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

Azorno on the Green Integer Blog

Posted on September 29, 2009, 04:49:08 PM

The Green Integer Blog has a nice review of Azorno by Inger Christensen (excerpted in our anthology), a very elaborate, playfully metafictional, but short novel. It starts with structure:

As in most of her writings, Inger Christensen's 1967 fiction Azorno, is a highly structured work. In this case, seven characters?Randi, Katarina, Louise, Xenia, Bathsheba (Bet), Sampel and Azorno?each of the women pregnant, are in the process of writing fictions. Each of their narratives?although one who be hard placed to describe any of them as having a plot?contains similar actions, phrases, and events.

Later on, the reviewer observes:
Christensen asks as many have before her--but in a highly original manner--what is reality, who of us is real? Several of her figures often have the feeling that somewhere there is a person who exactly at the same moment makes the same notes to be woven into a novel about him or herself.
It is only in the final section of this lyrical work that we sense we may have broken through to a seeming reality.

Like a knife through water

Posted on September 28, 2009, 05:40:12 PM

Here, translator Rika Lesser describes her first experience hearing Swedish poet Göran Sonnevi perform his work. Lesser's translation of Mozart's Third Brain by Sonnevi has just been published by Yale University Press. Sonnevi's work is also available in Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed, from the Center for the Art of Translation.)
It is now twenty-seven years since I first heard Göran Sonnevi read from his work at an event called Scandinavia Today, a program organized by the Academy of American Poets and the American-Scandinavian Foundation at the Guggenheim Museum, in which a panel of Nordic poets and American poet/translators spoke, and then the foreign poets read. I had been wedged between Finnish and Norwegian guests on the panel. Sonnevi, coming alphabetically last (by country), read last, from Robert Bly's just published The Economy Spinning Faster and Faster (1982), perhaps the final bilingual chapbook in Bill Zavatsky's SUN series, containing just ten poems. Back then, there was a glass booth above the Guggenheim auditorium, in which I was pacing, with the little book in hand, prepped for vetting.

Like many actors and opera singers, Sonnevi stammers when he speaks but not when he performs his poems before an audience. I did not know this. When I had spent a year in Sweden in 1974-75, I could not understand why his poems were all the rage. I have written that I considered them texts that trickled down page after page, hugging the left margin. . . . texts I regarded chiefly as tracts on linguistics, mathematics, politics—subjects about which I preferred to read in other forms.

What can I say? Hearing him read was a turning point in my life as a poet and translator. Sonnevi was born in 1939, I in 1953; we both still call these performances readings. He requires a freestanding microphone but no DJ. But somehow read is not the right word for what he does; neither is incant or intone. His voice is fluent and singing; there is intensity without drama or melodrama in it. For me the sensation of hearing him read that first time was sensual, nearly erotic. Like a knife . . . through water?

Göran Sonnevi and I spent the two days following the event taking long walks all around New York City, discussing Swedish and American poetry, poetics, talking chiefly about rhythm, its overriding importance in translation. We also talked quite a bit about our earlier training in the natural sciences, and our interest in music, especially piano (my training was classical, he played jazz). I did not really start translating his work until some time near the spring equinox of 1984; it would be nine years before A Child Is Not a Knife (1993), the first book-length edition of his poems in English came out in my translation from Princeton University Press. Part of the Lockert Library of Poetry in Translation, it is still available.

Inger Christensen in the Harvard Crimson

Posted on September 24, 2009, 04:08:09 PM

The Harvard Crimson, which hands it to most other papers in terms of covering literature-in-translation, offers a review of the intriguing novel Azorno by Inger Christensen, a perennial Nobel candidate until her death earlier this year:

Whether Azorno is a novelesque prose poem, or a poetic novel written in prose is up for debate?as is much of the nature of its contents. A hall of mirrors, the book was written by acclaimed Danish poet Inger Christensen, who died in early January of this year at 73. Denise Newman's translation of Azorno, released in January, marked the first time since its publication in the late 1960s that the novel has been available in English, and while the book's experimental nature makes its absence rather unsurprising, the arrival of its 105 pages is long overdue . . .

Azorno is one of this year's interesting translated novels that we've chosen to excerpt in Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed. In addition to several other excerpted novels, we've also got about 20 stories, excerpts, and poems that are appearing in English for the first time—some from very established names like Mahmoud Darwish, and some from people we hope the English language will develop more of a relationship with in the future.

Günter Grass Gets Into Politics

Posted on September 22, 2009,

As a writer, Günter Grass has never been averse to political matters, and The Times (London) is now reporting that he's upping his involvement in politics as a citizen, campaigning for the Social Democrats:

Now, with the Social Democrats at risk of imploding in eastern Germany, Mr Grass is back on the road, taking his VW minibus emblazoned with Günter Grass ? en route from Germany to Germany across the country, filling theatres and concert halls. . . .
The main aim, says the novelist, essayist and poet, is to stop a lurch to the Centre Right on election day, September 27. Voter apathy is his main target.

Only the second English translation in the 50-year history of Grass's masterpiece, The Tin Drum—a very political work—will be publishing next month in the U.S. We're featuring an excerpt in Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed, and we'll also have the book's translator, Breon Mitchell, in San Francisco in November for two public events.

Natasha Wimmer on Forthcoming Bolano Books

Posted on September 21, 2009, 04:13:16 PM

We'll be doing two events with Natasha Wimmer on October 6 and 7. (Wimmer will also be editing an anthology of translated literature for the Center, due out next year.)
In addition to reading from and discussing 2666, at these events Wimmer will be talking about some new Bolaño projects she currently has ongoing. To give readers an idea of what to expect, I chatted briefly with Wimmer about these books.
Scott Esposito: First I wanted to ask you about these new Bolaño texts they're digging up, particularly El Tercer Reich (The Third Reich) and the supposed sixth book of 2666.
Natasha Wimmer: I've read The Third Reich (and in fact, it looks like I'll be translating it, though I have yet to sign on the dotted line). It's about an elaborate board game called The Third Reich (Bolaño was a great fan of war games), it takes place on the Costa Brava, and it pits a German tourist against an enigmatic South American who rents paddle boats on the beach. I loved it.
I haven't read the purported sixth section of 2666, or even really heard much about it. Maybe it will remain forever ghostly—the spectral answer to all our 2666 questions.
SE: That seems preferable to its publication, in my opinion. You're currently translating Antwerp and Entre parentesis (Between Parentheses) for New Directions, due out in 2010 and 2011, respectively. First I wanted to ask you about Antwerp, which is a novel but actually predates Bolaño's first novel (The Skating Rink, just published in English translation) by a good 13 years.
NW: Antwerp is Bolaño intensified and condensed—the Big Bang, as Bolaño's friend and literary executor Ignacio Echevarria referred to it. It was written in 1980, which makes it his first novel, though it wasn't published until 2002. It's a very short book, with short chapters, each of them like a prose poem, but there is a semblance of a crime plot, and the action (such as it is) takes place on the Costa Brava.
SE: And then Entre parentesis is Bolaño's nonfiction?
NW: Entre parentesis (translation of the title still to be decided) is a collection of nonfiction, almost all of it written during the last five years of Bolaño's life. In effect, it's a kind of literary autobiography—intense, funny, scathing, moving. Bolaño isn't bound by many conventions in writing about himself or about other writers, and he's in full oblique-lyrical sail in lots of these pieces. It's the kind of book that actually makes you gasp in places—at Bolaño's daring, at his honesty, and at his skill.
SE: And lastly, I wanted you to weigh in on talk of Bolaño being the next great thing in Latin American letters, in the lineage of Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
NW: It's hard for me to be objective on the subject—I'm too close to the books to get the proper perspective on them. And it's probably too early for anyone else to judge definitively, either. All I can say is that Bolaño's voice echoes in a very persuasive way.

What Can Translation Do For Students?

Posted on September 17, 2009, 05:11:30 PM

(In addition to publishing the Two Lines series of literary anthologies and conducting events, the Center for the Art of Translation promotes literature and translation through an in-school program called Poetry Inside Out. Anita Sagástegui, Poetry Inside Out Instructor & Curriculum Specialist, writes here about some of what PIO does.)
I work with Poetry Inside Out, a program of the Center for the Art of Translation that teaches students the craft of poetry and literary translation. During the last nine years, over 6,000 elementary and middle students have participated in PIO, where they've read a variety of Spanish-language poets who enliven their naturally playful imaginations. The students translate from some of the great authors of the Spanish language, letting them get firsthand knowledge of the various devices and forms the poets have used, as well as begin to imagine themselves as poets, as translators and as participants in a global literary community.
People have asked us, why translation? Some see translation as cheating—at best unnecessary, at worst detrimental to studying English. What does a ten year-old child translating a poem by Pablo Neruda really get out of the experience? For a start, translation builds literacy, interpretive, and investigative skills. It enhances conceptual understanding and critical thinking, and it builds vocabulary. We at PIO like to think of translation as Jorge Luis Borges once put it when he suggested that translation is another way of reading—and in turn reading is a way of interpreting and reconstructing a text.

We've also found that literary translation in the classroom isn't just limited to bilingual students. Monolingual students are particularly amazed to discover that, given supportive scaffolding, they can translate. Students of multiple ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds contribute and collaborate with those outside their normal social circle. Students get to see ways of working with words they might not have otherwise encountered, and they have fun! They feel like detectives, piecing together the clues they find in the individual words, ideas, context, rhythm, and tone of a poem.
In the process of collaboration, students discover that there is more than one correct translation: in small groups they play with word order and word choice, debating between their various constructions. They learn that not every word must be translated, but every idea should be. As they learn the craft of translation, Poetry Inside Out students no longer think of translation as copying the poem into another language. They come to see it as creative writing—the re-imagining and re-creation of the poem in another language. They transform the prejudiced phrase, it doesn't sound as good as the original, into it sounds really cool in translation!
To illustrate this point, I'd like to leave you with four different translations of Colombian poet Aurelio Arturo's Madrigales made by students in the Poetry Inside Out Program. Enjoy!
Llámame en la hondonada de tus sueños más dulces,
llámame con tus cielos, con tus nocturnos
llámame con tus noches desgarradas al fondo
por esa ala inmensa de imposible blancura.
Llámame en el collado, llámame en la llanura,
y en el viento y la nieve, la aurora y el poniente,
llámame con tu voz, que es esa flor que sube
mientras a tierra caen llorándola sus pétalos.
—Aurelio Arturo, Colombia
Call me from the depths of your sweetest dreams,
call me with your skies, and your nocturnal heavens,
call me in your nights broken on the horizon
by that huge wing of impossible white.
Call me on the hill, call me in the valley
and in the wind and snow, the dawn and sunset,
call me with your voice, that is the flower that goes
while to the earth fall crying its petals.
—Jazmine Paniagua, 5th grade
Call me in the depth with your sourest dreams,
call me with your sky, and your black heavens,
call me in your nights broken into the horizon
by that gigantic wing of impossible whiteness.
Call me when you are shooting out of a volcano,
call me in the valley and in the swooshing wind and
snow, the dawn and the falling sun,
call me with your vowels, that is the daisy that rises
while the earth's gravity will fall with crying petals.
—Translated by Moesha Escamilla, 6th grade
Call me in the ravine of your sweetest dreams,
call me with your skies, with your nocturnal
call me with your nights clawed to the bone
by that immense wing of impossible whiteness.
Call me along the hills, call me within the valleys,
and in the wind and snow, the dawn and sunset,
call me with your voice, that is this flower that rises
while her petals, sobbing for her, fall to earth.
—Translated by Audrey Larkin, 7th grade
Call me in the deep side of your sweetest sour
call me with your big emotional skies and your
nocturnal heavens,
call me in your broken dream by that
huge storm of impossible whiteness.
Call me on the hill, call me in the valley,
and in the enormous winds and the white snow, the dawn and the beautiful sunset,
call me with your voice, that is the flower that opens
while falling to the earth, crying for its petals.
—Translated by Nataly Garibay, 8th grade

On Discovering and Translating Christian Bobin

Posted on September 15, 2009, 05:54:07 PM

(Christian Bobin is a literary phenomenon in France, where his numerous short works can sell as many as 100,000 copies. His books are hard to categorize—Alison Anderson, his English language translator characterizes them as neither fact nor fiction, neither prose nor poetry, but a combination of all four.
Her translation of Bobin's book
A Little White Dress is publishing this December. In Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed we'll be publishing an excerpt from his book The Lady In White, devoted to Emily Dickinson.
Here Anderson writes about how she first discovered this author.)

In 1994 I went to the huge book trade fair in Los Angeles, I think it was still called the ABA Convention in those days (now it's Book Expo America). Thousands of stands, millions of books; I was a beginning translator and totally overwhelmed. So it was with some sense of relief and homecoming that I found the stand of the French Publishers' Agency; they were smoking, surreptitiously, and while I waited for them to finish their clopes and condescend to talk to me, I browsed their books: prominently displayed was a small volume, with Gallimard's plain white collection cover, by an author I'd never heard of called Christian Bobin, and who was, it seemed, all the rage. I didn't get the book, but the name stuck.
Some months later I was in France I found a paperback by the same Monsieur Bobin at the Maison de la Presse in a provincial town. The cover was more alluring, but perhaps deceiving: a black and white photograph by Edouard Boubat. I was disappointed when I couldn't get into the book (after all, that promising cover . . .); it seemed odd, neither a short story nor a novel, and yet it was prose: what was the writer getting at? Where were the characters, the plot? Who was this strange narrator?
Fortunately I kept it, and went back to it a few years later, and suddenly it clicked, as things tend to do with experience. Bobin makes no pretence of trying to write like a novelist, or storyteller, or journalist, or memoirist, or anyone else; you have to read him as he is, opening your mind. He is in a category on his own. His writing is closest to poetry, perhaps, in the lyricism, the choice of subject matter, the almost Romantic emphasis on the nobility of solitude, reflection, love. He teaches you to read all over again, to love words.
On every subsequent trip to France I bought up each new book; Bobin's works are short, rarely more than a hundred pages, and he sometimes publishes several a year. I decided I would try to translate some of his short pieces. I sent them out; they came back; people didn't get it. He's not edgy, or trendy, or experimental; he's deeply reflective, almost religious. Maybe people aren't used to thinking about life in a philosophical way, at least not through literature. But while I may not have been doing a good job marketing or pitching Bobin to potential publishers and journals (something which Bobin would abhor, anyway, the whole commercial side of literature), I must have been doing something right in my translation, because in 2004 I was awarded an NEA translation grant for three short volumes, two of which, A Little Party Dress and I Never Dared Hope You Would Come, have finally found a home at Autumn Hill Press and will be published at the end of this year.
La Dame Blanche, an excerpt of which will appear in the upcoming edition of Two Lines, is Bobin's most recent publication in France as of this writing, an imagined biography of Emily Dickinson. They are kindred souls, both living reclusive lives enriched by their ability to focus on the everyday, in a familiar landscape that is, in fact, never the same from one day to the next. Reading Bobin opens one's eyes onto a new way of seeing the world—in fact it may be an old way, a forgotten way, but it becomes fresh beneath his pen, through his words. Something he must share, after all, with the Lady in White from Amherst. Like all his other texts, La Dame Blanche is short, poetic, inventive. He does not so much tell her story as suggest a way of understanding who she was, of seeing her subliminally, intuitively.
Moral of this story for me, at least: let the Frenchman finish smoking his cigarette; you never know what treasure you might discover in the meantime, even if it is only a name, with a certain resonance.

Fady Joudah on Mahmoud Darwish

Posted on September 14, 2009, 08:10:27 PM

Events from the Center for the Art of Translation

Posted on September 14, 2009, 05:08:14 PM

Download the entire 2009-10 LIT&LUNCH schedule (PDF)

June 9

Basque's Leading Author, Bernardo Atxaga, in the East Bay — RSVP on Facebook!


  • Presented by the Center for the Art of Translation at Mrs. Dalloway's

  • 2904 College Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94705-2204 (College at Russell)

  • Wednesday, June 9, 5:30 pm

  • FREE

Join us at Mrs. Dalloway's in the East Bay for a special night with Bernardo Atxaga! Info on the author is available below.

June 8

Lit&Lunch: Basque's Leading Author, Bernardo Atxaga — RSVP on Facebook!


  • Presented by the Center for the Art of Translation at 111 Minna Gallery

  • 111 Minna St., San Francisco, CA 94105 (Minna @ 2nd)

  • Tuesday, June 8, 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm

  • FREE—sandwiches and alcoholic beverages for sale

As The New York Times says, the Basque novelist Bernardo Atxaga has spent his career moving between fairy tales and terrorism. He began writing in the 1970s when Spain was under the rule of the dictator Francisco Franco, and the language he wrote in, Euskera, was forbidden by the Spanish government. Now widely recognized as the standard bearer of Basque literature, Atxaga has become, according to The Guardian, Basque's strongest literary voice.
The Center for the Art of Translation brings its successful 2009-10 Lit&Lunch season to a close with Atxaga in person discussing his acclaimed new book, The Accordionist's Son, which The Guardian calls a graceful, thought-provoking novel. Atxaga talks about his early experiences with writing in a suppressed language, as well as his position as an author between Spanish and Basque cultures. As Atxaga has said, you cannot just go to a literary event and read a poem when someone you know has been killed the day before. You do go and you read the poem, but first you have to say what you think.

May 20

Poet Gary Snyder at the Asian Art Museum — RSVP on Facebook!


  • Presented by the Center for the Art of Translation at the Asian Art Museum

  • 200 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA

  • Thursday, May 20, 7:00 pm

  • $15 non-members, $5 members, Tickets available here

Join the Center for a rare opportunity to hear lauded poet Gary Snyder read his poetry in person! Snyder's amazing poetry and the beautiful Asian Art Museum will make this an unforgettable event! Snyder has translated numerous classical Chinese poems and is particularly well-known internationally for his translations of the Tang hermit poet Han Shan (Cold Mountain). Snyder lived over ten years in Kyoto where he studied Linji Chan, Rinzai Zen, at Daitoku-ji.

May 11

Lit&Lunch: Marlon Hom on Angel Island Detention Poems and Chinatown Songs — RSVP on Facebook!



  • Presented by the Center for the Art of Translation at 111 Minna Gallery

  • 111 Minna St., San Francisco, CA 94105 (Minna @ 2nd)

  • Tuesday, May 11 ? 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

  • FREE—sandwiches and alcoholic beverages for sale

Join us for Lit&Lunch as we present an important exploration of frequently overlooked Chinese-American literature. First, we mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Angel Island Detention Center. Nearly 200,000 Chinese immigrants were detained on Angel Island, and many of them carved poetry into the detention center's wooden walls. Author, scholar, and director of the California State University International Programs in China Marlon Hom talks about these unique glimpses into the heart of the immigrant experience and how they were ultimately saved for future generations.
Then we turn to Hom's translations of Chinatown songs that pervaded San Francisco's Chinese-American community in the early 1900s. Hom talks about how these songs helped Chinese cope with the pressures of immigration and racism, as well as how they were published in 1911 and 1915, and their importance on subsequent Chinese-American literature.
Join us to celebrate and explore these beautiful, essential testaments to a unique part of American history. Hom gives Lit&Lunch attendees a rare chance to hear these immigrants describe in their own words what they thought of the first Americans they met, as well as their disappointments and triumphs in a new land.

April 21

Sofi Oksanen, Tommy Wieringa, and Christos Tsilokas in conversation with Oscar Villalon — RSVP on Facebook!


  • Presented by the Center for the Art of Translation, Berkeley Arts and Letters, and The Believer

  • First Congregational Church of Berkeley

  • 2345 Channing Way at Dana, Berkeley

  • Wednesday, April 21, 7:30 pm

  • Tickets $12 advance ($15 door) at Brown Paper Tickets (or by phone 1-800-838-3006)

Join us for a feast of world literature: 3 authors, 3 countries! Sofi Oksanen was named Estonia's Person of the Year in 2009 and is the author of the award-winning novel Purge, soon to be published in 25 languages. Tommy Wieringa is the author of Joe Speedboat--a sparkling coming-of-age novel that recalls The World According to Garp (NRC Handelsblad) and has sold over 300,000 copies in Holland. And Christos Tsilolkas's The Slap--told from 8 different perspectives--has sold over 100,000 copies in 11 countries. They'll be in conversation with book critic and writer Oscar Villalon, the former book editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.

April 18

The 29th Annual Northern California Book Awards — RSVP on Facebook!


  • Co-presented by the Center for the Art of Translation, Poetry Flash, and the Northern California Book Reviewers

  • San Francisco Public Library, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin Street

  • Sunday, April 18, 2010 ? 1:00 pm

  • FREE entry

Co-sponsored by the Center for the Art of Translation. Join us for the 29th Annual Northern California Book Awards. The awards honor the work of Northern California authors in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translation and Children's Literature. The featured speaker is Cody Award winner Nancy J. Peters, co-owner and former publisher of City Lights Books. A book sale by Book Bay follows the event.

April 13

LIT&LUNCH: Israel's National Poet: Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld on Dahlia Ravikovitch — RSVP on Facebook!


  • Presented by the Center for the Art of Translation at 111 Minna Gallery

  • 111 Minna St., San Francisco, CA 94105 (Minna @ 2nd)

  • Tuesday, April 13, 2010 ? 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

  • FREE

Dahlia Ravikovitch was more than Israel's leading female poet: she was also an outspoken activist who challenged Israel to forge its identity and once aided Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish when he was under house arrest. Hear acclaimed translators Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld talk about this enigmatic figure, the challenges posed by the Hebrew language, and when happens when two people work on the same book. As Bloch has said, Working with Chana Kronfeld has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life.

March 31

Drinks and Spanish Lit: Peter Bush Reads La CelestinaRSVP on Facebook!



  • Peter Bush reading his new translation of La Celestina, published by Penguin Classics

  • Presented by the Center for the Art of Translation

  • Mechanics' Institute Library Meeting Room, 4th Floor, 57 Post St.

  • Wednesday, March 31, drinks @ 6:00 pm, event starts @ 6:30

  • FREE

What came before Don Quixote? Give yourself five points if you said La Celestina. A Spanish Romeo and Juliet, Celestina was published in 1499 and became Spain's first-ever bestseller, paving the way for everything from Don Quixote to the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, and beyond. Grab a glass of wine and hear Peter Bush read from his acclaimed new translation and talk about why this book is a cornerstone of Spanish literature.

March 20

Marian Schwartz's Translation Workshop


  • Award-winning translator Marian Schwartz leading a translation workshop

  • Presented by the Center for the Art of Translation and the Northern California Translators Association

  • Mechanics' Institute Library Meeting Room, 4th Floor

  • Saturday, March 20, 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm

  • Registration and price schedule here

Are you interested in getting started as a translator? Are you unsure of the first steps to take? Do you have questions about details like copyright rules? If so, Marian Schwartz's workshop is for you. It'll give an overview of practical topics such as choosing projects, rights and permissions, the publishing business, and the Internet and the literary translator. Then attendees will get to talk with Marian about just what literary translation is, plus undertake a hands-on translation of a passage of fiction.

March 9

LIT&LUNCH: The Translator as Overachiever: (A Nobel Winner and a Runaway Bestseller): Alison Anderson on JMG Le Clézio and Muriel Barbery



  • Presented by the Center for the Art of Translation at 111 Minna Gallery

  • 111 Minna St., San Francisco, CA 94105 (Minna @ 2nd)

  • Tuesday, March 9, 2010 ? 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

  • FREE

Literary translation is often a job with little renown and few financial rewards, but translator Alison Anderson managed to strike it big twice in 2008: the French author JMG Le Clézio, whose novels Anderson has translated, received the Nobel Prize for literature, and Muriel Barbery's novel Elegance of the Hedgehog became a national bestseller. Anderson talks about the pleasures and the pains of becoming a hot commodity and the books behind these literary celebrities.

February 9

LIT&LUNCH: Rediscovering a Forgotten Genius: Susan Bernofsky on Robert Walser


  • Presented by the Center for the Art of Translation at 111 Minna Gallery

  • 111 Minna St., San Francisco, CA 94105 (Minna @ 2nd)

  • Tuesday, February 9, 2010 ? 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

  • FREE

Although Kafka revered him and he is widely celebrated in Europe, Robert Walser only recently began attracting readers in the United States. After being featured in publications like The New Yorker over the past few years, this literary master has developed a devoted following among American readers. Translator Susan Bernofsky talks about rediscovering a forgotten genius, as well as the ins and outs of translating Walser's singular prose.

November 10

LIT&LUNCH: Re-translating a Masterpiece: Breon Mitchell on Günter Grass


  • Breon Mitchell discussing and reading from his new re-translation of The Tin Drum

  • Presented by the Center for the Art of Translation at 111 Minna Gallery

  • 111 Minna St., San Francisco, CA 94105 (Minna @ 2nd)

  • Tuesday, November 10, 2009 ? 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

  • FREE

2009 sees the publication of one of the most important re-translations in decades: Breon Mitchell's re-translation of The Tin Drum by Günter Grass, only the second time this novel has been translated into English in its 50-year history. Bring a lunch and join the Center for this LIT&LUNCH event! Mitchell will read from his excellent new translation, discuss why it was important to give readers a second translation of The Tin Drum, and talk about the unique collaboration with Grass that made such a daunting work possible.
For the re-translation, Mitchell spent a week with Grass in Danzig, discussing word choice and visiting actual locations used in the book. The result is a fresh new translation that, as Mitchell says, offers a valuable new companion to the original translation. A translation is a reading, Mitchell writes, and every reading is necessarily personal, perhaps even idiosyncratic. Each new version offers, not a better reading, but a different one, one that foregrounds new aspects of the text, that sees it through new eyes, that makes it new.

November 9


Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed Book Release Party with Special Guest Breon Mitchell

  • Book release party with food, wine, and translators reading from Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed

  • Presented by the Center for the Art of Translation at Limn Gallery
  • 292 Townsend St., San Francisco, CA 94107
  • Monday, November 9, 2009 ? 6:00 pm

  • $10 Suggested Donation

Join the Center for the Art of Translation for its book release party to celebrate the publication of its anthology of literature in translation, Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed. Attendees can expect good food, good wine, and lots of opportunities to talk about literature with professional writers and passionate readers. The event is headlined by a reading from Breon Mitchell, whose re-translation of Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum has just been published, and will include other readings of great literature, including Haitian poetry, Sudanese fiction?and a special tribute to the late Danish poet Inger Christensen. It all takes place in the beautiful LIMN Gallery, currently exhibiting a show of contemporary Chinese photography.

October 7

Natasha Wimmer in Conversation with Daniel Alarcón



  • Natasha Wimmer talking about Roberto Bolaño and Latin American literature with noted local writer Daniel Alarcón

  • Presented by the Center for the Art of Translation at Lone Palm

  • 3394 22nd St., San Francisco, CA 94110 (22nd @ Guerrero)

  • Wednesday, October 7, 2009—doors open 6:00 pm, event starts 6:30 pm

  • Suggested donation $7

Grab a drink and listen to two people who know Latin America inside-out talk about Roberto Bolaño's colorful life and his influence on Latin American writers. Natasha Wimmer, the award-winning translator of Bolaño's blockbuster novels 2666 and The Savage Detectives, is joined by local literary celebrity Daniel Alarcón, named one of the top young American novelists by Granta.

October 6

LIT&LUNCH: Translating a Latin American Superstar


  • Natasha Wimmer reading and discussing Roberto Bolaño

  • Presented by the Center for the Art of Translation at 111 Minna Gallery

  • 111 Minna St., San Francisco, CA 94105 (Minna @ 2nd)

  • Tuesday, October 6, 2009 ? 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

  • FREE

Bring a lunch and join us for the first event of our 2009-10 LIT&LUNCH season.
Natasha Wimmer became a familiar name in the world of literature when she translated Roberto Bolaño's two biggest novels, The Savage Detectives and 2666. Both books have enjoyed the kind of strong sales and widespread popularity that most works-in-translation can only dream of, with 2666 picking up the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Novel of 2008 (the first translation in 7 years to do so).
In this first event of our 2009-2010 season, Natasha Wimmer will read and discuss her translations of an author many are calling the biggest superstar to come out of Latin America since Gabriel García Márquez. She'll also read never-before-published excerpts from Bolaño works she is currently translating for New Directions.
Writing in the New York Review of Books, Francisco Goldman called him the great Bolaño and praised 2666 as an often shockingly raunchy and violent tour de force (though the phrase seems hardly adequate to describe the novel's narrative velocity, polyphonic range, inventiveness, and bravery). Hear Wimmer read from her translation of this book, discuss the challenges of bringing this unique author into English, and explain what makes Bolaño so great.

Walking Around Pretending to Be Another Person: Susan Bernofsky on Yoko Tawada

Posted on September 10, 2009, 07:26:43 PM

(Translator Susan Bernofsky's newest translation is The Tanners by Robert Walser, published by New Directions. Here we discuss The Naked Eye by Yoko Tawada, published earlier this year, also by New Directions. An excerpt from The Naked Eye appears in Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed.)
Scott Esposito: Yoko Tawada is an author that you've translated repeatedly. What for you are the pleasures of translating Tawada, the things that pull you back in to do more of her work?
Susan Bernofsky: Yoko's work is always filled with surprises; she has a way of looking at things that's so idiosyncratic. I love the way she writes characters in confusing situations (an example of a confusing situation might be glancing in the mirror and discovering you're growing scales) and she always somehow manages to convey the delight inherent in being surprised, even when the changes are scary. Characters in her work tend to find everything around them extremely interesting, and reading her makes me feel that way too. It all feels so obvious and simple when you read her, and when you translate her it quickly becomes clear what a precise way she has of saying things and how difficult it is to achieve a tone that conveys wonder without just seeming kitschy or banal.

SE: The Naked Eye is in part about how language filters identity—Tawada wrote parts in Japanese and parts in German, depending on which seemed more appropriate to the particular thing she wanted to express. This is the first book in which she has experimented with two languages at once (though she has previously written books in both languages). As you were translating, did you notice any particular differences between this one and others that were originally written entirely in German?
SB: You know, I didn't, and that surprised me in retrospect when I found out how she'd written the book—she didn't fess up to me until afterward. In a sense, though, she's written so much in German now in between writing books in Japanese (it's about 50-50 as I understand it), that this switching back and forth between languages must be second nature for her now. I suspect it didn't feel nearly as odd to her to be writing a book this way as it seems to us when we hear about it. And I would guess that the Japanese manuscript of the book differs a great deal from the German version. Wish I could read it!
SE: The narrator is obsessed with the films of actress Catherine Deneuve (which are in French, a language she doesn't speak). It seemed to me that in addition to Japanese and German this was another kind of language, that of cinematography, which conditions its own kinds of thoughts. This kind of intertextuality reminded me of the novel Rex by Jose Manuel Prieto, just published in English translation by Esther Allen. Allen says that in this particular novel Prieto writes as a translator, to expose the way in which all meaning is temporary and provisional, dependent upon its immediate context, subject to infinite and unpredictable shifts. Would you say that in The Naked Eye Tawada is after similar goals?
SB: Absolutely. I love how Esther puts that. Yoko's work plays a great deal with the parallels between the way in which being literally foreign in a context defines your culturally inflected understanding of it and the way being foreign in all the figurative senses of that term creates a subjectivity that inflects understanding just as much. In effect, there's no way to escape from the estrangements of subjectivity even within a single language and culture. That's why (or one reason why) Yoko's work is so dominated by fragmented narrative forms, stories filled with gaps—because straightforward linear narration creates the illusion of a continuity she doesn't believe in.

SE: In TWO LINES you wrote that perhaps the greatest challenge of translating this novel was maintaining the slight feeling of alienation in the language, which on the one hand is literary, rich and lyrical, and on the other, possessed of a slight halting quality that seems intended to remind us that the narrator is speaking a language not native to her. How was this challenge different from, say, the challenge of simply rendering lyrical prose?
SB: I was always having to watch my diction and sentence constructions, making sure that my language use didn't get too fancy. The book's narrator is educated and cultured, but she speaks plainly because she's using a new language. In a sense I prefer thinking of the book as having been written in German than in Japanese because we see the narrator being caught up in, subsumed by this European world—and history is written by the victors, she's speaking the language that swallowed her up.
SE: Lastly, in a previous interview, you called the process of translation a writing exercise with maximal constraints. You also said it was like an invitation to dress up as a stranger and try to pull off the disguise. Is this something you enjoy about translation, this very rigorous attempt at mimesis?
SB: What could be more fun than walking around pretending to be another person (in this case: speak in another voice) and convince people to believe you! Nothing makes me happier as a translator than when people talk about the different authors I translate sounding different from one another. Sure, I have my own voice, and inevitably it will come through somewhat in the translations, but what I'm really hoping to accomplish when I translate a book is to write someone else's voice so convincingly that everyone instantly believes it's her or him doing the talking.

The Translator's Toolkit: One Dozen Tools for Organizing a Translation-in-Progress

Posted on September 9, 2009, 04:18:46 PM

(We're kicking off a new feature at Two Words that'll collect together a list of resources for translators: The Translator's Toolkit. Our first offering comes from Two Lines translator C.M. Mayo. In addition to translating for Two Lines, C.M. has done work for numerous journals and presses, as well ... [more]

The Huge 2666 Paperback

Posted on September 8, 2009, 04:56:56 PM

Those who have been holding out for a 1-volume, paperback edition of Roberto Bolaño's 2666 can now purchase just that from Picador. The book has just been released, totaling 912 pages and costing $18.00.
Bay Area residents who have waited till now to give Bolaño's enormous opus a s... [more]

Tarek Eltayeb and Immigration from Egypt to Vienna

Posted on September 3, 2009, 05:47:36 PM

Yesterday, translator Kareem James Abu-Zeid discussed his work on Cities Without Palms by Sudanese writer Tarek Eltayeb. We're publishing an excerpt from Cities in our forthcoming anthology.
Although Eltayeb is little-known in the U.S., he is a major author in other parts of the world. He has li... [more]

TWO LINES World Writing in Translation Presents Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed

Posted on September 2, 2009, 11:06:49 PM

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The stories and poems within TWO LINES open the reader up to a world that would otherwise be closed entirely, and to conne... [more]

TWO LINES World Writing in Translation Announces Guest Editors Natasha Wimmer and Jeffrey Yang

Posted on September 2, 2009, 10:28:52 PM

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The seventeenth volume of the TWO LINES World Writing in Translation series—the premiere anthology of literature-in-trans... [more]

Press Room

Posted on September 2, 2009, 10:20:19 PM

If you are a member of the media, contact us for press passes to our events, information on our programs and Lit&Lunch reading series, to arrange interviews, and to be added to our press list.
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That Very Same Simplicity Would Lead to the Greatest Difficulties

Posted on September 2, 2009, 05:27:21 PM

(Here, Kareem James Abu-Zeid discusses his translation of Cities without Palms by Sudanese author Tarek Eltayeb. An excerpt from this book is available in Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed, where Abu-Zeid writes that Tarek's early experiences in Europe greatly inform his writing, much of which deals with ... [more]

On (Not) Translating Catalan Literature

Posted on September 1, 2009, 05:21:56 PM

Lawrence Venuti's introduction to the special Catalan lit section in World Literature Today should be required reading for anyone concerned they're missing out on good literature that's not being translated.
Unfortunately, WLT has put it online in a format that makes it impossible to quote from,... [more]