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

The Spanish-Language Market

Posted on June 29, 2010, 05:27:07 PM

Publishing Perspectives offers an excellent article on the boom in Spanish-language books in the U.S.--particularly with regard to library patrons--and how more publishers are looking to the Guadalajara book fair in central Mexico for new titles:

In the small boom in Spanish-language publishing over the past decade, even as big publishers and major chain bookstores worked to ramp up their offerings for Spanish readers, libraries have played an irreplaceable role in serving the needs of Spanish-speaking communities around the country and in connecting readers to the right books. As part of our look into the current state of Spanish-language publishing in the US, we checked in with a few of the librarians on the front lines to find out how things look from their perspective. The verdict: the need for quality Spanish-language books is only growing stronger, and the economic downturn is driving readers to libraries in search of free information and entertainment even as it hurts libraries' ability to help them.

And while we're on the topic of Spanish-language reading material, did I mention that the Center offers a fully-bilingual collection of the best literature from Latin America: New World /New Words? It's got classics like Cortazar, Fuentes, and Cabrera Infante, along with lesser-known authors like Jorge Volpi and David Huerta. Edited by noted scholar and translator Tom Christensen and introducted by Gregory Rabassa, it's a book that, in my humble opinion, no Spanish-language library collection should be without.

The Literature House

Posted on June 28, 2010, 05:06:10 PM

One thing translation and literary culture needs in the U.S. are more spots where people can encounter great books and great authors. People have demonstrated that they will read great books, but often they're intimidated by the choices, or even be a foreign-sounding name or an author without much context to interest them.

One solution is discussed here. Via the Literary Saloon, an article that discusses the phenomenon of the Literaturhaus or literature house:

According to Moritz, literature houses aren't just a place for authors to make a stop on their marketing tours.
The idea was not only to create a place for reading, but also a gathering place, where authors could meet, translators, journalists and critics, said Moritz. That's why, for us, cafe and bookshop often go together.
Literature houses don't just open their doors for special events - they're also a place where people can meet for coffee or sit and flip through a magazine.

German translator Susan Bernofsky also posted on the Literature House phenom back in 2008, with photos and descriptions of several prominent houses.

Given the sheer complexity of just the name of the literaturWERKstatt berlin, we clearly have our work cut out for us if we hope to close the Literature House gap:

3. The literaturWERKstatt berlin was founded in 1991 and initially housed in the building that was formerly the site of the Literaturhaus Pankow am Majakowskiring in the Pankow district of East Berlin. Like many East German cultural institutions, the Literaturhaus Pankow was derailed by the loss of its GDR government funding after 1989, but the new literaturWERKstatt soon became an established part of the city's literary scene. The name literaturWERKstatt is full of puns - Werk is a (literary) work, a Werkstatt is a workshop, and a Literaturwerk-Statt is a site (Statt or Stätte) where the/a work of literature is accomplished, with a pinch of irony thrown in, since the preposition statt also means instead of, as in literature instead of works. Right from the start, this Literaturhaus distinguished itself as a home for hip new cutting-edge work and innovation, a point driven home by its relocation, in 2004, to an über-hip site in the trendy Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. The Kulturbrauerei (culture brewery) at Knaackstraße 97 really is a former brewery whose grounds have been renovated to house a number of cultural institutions. The literaturWERKstatt offers readings, contests, open mike events, poetry festivals and more. Of all the Literaturhäuser in Berlin, this is the one that best succeeds in creating a party atmosphere around literature to appeal to a younger audience.


Translation in New York Review

Posted on June 24, 2010, 11:26:23 PM

The new issue of the New York Review of Books has a lengthy piece by Tim Parks that covers two of the more noted books on literary translation this year: Best European Fiction 2010 and Why Translation Matters.
Parks raises some interesting points. This one will surely be contentious:

Remarking, in her short preface, on this reluctance of the anthology's contributors to be identified with their national cultures, Zadie Smith nevertheless feels that

if the title of this book were to be removed and switched with that of an anthology of the American short story, isn't it true that only a fool would be confused as to which was truly which?

Truly, truly, aside from superficial markers like names and places, or the fact that it is fairly easy to distinguish translated texts from those in their original tongue, I am not sure that Smith is altogether right. It seems to me rather that as we tackle intriguing stories from Latvia and Lithuania, Bosnia and Macedonia, we are struck by how familiar these voices are, how reassuringly similar in outlook to one another and ourselves.

Rebuilding the Tower of Babel

Posted on June 22, 2010, 05:36:11 PM

NPR's Joel Rose has a story on the latest trend in making human translators obsolete: crowd-sourcing. Here's the gist:

So linguists are trying to harness the wisdom of crowds to do what machines can't. It's known as crowd-sourcing, and researchers think it could help them get closer to something they've been pursuing for decades: the perfect translation machine.

This story isn't quite as egregious as some machine translation pieces I've seen, but it does make a few unpardonable errors. As Language Log noted, this is one of them:
Linguists hope that crowd-sourcing holds the key to translating hundreds of relatively obscure languages, such as Urdu, Pashto and Farsi.

Ah yes, that obscure Urdu, with roughly the same number of speakers as Italian. And Farsi, the official language of three separate nations (including one we're at one with and one we keep seeming to be on the verge of war with).
Beyond that, there's the fact that Rose seems not to realize that there's a considerable difference between using a crowd to translate a bunch of text messages (relatively short, self-contained prose) and a lengthy document. But at least he ends with a quote holding out the possibility that maybe translators won't be completely useless in a few years:
It's possible that crowd-sourcing will not get us all the way to fully automatic, high-quality translation, Resnik says. But it can get us a lot closer, by bringing humans and machines closer together in a way that hasn't happened before.

A Huge Loss for World Literature

Posted on June 21, 2010, 05:08:22 PM

Nobel laureate and masterful writer Jose Saramago died on Friday. The Guardian has a tribute to a legend:

Like many writers born outside powerful metropolitan centres (Portugal in the 1920s was no longer the world power it had been), from James Joyce to Orhan Pamuk, his writing sought to invent (or remake) Portugal as the centre, insisting on the universality of its inhabitants' experience. Yet this with an ironic, self-mocking wit. His brilliant novel The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, which gave form to a pseudonym of the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa in 1930s Lisbon, entailed an imaginative leap, he later wrote, to describe the city beyond the poor neighbourhoods he knew as a child. He was happy recalling his family's peasant origins. There is a touching description in his childhood memoir, Small Memories, of how his grandparents in Azinhaga would take ailing piglets into their warm bed, since the whole family depended on their survival.

Saramago's example makes a great point of what a world-class writer can do to bring a lesser-known language, region, or nation to international prominence. This was something we at the Center we talking about a great deal early in June when Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga came to town.
Writers like Saramago and Atxaga are proof of the continuing relevance longform narrative has in our world, no matter what we keep hearing about iPads, Google, and whatnot.

Translation as Contact Sport

Posted on June 21, 2010, 05:03:55 PM

Over at The Guardian, Sarah Ardizzone discusses an interesting way of determining which of two competing translations is the best:

The struggle of literary translation is mostly cups of tea and an agony of synonyms, but swords will be drawn at noon this Saturday when I will be going head to head with Frank Wynne, as we defend our translations of a specially commissioned short text from Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou.

A sort of translation boxing match . . . I like it. Here's a little more info:
If this trans-slam business (as I'm dubbing the Live Translation event) is hair-raising for Frank and me having our translating ticks laid bare for public scrutiny feels uncomfortably exposing whatever must Mabanckou be thinking? As an author with an international readership, he makes a leap of faith when he signs up to having his works translated into foreign languages and cultures that may be light years from the worlds of the Congolese characters he depicts. Yet here two allegedly proficient practitioners, both operating within the same language, are making different choices at every single linguistic crossroads.

Translation as an Act of Honor

Posted on June 17, 2010, 05:50:14 PM has an excellent blog posting by Alison Anderson on the French author Christian Bobin, as she's recently published two books of his in translation. (For what it's worth, when we had Alison for Lit&Lunch, she read an essay from one of her two new Bobin books (audio here), and we ended up selling out of them but for one copy.)
Anyway, here's part of what Alison had to say:

How do you honor a book that you love? You can reread it, leave it in a place of prominence on the bookshelf, tell everyone you know to read it, blog about it, start a book club to have others read it. Except that these books were written in French, and I was living in California, and Francophone friends were few and far between. In France, Bobin needs no introduction; some of his books have sold over 100,000 copies. He has a loyal, almost cult following, which he seems to find almost embarrassing; he lives in reclusion on a farm in Burgundy.
Then again, I reasoned, I'm a translator, I could translate these books, and offer to share the work with a wider world.
I thought about it for a long time. I feared too much would not make the transitionI feared too much would not make the transition . . .

Alison also drops a nice reference to the Bobin essay that you can read in the most recent volume of Two Lines, Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed:

He has also written a short lyrical biography of Emily Dickinson called The Lady in White, an excerpt of which has appeared in the most recent issue of the Two Lines journal of literary translation: Volume 16: Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed (a title Bobin would appreciate).

Don't Quit Your Day Job

Posted on June 14, 2010, 05:24:26 PM

Lapham's Quarterly has an interesting chart of famous world authors and what they would be earning in today's dollars. It ranges from Anthony Trollope--whose $50,000 job as a postal surveyor was both remunerative and offered much opportunity for travel and writing--to Charlotte Bronte, whose job as a governess (to put it mildly) paid mostly in experience.

Bernardo Atxaga at Mrs. Dalloway's

Posted on June 10, 2010, 09:44:29 PM

Bernardo Atxaga--author of The Accordionist's Son and Obabakoak--gave the Center two excellent events this week. We have some pictures from the second one, held at Mrs. Dalloway's bookstore in Berkeley. (We'll have audio from his Lit&Lunch event up soon.)
As you can see, we had a nice crowd for Atxaga (a large one for a Wednesday night, I was told). Atxaga gave a great performance in English, which is most definitely not his first language. I particularly liked when he quoted Chesterton (one of his favored writers) to a Spaniard in the audience who said that he didn't understand Americans and asked how Americans could understand Atxaga's writing. (As you can see, Atxaga's responses in the Q & A tended to be of the woolly, anecdote-upon-anecdote variety, but it all seemed to work just fine.)
There's Atxaga with the Center's Poetry Inside Out instructor John Oliver Simon, who did great work reading from The Accordionist's Son in Atxaga's stead.
And lastly there's the man himself signing books, of which he did quite a bit over the two days we had him for events.

TWO VOICES: Bernardo Atxaga, Leading Basque Novelist

Posted on June 8, 2010, 10:52:00 PM by Scott Esposito

A copy of this podcast can be downloaded here. You can also subscribe to all of the Center's audio on iTunes, or in RSS.

BernardoAs London's newspaper The Guardian once wrote, Bernardo Atxaga is not just a Basque novelist but the Basque novelist: a writer charged, whether he likes it or not, with exporting a threatened culture around the world. If Basque culture is threatened, its literature is perhaps most imperiled of all: Atxaga himself claims that just one hundred books have been written in the Basque language Euskara in the past 400 years.

At Lit&Lunch Atxaga shared his experiences writing in Euskara, as well as something of the culture he's so ably exported around the world. Atxaga read from his poetry in Basque, and Karl Pribram provided vivid readings of excerpts Atxaga chose from two of his major novels, Obabakoak (winner of Spain's National Literature Prize in 1989) and The Accordionist's Son (Atxaga's most recent work).

What Poetry Inside Out Does

Posted on June 7, 2010, 05:22:23 PM

We're in the midst of our donation campaign to raise money so that Poetry Inside Out can continue to bring translation to Bay Area schoolchildren next year. Our goal is $15,000 by June 18, which will help educate about 250 kids. If you can, donate a little money right here.
Our post today is by ... [more]

The Center for the Art of Translation Partners with Teachers & Writers to Bring Poetry Inside Out to New York City

Posted on June 3, 2010, 08:25:44 PM

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Contact: Scott Esposito, Marketing Coordinator
Tel: (415) 512-8812

June 3, 2010—The Center for the Art of Translation is pleased to announce a partnership with New York City's Teach... [more]

Alain Mabanckou on Writing in Foreign Languages

Posted on June 3, 2010, 05:10:11 PM

Bomb Magazine has an excerpt from an interview up with author Alain Mabanckou, whose new novel-in-translation, Broken Glass, was just published by Soft Skull.
Here he talks about writing in colonial languages versus African languages:
AM First of all, I learned French when I was six. This me... [more]

2010 PEN Translation Fund Grant Recipients

Posted on June 2, 2010, 06:48:39 PM

PEN has just announced its latest grant recipients, which you can read here.
There are a lot of intriguing titles that will hopefully find a publisher in English, including one involving the Thomas Hardy of Urdu Literature. The Center is pleased to note that Jeffrey Yang, who is the guest editor... [more]