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

Quiet Creature on the Corner, An Interview with the Translator

Posted on May 10, 2016, 09:36:00 AM by Katrina Dodson

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Brazilian novelist João Gilberto Noll’s Quiet Creature on the Corner is out today from Two Lines Press! If you want to order it at 30% off (just $6.95), click this link to get started.

Below we present an in-depth interview between PEN Translation Award–winning translator of Clarice Lispector's complete stories Katrina Dodson and Quiet Creature translator Adam Morris.

Quiet Creature is a slim book that sinks its claws into you, gently at first, then implacably. Like a film by David Lynch, Michael Haneke, or David Cronenberg, its hypnotic momentum pulls you along, even when the disturbing events make you cringe and want to turn away. The 1991 novel opens with a nineteen-year-old poet who’s just lost his factory job. He is one of countless Brazilians out of work in the late 1980s, when the novel is set, after the end of Brazil’s twenty-year military regime, a period marked simultaneously by hope for a new democratic order and uncertainty in the face of raging inflation and economic stagnation. The young narrator and his mother live as squatters in a semi-abandoned apartment complex in a rough neighborhood of Porto Alegre, capital of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where Noll is from.

Early on, the boy recounts his rape of a neighbor girl in the same flat tone and bare language in which he describes washing his hands. The events that follow—his arrest, transfer to a mental health clinic, and surreal transition to a rural property where he becomes the charge of a German-Brazilian couple of mystifying motives—veer between the mundane, grotesque, and ominous. An undercurrent of social and political unrest occasionally pierces the narrator’s disorienting stream of consciousness, with allusions to the country’s first direct presidential election after the dictatorship (and Lula’s first run for president). As we drift through this novel without chapter breaks to arrive at its final image, the young man bobbing in a lake, we are left unsure whether he deserves pity or disgust.

The publication of Quiet Creature on the Corner this May by Two Lines Press, in a translation by Adam Morris, will make it João Gilberto Noll’s only novel currently available in English. Noll is one of Brazil’s most esteemed living authors; of his sixteen novels and short story collections since 1980, five have won the Brazilian equivalent of the National Book Award (Prêmio Jabuti). Yet the only prior book-length English translation of his work is an out-of-print 1997 UK volume of his novellas Harmada (1993) and Hotel Atlântico (1986). Next spring, Two Lines will also publish Morris’s translation of Hotel Atlântico as Atlantic Hotel. In a written conversation over the course of two days, I spoke with Morris about his translations, how to understand the more inflammatory scenes of sex and violence in Quiet Creature, and what Noll’s work means for the present cultural and political moment in Brazil and beyond. We discussed Dilma, Lula, the Brazilian landless workers’ movement (MST), as well as the perverse pleasures of Hilda Hilst, Clarice Lispector’s Nietzschean morality, and when to ignore English grammar and just let those Brazilian run-on sentences ride.

– Katrina Dodson

(Now read the interview on the Two Lines Press blog.)

Baho! A Cry for Life

Posted on May 4, 2016, 09:40:00 AM by Sarah Coolidge


A recent article from The New Yorker begins with the Burundi saying, “Where there are people, there is conflict.” As the article continues, it's easy to see how this saying rings true. A small country nestled beneath Rwanda in the heart of Africa, Burundi has a tumultuous history. Formerly a Belgian colony, it was the setting of two genocides, first in 1972 and then in 1993, as its two principle ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis, continued their fight for political power. As the article goes on to discuss, Burundi's struggles are far from over, though its division is no longer down strictly ethnic lines. It seems that after decades of fighting, the violence has left a lasting trauma on the people and things left in its wake.

It's astonishing how little we Anglophones know about Burundi. Although it's easy to see why. Until this year, no single Burundian novel had been translated into English. Not a single one. Lucky for us, this year Phoneme Media published Baho! by 28-year-old Roland Rugero, translated beautifully from the French by Christopher Schaefer.

The novel tells the story of a mute young man named Nyamugari, who becomes the scapegoat for a town suffering from drought, violence, and debauchery in the Burundian countryside...

(Read the rest on the Two Lines Press blog.)

Why Is It Called Quiet Creature on the Corner?

Posted on May 3, 2016, 09:50:00 AM by CJ Evans, Editorial Director


When translator Adam Morris sent me a short excerpt from João Gilberto Noll’s Quiet Creature on the Corner (O quieto animal da esquina), and later when I read the full translation, I couldn’t help think about Jorge Luis Borges’s slim collection, A Universal History of Iniquity. In particular, the obvious echo in the title led me to re-read the story “Man on Pink Corner” ("Hombre de la esquina rosada"), which recounts a scene in which a knife fighter is killed, without real motive, by the narrator, who only offers this:

I stood there looking at the things I’d been seeing all my life—a sky that went on forever, the creek flowing angry-like down below there, a sleeping horse, the dirt street, the kilns—and I was struck by the thought that I was just another weed growing along those banks, coming up between the soapworts and the bone piles of the tanneries. What was supposed to grow out of trash heaps if it wasn’t us?

The narrator of Noll’s book, an unemployed poet who, until recently, lived in a squat with his mother, has a lack of hope in common with the knife fighters of Borges's story. These are all men born into a time and place—depression-era Buenos Aires for Borges, Porto Alegre of the 1980s Brazilian recession for Noll—that provides no semblance of a future for them, and thus there are no such things as consequences...

(Read the rest on the Two Lines Press blog)

Celebrate Independent Bookstore Day April 30!

Posted on April 25, 2016, 03:04:00 PM by Erin Branagan

We're looking forward to Independent Bookstore Day this Saturday, April 30. This incredible day, which started as California Bookstore Day just a few years ago, has now become a national day to celebrate independent bookstores.

With more than 400 bookstores in 48 states planning events, there's no shortage of fun activities near you!

In addition to special readings and events, stores will be offering exclusive merchandise created especially for the event. Many limited edition, unique items will be available only at participating independent bookstores, and only on April 30.

We've compiled a list of events at some of our favorite Bay Area bookstores, and we've prepared a handy guide for you to download and use as a reference! You can also check the national IBD website to find a participating store near you.

Green Apple Books (506 Clement St., San Francisco)
Kate Schatz and Miriam Stahl, author and illustrator of Rad American Women A-Z, will be signing books, playing with temporary tattoos, and listening to X is For….

Sylvi the Poet will be typing and giving away free poems!

Exclusive limited edition prints, signed books, free beer, and a prize wheel.

Green Apple Books on the Park (1231 9th Ave., San Francisco)
Morning purchases will include free mimosas.

Illustrators Lisa Brown (How to Be), Raina Telgemeier (Smile, Drama, Sisters), and Green Apple’s own Ashley Despain will run a How to Draw class, followed by a book signing. Advance tIckets required.

Lisa Swerling’s traveling book-themed dioramas, the world’s tiniest art installation, will be unveiled.

2 pm: Trivia Contest with prizes.

5 pm: French Consulate ribbon cutting and wine and cheese reception to celebrate our new French Corner.

6 pm: The Believer Book Swap.

Other activities include the first ever Bookstore Free Throw Shooting Contest, an annual Weird Book Give Away, and an exclusive limited edition signed poster featuring Daniel Clowes’ artwork.

The Booksmith (1644 Haight St., San Francisco)
Together with Papa Llama, SF’s letter press, greeting card, and printmaking gurus, they’ll have supplies on hand for you to catch up with your pen pals for Letter Writing Saturdays, as well as printmaking demonstrations and activities for all ages from 12-3pm.

Kepler’s Books (1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park)
Make book covers for your favorite books.

Literary trivia contest for adults.

Enjoy yummy cookies and drinks and make Book Cookie Catchers with book recommendations inside.

Diesel: A Bookstore (5433 College Ave., Oakland)
10 am: Big Kid / Little Kid Juice Stand (mimosas!)

11 am: Storytime with Kati Hites, author of Winnie & Waldorf

2 pm: C.D. Wright Appreciation & Release Party

8:30 pm: Free screening of John Huston's 1979 film adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's novel Wise Blood

Books Inc.  (various locations)
Opera Plaza, 2 pm: Pablo Hidalgo, creative executive at LucasFilm Story Group and author of Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary and co-author of Star Wars Character Encyclopedia, Updated and Expanded. This event will feature a visit from members of the Golden Gate Garrison of the 501st Legion and photo ops with Stormtroopers and Kylo Ren. A portion of this event's proceeds will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Laurel Village: Find the Duck & Goose Game for kids, Literary Trivia Game for Adults

Chestnut: Visit the selfie station and pose for a photo placing YOU on the cover of a book!

Palo Alto, 1 pm: Join the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre for Story Acting! Using familiar stories, improvisation, and creative movement, children leap into action as story characters! Classic children’s books are used to teach children how to use their bodies and voices to create fun and familiar characters. Space is limited; sign up at Books Inc. Palo Alto.

4 pm: Duck & Goose storytime featuring Lauren Savage. Lauren will perform the song that she wrote for the newest Duck and Goose book “Duck and Goose Let’s Dance.” (Ages 3+)

Burlingame, 3 pm: Author Jane Havemeyer reads from The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Dastardly Dames.

Berkeley: Become your favorite literary character with the LitBooth photobooh!! Props and accessories will be provided for customers to transform themselves into Harry Potter, Gandalf, The Cat in the Hat, and more!

Alameda, 11 am:  Local writer and rad woman Kate Schatz celebrates the limited edition Independent Bookstore Day vinyl, X is For . . . , an awesome companion to the hit book, Rad American Women A-Z, X is For…  features Angela Davis, Rebecca Solnit, Alice Bag, Charlene Yi, and many more rad women!

Pegasus Books (various locations)

Solano Ave: A special party featuring Dogstomers!

Downtown Berkeley: An "Ask Mary Anything" hour with science writer Mary Roach.

Pegasus Oakland:  Live Music by the "Dusty Case Duo"

Mrs. Dalloway’s (2904 College Ave., Oakland)
Bring your dog by for a homemade treat made from DIY for Your Dog: 30 Toys, Treats, and Treasures to Make by Rachelle Blondel, and get Rover ready for a close-up! We'll post photos on our website.

Grab the kids and try your hand at drawing some of your favorite illustrated book characters. We'll have a big table set up with paper, pens, and pencils. Best drawing will win a free copy of Draw Me! Aimed at ages 6-12, it includes step-by-step instructions on how to draw characters like Mo Willem’s Pigeon, Raina from Smile and Sisters, Curious George, Fly Guy, and many more. Also includes instructions for creating a flipbook and a multi-panel comic book.

And while you're at the drawing table, pick up a copy of The Neil Gaiman Coloring Book which includes 20 pieces of black-and-white art by Chris Riddell and quotes from Neil Gaiman—taken from the pages of Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and Fortunately, the Milk—all ready to be colored in by YOU with a set of colored pencils!

4 pm: Join us for a beer/wine/pizza pairing and tasting. We'll have unique brews and wine chosen by our neighbors at Vintage Berkeley paired with the delicious pizza made by our neighbors at the newly revived Nabalom Bakery.

Discovering Modiano's City of Lost Youth

Posted on April 19, 2016, 01:42:00 PM by Sarah Coolidge


Before winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2014, Patrick Modiano was a nobody in the English-speaking world. We’ve since seen the urgent attempt at playing catch-up. Translations of his works have been released, re-released, and consumed by readers hungry to know who this Modiano character is and why they had never heard of him before.

A few weeks ago, I decided to give Patrick Modiano a try in preparation for this week’s Salon with Modiano translator Chris Clarke. And so I read Young Once (tr. Damion Searls) and In the Café of Lost Youth. The truth is I devoured them; I read each novel in a single day, becoming one of those zombies who tries to read while walking, in the car before driving, in the car after driving, at the dinner table, etc. They are slim, easy reads, and yet brevity does not always guarantee binge-like consumption. I’ll readily admit that I’ve struggled to get through 70-page novels merely because I feel distractible, uninvested, my eyes on the page, my attention elsewhere.

But Modiano’s prose rises up like a city around you...

(Read the rest of this post on the Two Lines Press blog)

The details:
  • Thursday, April 21
  • Chris Clarke in conversation with Scott Esposito on In the Café of Lost Youth
  • Doors 5:30, event 6:00
  • Two Lines Press offices: 582 Market St., Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94104
  • Free alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and snacks for all

What Are We Reading for Poetry Month?

Posted on April 6, 2016, 03:26:00 PM by Sarah Coolidge


In celebration of National Poetry Month, we wanted to share with you the poets we've recently been reading and enjoying. We all know how difficult it is to choose a book–especially when there are so many incredible ones piling up around us–so here's a nice short list of recommendations–both in translation and not–for you to pick from this month:

Kim Yideum's Cheer Up, Femme Fataletranslated from the Korean by Ji Yoon Li, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Görensson: "Very much in the tradition of Kim Hyesoon: rangy, with almost a polyphonic quality, incorporating both high and low registers." — CJ Evans, Two Lines Press Editorial Director

Olena Kalytiak Davis's The Poem She Didn't Write and Other Poems

Christopher Logue's War MusicWyatt Mason wrote a great letter of recommendation in The New York Times about this creative translation of Homer's Iliad

Tomasz Rozycki's Coloniestranslated from the Polish by Mira Rosenthal

Jorge Esquinca's Description of a Flash of Cobalt Blue, expertly translated from the Spanish by Dan Bellm

Beloved Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik's Extracting the Stone of Madness will soon come out from New Directions, translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert

The Mansion of Happiness by Robin Ekiss: "Vaguely inspired by old board games, curiosity cabinets, and automatons (as well as the poet's personal history)." — Erin Branagan, Communications Director

And of course, this year's PEN Award for Poetry in Translation winner The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa, translated from the Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu

So get dust off your bookshelves, hit the book stores, and get reading!

Arts Education Month Wrap-Up

Posted on March 28, 2016, 04:12:00 PM by Erin Branagan

As Arts Education Month winds down we wanted to share a few articles and news stories that caught our eye.

In Baltimore, a year after the uprising following Freddie Gray’s death, artists and arts education non-profits have been filling the gaps of school funding and getting local kids involved in art projects.

Thousands of high school students marched through Boston and gathered in front of the State House to protest funding cuts which would affect arts education and other areas.

Washington D.C. parents successfully pushed to keep an arts education program that was slated to be cut open for at least one more year.

In the Huffington Post, an article about how the arts nurture imagination—a key component of creative thinking and innovation.

And arts education programs offer incarcerated youth a positive creative outlet that can lead to improved confidence, better learning skills, and improved behavior.

At home here in San Francisco, the exciting new Minnesota Street Project—three converted warehouses which will house below-market-rent galleries and studios, and the San Francisco Arts Education Project—aims to support artists and arts organizations who may be struggling amid the tech and real estate boom.

What's Being Done for English Language Learners?

Posted on March 22, 2016, 10:34:00 AM by Sarah Coolidge

In the past week, The New York Times published two articles outlining the benefits of bilingualism. “The Superior Social Skills of Bilinguals” shares the results of studies showing that bilingual children are better able to consider other perspectives and show empathy. “Why Bilinguals Are Smarter” confronts the fear that a child who knows two languages will struggle to meet the same level of fluency in each of those languages.

It’s an interesting time to be thinking about bilingual education and English Language Learners in general. It’s Arts Education Month, for one thing. And like the arts, English Language Learners are often relegated to the sidelines. And yet, with more immigrants arriving each year, many of them Newcomers with little to no English, we seem to be starting to realize that we need to rethink our current model.

Part of the issue is an emerging trend of English Learners getting “stuck” at the intermediate level. If you’ve learned a second language, you’re probably familiar with the plateau that comes after you’ve learned your conjugations and basic vocabulary. But the problem is that this plateaued progress of English Learners is lasting years.

Tomás Galguera, a professor in the School of Education at Oakland’s Mills College, is more than familiar with this trend. With a focus in language development, he’s trained and worked with many Bay Area teachers of English Language Learners. “It isn’t surprising that most ELs develop their English proficiency from beginner to intermediate, only to get ‘stuck’ at this level, becoming ‘long-term English Learners,’” he told me. He mentions a few likely reasons for the trend. For one, English Learners come from predominantly low-income backgrounds and lack consistent schooling. Naturally, it’s much more difficult to teach English to a student who is barely literate in his or her native language.

Another reason for long-term English Learners is the misguided assumption that their teachers’ main focus should be teaching vocabulary, rather than content:

Schools… ought to be concerned with preparing students to succeed in today’s society, regardless of language. In fact, strong schooling will help students develop proficiency in English, not the other way around. We know that it is easier to match knowledge across languages than trying to learn new content knowledge and a new language, simultaneously.

Professor Galguera cautions against schools’ overemphasis on categorizing students. In his extensive work with Bay Area teachers, he’s noticed that “when teachers define their teaching according to student descriptors, such as ‘English Learner,’ they fall prey of stereotypical and reductionist, simplistic views of students.” Oakland Unified, like other districts, has been struggling with the repercussions of designating students as “long-term” English Learners. While these descriptors may be integral to assessing and understanding school populations, they are often used in turn to assess the teachers and even the students themselves. Instead, Galguera recommends setting “worthy learning goals” in order to assess the work done in the classroom. If a task is set, like translating a poem into English, teachers can better see their students as unique learners, without reducing and labeling them.

Professor Galguera has been an integral partner of Poetry Inside Out. He has taught the curriculum to Oakland teachers and has used Poetry Inside Out in his own classes as an example of a strategy that teachers can use to embrace student diversity in the classroom.

While, like most of us, he is uncertain of how the new federal education law will affect teachers and students in the Bay Area, he does note that there will most likely be a renewed focus on getting English Learners to where they need to be to succeed. This is because, under the new law, once a student has been in the US for three years, he or she will be expected to test as well as his or her native English peers. Maybe this pressure will inspire us to bring creativity back into the English Learner classroom, as we look for engaging curriculum and strategies that will better serve these students.

From the Two Lines Press Blog: Beyond East and West

Posted on March 21, 2016, 12:56:00 PM by Sarah Coolidge


Ever since I first read Wolfgang Hilbig’s The Sleep of the Righteous, I’ve tended to talk, write, and think about him in terms of East and West. It’s hard not to. Despite living in East Germany, Hilbig developed an avid readership in the West. And once he was finally given permission to leave the oppressive East, he continued to write with a kind of tortured yearning for it.

As an American, I find this East/West dichotomy appealing. Perhaps it’s because, even after the end of the Cold War, we still hold on to the illusion of the Iron Curtain, dividing “us” from “them.” We still think in terms of “containment,” as if an ideology were landbound, physical. Even Hilbig’s translator, Isabel Fargo Cole, who has lived in Berlin for quite a long time, finds this dichotomy a compelling way to think of him: in an event we did last fall, she talked about her own fascination with East Germany. But this East-West view can be somewhat limiting. It simplifies our understanding of Hilbig, whose dexterity with language revealed elements of his life while at the same time concealing himself beneath it.

That’s just one of the reasons why I’m very pleased to share this Hilbig essay that Tyler Curtis has written for the Boston Review. In his essay, Curtis beautifully reframes the conversation. He reveals Hilbig’s true nature as a nimble troublemaker who eluded the traps set up for him, both in the East and the West...

(Read the rest of this post on the Two Lines Press blog.)

From the Two Lines Press Blog: Poetry Spotlight

Posted on March 8, 2016, 02:15:00 PM by Michael Holtmann


Every time a new issue of Two Lines comes out I take pleasure in re-reading the work we assembled over the course of many months. I often think of the journal as the outcome of countless literary conversations and debates we have on staff. In the case of Two Lines 24, there are pieces we were dazzled by when we first read them, translations that capture unexpected textures or rhythms or tones, and excerpts of forthcoming larger works that we couldn’t be more enthusiastic about. There is also the sheer delight of ending a volume with Tuê Sŷ’s “Last Words,” translated from the Vietnamese by Martha Collins and Nguyen Ba Chung.

One of the things I like most about Two Lines is that in addition to featuring great fiction, our journal showcases outstanding poetry in translation: Two Lines 24 is chock full of gems. Among my favorites are Jan Wagner’s poems, translated from the German by David Keplinger. In “koi,” the language whorls on the page like the movements of the fish it describes:

…koi, as they clot,
as they weave into the tapestry of blackness

their golden threads, their orbits more
difficult to predict than comets…

There is also the brilliantly bitter irony embodied by Maxim Amelin’s poems, translated from the Russian by Derek Mong and Anne O. Fisher. “Classical Ode to V. V. Mayakovsky” glitters with mocking glee...

(For more poetry, read the rest of this post on the Two Lines Press blog)