Two Words: The Blog of the Center for the Art of Translation

Lit&Lunch with Edith Grossman on Nobel Prize Winner Mario Vargas Llosa and Others

Posted on March 11, 2008, by Scott Esposito

We were pleased to welcome the acclaimed translator of Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, Edith Grossman, to the Center for the Art of Translation’s Lit&Lunch series. In this podcast of the event she, named by Harold Bloom the Glenn Gould of translation, discusses both the art and the business of translation, and reads from her translations of authors Mario Vargas Llosa and Antonio Muñoz Molina.

Interestingly enough, as she details in this audio, Grossman never planned to become a translator; the work was first handed to her, much like it is now. She notes that friend Ronald Christ, who edited Review, the publication of what is now known as the Americas Society, got her started as a translator when he asked her to translate a story by the great Argentine writer Macedonio Fernández. She found herself really enjoying the work—one thing led to another, and she’s known now as one of the foremost translators of Spanish-language literature working today.

While the bulk of Grossman’s work has been with contemporary authors, she is also well known today for her work on Cervantes’ Don Quixote—a translation that received great praise, but did not come without great toil. Grossman explains that taking on a project like Don Quixote carried with it the weight of 400 years of scholarship; translation choices that might have been simpler with other books had to be squared with the wide range of Quixote translations that came before hers. In the end, though, this caution was well spent, as many critics have called Grossman’s Quixote the best available in English.

Grossman’s work is not limited to prose; she also works in poetry and has translated a collection of Spanish Renaissance Poetry, The Golden Age, published by W.W. Norton in 2006.

In addition to working full-time as a translator, Grossman is a tireless promoter of the cause of translated literature in the United States. After this event took place she gave a series of lectures at Yale entitled “Why Translation Matters” which was later compiled and published by the university’s press in a book of the same name. Some of her business savvy and arguments in favor of translation can be seen in the Q&A session that follows Grossman’s presentation in this audio.

Pointing to the importance of translated works on readers as well as writers, Grossman notes that Gabriel García Márquez, an author she has translated on more than one occasion, was hugely influenced by William Faulkner, even though he only experienced Faulkner in the Spanish. In that sense, Grossman has done American writers the same good turn that Faulkner’s translator did for García Márquez, giving them the opportunity to experience writers and styles they never would have known otherwise.

Interested readers can read part of Grossman's translation of Antonio Muñoz Molina's A Manuscript of Ashes, as well as her exclusive thoughts on the translation, in the Center's book Strange Harbors.

—text by Vanessa Ta