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

See Chinglish with the Center at the Berkeley Rep!

Posted on August 30, 2012, 01:39:00 PM by Scott Esposito

The Deal

Come see a great play by a Tony Award–winning playwright and benefit the Center for the Art of Translation. Our friends at Berkeley Rep are donating a portion of the ticket proceeds to the Center for the Thursday, September 27 performance of Chinglish, a play about translation and hilarious miscommunication. The theater has reserved a block of very good seats in section A ($61) and B ($45). Pay by credit card here or send a check today to guarantee your seating. Invite your significant other, friend, and anyone else who appreciates cross-cultural communication. But hurry, as availability is limited.

The Play

David Henry Hwang won three Obies and the Tony Award for Best Play with popular scripts like M. Butterfly and FOB. Now he’s back with a canny comedy of cross-cultural errors. In Chinglish, an American businessman heads to Asia to score a lucrative contract for his family’s firm—but the deal isn’t the only thing getting lost in translation when he collides with a Communist minister, a bumbling consultant and a suspiciously sexy bureaucrat. Two-time Obie-winner Leigh Silverman returns to Berkeley Rep to stage the twists in a terrific play she took to Broadway. Love is on the line, and laughter fills the ledger in Chinglish.

Running time: 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission

Showtime: Thursday, September 27 at 8pm.


To Purchase Tickets

Tickets at the $61 price level are sold out.



Tickets at the $45 price level are sold out.


2012 PEN Translation Award Winners

Posted on August 30, 2012, 11:54:00 AM by Scott Esposito

A hearty congrats to the recipients of PEN's 2012 translation awards: Jen Hofer for poetry, Bill Johnston for prose, and Margaret Sayers Peden for lifetime achievement.

A number of the winners and runners-up have connections to the Center. Johnston has seen his work published in TWO LINES, including the poem Crucifixion by Krzysztof Koehler (which can be read online at the link). Hofer has also been published in TWO LINES, and you can read her translation of The Double Man by Beatriz Escalante.

Runner-up Margaret Jull Costa has been in a number of editions of TWO LINES and recently appeared at an event with the Center discussing Jose Saramago.

And runners-up Susanna Nied and Sinan Antoon have had their translations published in TWO LINES. Notably, some of the translations of Nied's that she was nominated for—Light, Grass, and Letter in April by Inger Christensen—were originally published in TWO LINES and one can be read here.

TWO VOICES: Margaret Jull Costa on Jose Saramago

Posted on August 28, 2012, 12:34:00 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.

On August 13, Margaret Jull Costa joined the Center to discuss her work with some of the greatest authors to emerge from Spain and Portugal in the 20th century. Translator of Javier Marias, Antonio Lobo Antunes, and Nobel laureate Jose Saramago, among many others, Costa gave an insightful overview of Saramago's long career while discussing his perculiar, beautiful, and wholly original prose style.

Costa began her presentation by giving some idea of Saramago's context as a writer, developing a sense of his literary roots. She started with Saramago's deeply impoverished youth, saying that he taught himself to read by looking at newspapers. Citing Saramago's memoir, Small Memories, she shared his claim that "I was reading even before I could spell properly." She went on to elaborate the picture of Saramago's childhood with an excerpt from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, where he cites the importance of his grandparents to his career. Costa prefaced her reading with the assertion that "there are images in it that have stayed with me." After reading about Saramago's youth, she concluded "that seems to me almost the perfect education for a novelist," particularly a novelist like Saramago, who writes about the "ordinary people."

From here, Costa discussed Saramago's idiosyncracies as a stylist, beginning with his use of punctuation. She observed that he does not use quotation marks, preferring to denote speech with commas and capital letters, making for a transition that is, in Costa's words, "seamless and effortless." She also cited Saramago's claim to "write as if he was composing a score," arguing that punctuation other than commas and periods would prevent him from creating that "sense of flow" that he prized as an author. Costa pinpointed the emergence of this style to Saramago's fourth novel, Raised from the Ground, published in 1980, and only now coming out in English for the first time in Costa's translation.

Costa expanded her discussion of Saramago's style. He discovered it, she said, after being fired from his job as a newspaper editor and traveling to Portugal's south, where he became acquainted with the nation's poor, virtually indentured peasants. It was here that he made his stylistic breakthrough. Costa illustrated this breakthough by reading from her translation of Raised from the Ground. Throughout her presentation Costa made reference to how Saramago's prose carries the reader along, both by its particular use of punctuation and its sentence rhythms.

The Cave was the next book Costa discussed, arguing that it was "about relationships" and that, in contrast to the importance of relationships, Saramago sees consumerism as like Plato's cave: "shadows on the wall." This was evidence of what Costa regards as Saramago's essential humanity, as well as his dislike of authority. The latter is the reason why, claimed Costa, Saramago stopped capitalizing even proper names in his later books. A "typographical revolution," as Costa deemed it.

Costa wound down her remarks with the story of how she began translating Saramago after the death of his first English translator, Giovanni Pontiero. She then discussed the first book of Saramago's that she translated, All the Names, about a bureaucrat in a massive archive holding record cards on everyone in his city who becomes obsessed with the card of an unknown woman. She concluded by discussing Saramago's final novel, Cain, which she described as "an atheist's last kick at God."

A short Q & A session followed where Costa responded to questions about her beginnings as a translator, her initial reactions upon discovering Saramago, why the only named character in All the Names is a dog, and challenges to finding English equivalents for specific words in Saramago's Portuguese.

Video of this event can be seen here.

Video of Margaret Jull Costa on Jose Saramago

Posted on August 27, 2012, 10:47:00 AM by Scott Esposito

Here's the first installment of a multi-video presentation of our recent event with Margaret Jull Costa, filmed and uploaded to YouTube by local San Francisco literary scene luminary, Evan Karp.

Here Costa talks about Jose Saramago's deeply impoverished beginnings and how he taught himself to read (which, if you think about it, seems like a completely amazing accomplishment). Costa also reads a stretch from Saramago's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, of which she said, "there are images in it that have stayed with me for years." She later remarks that the stretch she reads that seems "to me almost the perfect education for a novelist." (Incidentally, the readings that Costa gives throughout this event give some insight into her process as a translator, as she commonly reads her translations out loud to monitor the quality of her work, and you can see that she is quite used to reading out loud.)

Costa goes on to talk about Saramago's idiosyncratic use of punctuation and how he got his start as a novelist. It's quite an interesting story.

August 25: Zebras Got Swag Release Party

Posted on August 20, 2012, 10:17:00 AM by John Oliver Simon

Poetry Inside Out students will read their poems and translations to celebrate the publication of Zebras Got Swag, an anthology of the best of PIO for the 2010-12 school years, on Saturday, August 25, 2012, at 2 pm, at the San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin Street (half a block from Civic Center BART), in the Children’s Creative Center on the second floor.

See Margaret Jull Costa at the Biggest Book Collector's Club in the United States

Posted on August 6, 2012, 01:02:00 PM by Scott Esposito

One of the cool things about events with the Center for the Art of Translation is the variety of venues that we bring into the mix. In June it was Fairy Tales at one of the coolest art/antique stores in the Mission. This coming Monday it's Margaret Jull Costa at what the San Francisco Chronicle calls "the largest book collector's club in the United States."

Home to over 3,000 books, the Book Club of California is a pretty damn nice place for a bibliophile to spend a night of literature. Here's how the Chronicle describes it:

The room is actually three rooms - the library with a working card catalog in a wooden chest of drawers; a gallery; and, most prominently, an old-world-style reading room. . . .

"There are lots of rich colors and nice wood and comfy sofas," says Winterman, 32, who joined the club and is now a board member. "The rooms are re-energizing the club and making it an attractive place to hang out, which is particularly important."

Tickets for the event are $10, and there will be free drinks all night. You can get yours at Brown Paper Tickets.

August 2012 TWO LINES Online

Posted on August 2, 2012, 10:39:00 AM by Scott Esposito

We've just published the latest installment in TWO LINES Online, featuring some excellent writing from the French. We have an excerpt from the forthcoming novel From We Are the Birds of the Coming Storm (published by the incredible Seagull Books) by the prizewinning author Lola Lafon. It is translated by David and Nicole Ball and deals with a body in coma that may or may not have actually died:

The doctors hesitate between several outcomes:

You’re going to die. They don’t use that word.

You’re going to wake up as a vegetable, that’s the word the resident uses. At the consonants of the word “vegetable,” the silence of the waiting room bristles with spikes of pain. I don’t look at your parents, I lower my eyes at the word and feel my cheeks reddening, hearing them talk about your inert body like that.

He adds that you can also wake up “simply” paralyzed or unable to speak. The range of after-effects, I’ve lost the thread of what he’s saying, but I do remember that: the range of after-effects.

Then we have two poems by the celebrated modernist poet Benjamin Fondane (pictured on the left). They are self-contained pieces from Fondane's long poem Ulysses, which he wrote after being inspired by a trip to Argentina at the behest of Borges' collaborator, Victoria Ocampo. The poems are called "Ulysses: Variant I" and "Ulysses: Variant II," and the translator is Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody.