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

On Turning 21

Posted on January 20, 2015, 03:37:00 PM by Olivia Sears, Center Founder and President

The debut of Two Lines 21 this last fall marked our 21st issue as well as the beginning of our 21st year. The idea that reaching the age of 21 marks the entry into adulthood harkens back to English common law when a man could enter the knighthood — and of course this milestone was only relevant to men, and men of a certain class.

But 21 has been very good to women at Two Lines. In addition to the numerous impressive women translators in our pages (as always!), I'll draw attention to two fascinating women writers we feature in Two Lines 21.  Chika Sagawa, the pen name of Aiko Kawasaki, was born in 1911 in Hokkaido, Japan. One of Japan's first female Modernist poets — as well as a prolific translator of Joyce and Woolf during her brief lifetime — her strange and vivid poems were posthumously collected in 1936, but only now brought to English by Sawako Nakayasu. Unlike Sagawa, the award-winning dystopic writer Hon Lai Chu has lived to see her work published widely; the award-winning Hong Kong writer has twice had her novels counted among the 10 best Chinese novels. Here translator Andrea Lingenfelter brings to English “Lin Mu yizi” (“Forrest Woods, Chair”), the story of a man who aspires to be the perfect chair. It is a strange world we live in.

2014 was a great year for books by women at Two Lines Press, too, where we had the opportunity to publish the astounding Naja Marie Aidt, whose stories in Baboon evoke the dark forces lurking in our everyday existence — and Marie NDiaye, whose Self-Portrait in Green proves her mastery of the slippery and unreliable nature of reality. (read excerpts of Baboon and Self-Portrait in Green here)

But there is only so much one can do to rectify the mistakes and crimes of history; most of the poetry anthologies published in Italy, for instance, include no more than 10% women. At the 2014 American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) conference, a prominent editor of poetry from Latin America told me that he struggled to find enough poetry by women from certain nations to balance his anthology.

Then again, this week we learned that Lydia Davis (whose translations will be featured again in Two Lines 22 this March) has been named Officer and Chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Letters for her writing and translation. (That's right: she's been granted knighthood.)

All of this is to say: we strive to honor the vision of women writers of the past. And to you women writers and translators of the present: keep it up! We need you.

3 Ways to Give Back This #Giving Tuesday

Posted on December 2, 2014, 09:22:00 AM by Erin Branagan







In case you missed it after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, today is Giving Tuesday. Created just three years ago as a way to counteract the growing commercialism of the holidays, it’s a great way to give back to the more than 10,000 non-profits (like us!) that are working to solve problems and enrich our lives.

Please join us—-here are 3 ways to give back:

1. Give Time
Many non-profits are understaffed and need volunteers to deliver vital services. But many others (like ours) are always looking for board members and can benefit from business or technical expertise in the legal, financial, or organizational development areas. Contact us for more information about getting involved.

2. Give Money
Non-profits depend on the many supporters who provide the resources for us to do our work. Any donation you make is an investment that pays huge dividends—instead of just a financial return, you’ll know that you’ve played a part in making a better future. For us, that means building a vibrant literary center that will connect local and international audiences for literature in translation. And bringing poetry and translation to younger generations. Your gift today gets us closer to that goal.

3. Share Your Story or an Unselfie!
Why do YOU support the Center, or your other favorite non-profits?

Maybe you share our conviction that great literature changes lives.

Maybe you’re passionate about the transformative potential of arts education.

Or you’re a fan of literary events with international writers and translators.

Whatever your cause or your reason, tell us! You can post your comments on our Facebook page or Twitter (@CAtranslation), and share an “unselfie”—a photo with your favorite book in translation or a message about why you support the Center.

Happy Giving Tuesday!

1 Thing You Can Do to Keep Arts Education in SF Schools

Posted on November 3, 2014, 02:25:00 PM by Mark Hauber

Funding for arts education in California is among the lowest of all 50 states--despite the fact that having arts in schools keeps students engaged and learning. But many cities, including San Francisco, have come up with solutions to make sure that all students have access to arts activities. Because of what we have witnessed in Poetry Inside Out classrooms when kids are exposed to creative lessons, we strongly support the renewal of Proposition C on the November 4 ballot. Read on to learn more about what Prop C means for the city. If you're a San Francisco voter, we hope you'll join us!

In 2004 San Francisco voters approved the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) to provide funding to improve the quality of education for San Francisco’s children. The Fund provides sports, libraries, arts, music, health services in schools, gives families access to preschool, and supports hundreds of local community organizations in every neighborhood in the city. On November 4th voters will be asked to renew this measure by voting yes on Proposition C. A Yes vote will guarantee funding for PEEF for the next 25 years – without any increase in taxes.

PEEF has impacted the lives of thousands of students and their families across the city:

  • PEEF-funded Pre-School For All has helped close the opportunity to gap to attend preschool, with 83% of the city’s four-year olds attending vs. 74% nationwide. Particular gains were made among African-American and Latino students (attendance rising to 80% from 68% and 54%)
  • Since 2005, the Pre-School For All has served a total of 25,000 students at nearly 150 sites.
  • PEEF funding allowed San Francisco Unified School District to increase the number of elementary arts teachers by 50%. The share of middle school students accessing arts classes has increased by 11%.
  • The number of SFUSD full-time equivalent credentialed teacher librarians more than tripled since PEEF funding began, lowering the student-to-librarian ratio to 788:1. The number of library books borrowed by SFUSD students is more than one million every year.
  • PEEF has enabled San Francisco Unified School District to triple the number of social workers and nurses serving grades K-8, decreasing the student-to-support professional ratio from 1,401:1 to 444:1.

Learn more about this important measure and vote Yes on C this Tuesday.

Connecting the Dots: Leve and Perec

Posted on October 30, 2014, 04:24:00 PM by Staff

Next week, our very own Scott Esposito will host a conversation between Edouard Levé’s translators Lorin Stein and Jan Steyn as part of the Two Voices event series.

Associate Editor Marthine Satris looked at the connections between Levé and experimental French writer Georges Perec—a member of the surrealist Oulipo movement in the 1970s—and has written a great piece over on the Two Lines Press blog.

Here are some of her thoughts of Levé’s Autoportrait (one of the works they'll discuss Nov. 5):

If Perec turned the reader outwards, toward only observable facts, Levé brings us in. One reads on, eager to find out what the author will reveal next.

Written in French in 2005, Autoportrait seems in some ways of our current confessional moment, rather than against it or apart. The personal essay dominates forms of expression now, at least in American print media, and like the writers of The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column or Lena Dunham’s Hannah on Girls, Levé turns himself inside out for us. Less estranging than Perec’s lists, which camouflage the writer in his surroundings, Levé nonetheless refuses to come to any conclusions about his life. He doesn’t organize it for us, or pare it down to a narrative that shows how everything led him to his current, fated moment. His raw emotion lacks all self-pity, which fascinates the reader even more—it’s like we, author and reader, are both studying the puzzle that is Levé. The Levé who writes, “Often I think I know nothing about myself,” yet fearlessly, shamelessly expose his fears, weaknesses, and limitations. Like Perec, Levé includes both the mundane details of life and the more “important” ones, but instead of wars and commercials, Levé balances confession and observation—and yet the confessions do not differ in tone from the observations, as in this moving, matter-of-fact, funny confrontation with his suicidal tendencies, and his musing social awkwardness:

‘In my periods of depression, I visualize a funeral after I kill myself, there are lots of friends there, lots of sadness and beauty, the event is so moving that it makes me want to live through it, so it makes me want to live. I don’t know how to leave naturally.’”

Satris writes: I thought I’d get bored reading this stranger’s look inwards. Yet I wasn’t. I felt like I’d been trusted with his tremulous life, and recognized a common human experience in how he wrote it down.

You can read the post, and don’t miss the event!

It’s all happening Wednesday, November 5, at The Lab
2948 16th Street, San Francisco
7:00 pm
(cash bar and copies of Levé’s books for sale)

From the Two Lines Press Blog: A Look at Our Animal Instincts

Posted on October 3, 2014, 10:20:00 AM by Erin Branagan

Over on the Two Lines Press blog, we’ve been spending a lot of time talking about our newest title, Baboon, by Danish author Naja Marie Aidt. We’re incredibly excited about the book (set for official release October 14, but you can pre-order it now), and especially eager to share the news of Aidt’s recent 6-city U.S. book tour.

Baboon was awarded the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2008—very unusual for a set of short stories, and a testament to the power of the writing—and Denise Newman has made a masterful translation. In an interview with SFWeekly, Aidt talks about the translation process:

“I’m grateful that Denise wanted to involve me in the process,” she said. “Over years we’ve worked to transform the stories into English in a way that felt natural and kept the tone. For example, in Scandinavian it’s very common to have short sentences one after the other. But in English it looks weird. So we had to find a new rhythm for the stories.”

For an example of how her style of short sentences propels you through the book, check out “A Car Trip”.

LA Times book critic David Ulin calls the book “an explosive collection; strange things happen to the characters, leading to unlikely twists, through which the borders of reality blur.”

In a whirlwind weeklong book tour, Aidt started out at the Brooklyn Book Festival on September 21, then hopped to Minneapolis, did two readings in the Bay Area, and finished in Seattle and Los Angeles.

On September 25, Aidt, Newman, and Esposito hosted a reading and conversation at The Booksmith in San Francisco. They talked about translating Naja’s prose; the unique aspects of the working relationship between Naja and Denise; why this book resonated so much with Danish readers (and why it was unusual that it won such major and prestigious awards); the unified aesthetic represented in the stories; Aidt’s influences as s short story writer; and more. We recorded the conversation, and you can listen to the full audio here.

If you would like to buy the book, you can order it for just $10. Or better yet, subscribe to Two Lines Press and have every title delivered to your door!

Celebrate Creative Learning—It’s National Arts in Education Week

Posted on September 20, 2014, 11:51:00 AM by Erin Branagan

This week, September 14-20, is National Arts in Education Week. (We know we’re coming in at the tail end—we’ve been busy putting the final touches on next week’s author events for our new book, Baboon).

If you’re like 9 out of 10 Americans, you believe—like we do—that the arts are vital to a well-rounded education (thanks to the California Alliance for Arts Education for that fact and several more interesting stats).

You probably also agree that most students don't receive anywhere near enough (or any) arts instruction. Poetry Inside Out is changing that by integrating world poetry and translation into literacy instruction. No other literacy program that we know of combines poetry and translation to teach skills and spark imagination. Or allows kids the freedom to come up with their own ideas, not just the "right" answer

Our process sparks an amazing transformation in kids, as they realize that they can learn, create, and effectively express their ideas. Students have told us things like:

“Being exposed to new things, new words, new languages, different ways of thinking opened my eyes to see the world. I never imagined I could translate a poem from Mandarin into English, make it make sense, be a good poem, find the meaning behind all the characters and words.”

“In Poetry Inside Out I learned how to express my feelings and stand up for myself and it helps me write better."

You can come hear Poetry Inside Out students read their poetry at the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival, Saturday September 27 at Civic Center Park in Berkeley.

Want to do something else to show your support for arts education? Here are 3 easy ways:

1. Sign up for the Music March Out campaign supporting music education

2. Join “Start the Arts Week” to support the arts in schools, sponsored by the National PTA and PTAs around the country. Follow or post to #StarttheArts and @NationalPTA on Twitter.

3. If you’re a California taxpayer filing in October, you can make a donation to fund arts education through the Keep Arts in Schools Fund—just check the box on your return.

10 Things You Might Not Know About the Arts and Learning

Posted on September 11, 2014, 11:27:00 AM by Erin Branagan

It’s back to school season again—time for new books, school supplies, and a sense of anticipation about what the new year will bring. We thought we’d celebrate by sharing 10 sometimes-surprising facts about learning and the arts.

1. The arts improve student learning and engagement.

2. Students who study art are 4 times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement and 3 times more likely to be awarded for school attendance.

3. Arts and music education programs are mandatory in countries that rank consistently among the highest for math and science test scores, like Japan, Hungary, and the Netherlands.

4. The No Child Left Behind act clearly mandates the arts as a core academic subject.

5. Federal funding for the arts and humanities is $250 million a year, while the National Science Foundation is funded around the $5 billion mark.

6. Arts education encourages the kind of creative and critical thinking necessary for our 21st century world.

7. Sustained learning in music and theater correlates strongly with higher achievement in both math and reading.

8. Arts in the schools help close the achievement gap: high-poverty schools in Chicago that participated in an arts education initiative made huge strides in closing the achievement gap between high and low-income students.

9. In-school and out of school art studies and activities help keep high-risk students in school.

10. New brain research shows that not only does music improve skills in math and reading, but it promotes creativity, social development, personality adjustment, and self-worth.

And one bonus fact: The arts make kids happy!
We know that the more creative outlets kids have, the happier they are.

Surprised? Got another fact to add? Let us know on our Facebook page!

50 Books in Translation for Your Reading List

Posted on August 28, 2014, 04:20:00 PM by Erin Branagan

As promised earlier this week, we’re delighted to post the list of the 50+ books in translation recommended by the contributors to the NEA’s recent “Art of Empathy” collection of essays. (Not ranked, just in alphabetical order by author name) And of course, each suggestion includes the translator’s name.

Even for experienced readers of books in translation, there are gems to discover on this list.

A Fool’s Life by Ryonosuke Akutagawa, translated from the Japanese by Will Peterson.

The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, translated from the French by Maria Jolas.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated from the French by Alison Anderson.

Chinese Letter by Svetislav Basara, translated from the Serbian by Ana Lucic.

I Never Dared Hope for You by Christian Bobin, translated from the French by Alison Anderson.

2666 by Roberto Bolaño, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer.

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges, translated from the Spanish by Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, translated from the English into Chinese by Yuan-ren Chao.

Anton Chekhov: A Life in Letters, translated from the Russian by Rosamund Bartlett and Anthony Phillips.

Claudine at School by Colette, translated from the French by Antonia White.

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar, translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa.

Inferno by Dante, translated from the Italian by Mary Jo Bang, John Ciardi, Jean Hollander, Robert Pinsky, Allen Mandelbaum, John D. Sinclair, or Charles S. Singleton.

Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? by Mahmoud Darwish, translated from the Arabic by Jeffrey Sacks.

Chronicles of Hell by Michel de Ghelderode, translated from the French by George Hauger.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett.

A Passenger from the West by Nabile Farès, translated from the French by Peter Thompson.

Montauk by Max Frisch, translated from the German by Robin Skelton.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman.

Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders by Alicia Gaspar de Alba, translated from the English into Spanish by Rosario Sanmiguel.

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, Robert Maguire, or Donald Rayfield.

The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, translated from the German by Breon Mitchell.

The Valley by Rolando Hinojosa, translated from the Spanish by the author.

The Odyssey by Homer, translated from the Ancient Greek by Charles Stein.

Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal, translated from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim.

“I, too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes, translated from the English into Spanish by Fernández de Castro.

Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ho Xuan Huong, translated from the Nom by John Balaban.

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, translated from the Persian by Edward FitzGerald.

The Joke by Milan Kundera, translated from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim.

Nada by Carmen Laforet, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman.

Barabbas by Pär Lagerkvist, translated from the Swedish by Alan Blair.

Osip Mandelstam: Selected Poems, translated from the Russian by David McDuff.

Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marías, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne, translated from English to Polish by Irena Tuwim.

Life, a User’s Manual by Georges Perec, translated from the French by David Bellos.

State of Exile by Cristina Peri Rossi, translated from the Spanish by Marilyn Buck.

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin, translated from the Russian by James Falen.

“Archaic Torso of Apollo,” by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from the German by Stephen Mitchell.

Late into the Night: The Last Poems of Yannis Ritsos, translated from the Greek by Martin McKinsey.

The Tale of the 1002nd Night by Joseph Roth, translated from the German by Michael Hoffman.

Night by Vedrana Rudan, translated from the Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth.

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, translated from the Ancient Greek by Anne Carson.

The Book of Monelle by Marcel Schwob, translated from the French by Kit Schluter

Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, translated from the German by Anthea Bell.

Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin, translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz.

The Book of Blam by Aleksandar Ti?ma, translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Michael Henry Heim.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Vain Art of the Fugue by Dumitru Tsepeneag, translated from the Romanian by Patrick Camiller.

The Art of Peace by Morihei Ueshiba, translated from the Japanese by John Stevens.

The Complete Poetry by César Vallejo, translated from the Spanish by Clayton Eshleman.

Dante’s Ballad by Eduardo González Viaña, translated from the Spanish by Susan Giersbach-Rascón.

Happy Reading!

Boost Your Empathy With Translation

Posted on August 26, 2014, 01:18:00 PM by Erin Branagan

Our friends at the National Endowment for the Arts have done a tremendous amount to support literature in translation and individual translators. They are one of the largest funders of translation presses like Two Lines, Archipelago Books, Open Letter Books and others; and they award generous grants to translators—all to the tune of more than $8 million over the past 30 years.

The NEA also funds research into American’s reading habits, and just recently released a collection of essays about translation. We admit it, we’re biased (we owe some of Two Lines’ growth and success to grants we’ve received from the NEA), but still think this is a great read for any fan of literature in translation.

“The Art of Empathy” includes almost 20 personal essays from translators, teachers, and publishers. Many of them beautifully illustrate how translation brings us together—despite our diverse array of language, cultures, and traditions—and helps us understand each other.

Center for the Art of Translation founder and Italian translator Olivia Sears writes in her essay that “translation allows us to know each other better, and therefore feel more connected to one another, here at home” and across our increasingly diverse neighborhoods. Translator Johanna Warren poetically talks about her belief that “this connective quality of translation is essential to the spiritual evolution of our species.”

Inspired? Read or download the report here.

Looking for a reading list? We’ll post the more than 50 suggestions from the report later this week.

Your Summer News Roundup

Posted on July 8, 2014, 03:58:00 PM by Erin Branagan

You can only think so much about movies and the World Cup, so we've put together a roundup of education and literature-related items for these midsummer days.

It's too early to think about school again, but it's a good day when a city announces more funding for the arts. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has just pledged $23 million to boost arts instruction and hire more than 100 teachers, concentrating on underserved schools.

While California's arts funding can't compare to New York's or many other states, the Legislature just approved a budget that includes a $5 million increase to the California Arts Council budget.

And a strapped school district found a creative way to fund their recently eliminated music program and projects to save about $750,000 over the next five years.

Upgrade your beach reading with this article about how literature influenced the evolution of modern medicine.

Science fiction your thing? Ever wondered about diversity in the genre? NPR's Latino USA did a great segment on Diversity in Fantasy and Sci-Fi.

And it just wouldn't be summer without some mention of movies, but with a translation twist: A Freelance Career, Found in Translation.

photo by Niamh