerpt from my translation "The Apaches of Kiev," a hot-off-the-blog short story by Mexican writer Agustín Cadena.

PS. guy said that where it's happening is Instagram. Oh well! 

> Read Patricia Dubrava's recap on the conference, "Only at ALTA"


The longer I am at this "business" I find that behind all the kazoos and flutes and trumpets and drumrolls and Potemkinesquerie, literary translation is, in the end, a labor of love.
It calls certain poets and dreamers, for a time. For some, literary translation becomes a lifelong path, a yoga. For others, their enthusiasm lasts until their illusions are peeled away and/or their energies are spent, and for most, that will be quickly. What I said in a previous blog post on literary travel writing also applies to literary translation:

I would tell any young writer getting started today that if you want the freedom to write things you will be proud of, first find a reliable alternative income source and from there-- always living below your means-- build and diversify your sources of income away from the labor market. (Getting an MFA so you can teach in a creative writing program? That might have made a smidge of sense two decades ago. Now you'd be better off starting a dog grooming business, and I am not joking.) Yes, if you are brilliant, hard-working and lucky, you might one day make a living from your creative writing. But why squander your creative energy for your best work worrying about generating income from, specifically, writing? Quality and market response only occasionally coincide. Jaw-dropping mysteries abound. 
(Did I mention, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize?)

In other words, barriers to entry in most of the arts are lower than a slug's basement, while those artists with staying power beyond a first book, first show, first whatever, prove to be few. The big hiding-in-plain-sight secret is that money may provide an advantage, but it's vital only at the bare, survival-level. Somehow, even billionaires with a yen to make art find their days and weeks and months and years gummed up with hithering and thithering; yet throughout the history of the book, writers with tremendous, even horrendous obligations and/or challenges, whether from work or family or health or in war-time, have managed to write, to make art. The War of Art, as Steven Pressfield titles his book, requires personal resources more powerful than mere money.

OK, but, dear reader, don't let this natter about love & yoga & the war of art stop you from buying a Whereabouts Press book from the Traveler's Literary Companion series!! I am proud to say that Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion is still in-print on its 10th anniversary and available from any one of a number of online and bricks-and-mortar booksellers. And here's hoping that Patricia Dubrava and I can put together the collection of our translations (some hers, some mine) of Agustín Cadena's short stories and find it the publisher he well deserves.

More anon.

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Almost finished with my translation of a most unusual and poetic collection of short stories by Mexican writer Rose Mary Salum... And almost finished with Marfa Mondays podcast 21... Stay tuned... 

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.