Expectations were surpassed at the ALTA Conference in November. BY MARGARITA MILLAR
This was my first time at the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) conference, which took place in Pasadena in November of 2009. When I registered for the conference in July, I didn’t know what to expect. The program seemed really interesting and I could not make up my mind about the panels I wanted check out. The topics were diverse, ranging from song translating to finding ways to publish literary translation. The pre-conference reception was auspicious. Held on the outdoor patio of the Pacific Asia Museum, it was the stage for the presentation in song of Vietnamese poetry performed by Lê Phanm Lê, a poet and resident of Oakland, and her translator Nancy Arbuthnot. To be outdoors listening to poetry, with plenty of food and wine to go with it, was truly a magical moment. The festive evening set the mood for the rest of the conference for me.
Although the ALTA event featured plenty of academic discussion, the bilingual readings of participant translators’ works were an important component of it. Among these presentations, I really enjoyed listening to Anne Milano Appel’s segment from her newly released translation of Why Italians Love to Talk about Food by E. Kostioukovitch. Her colorful rendition of the making of Italian Cassata transported me to that old kitchen in the south of Italy for a few moments.
I also participated at one of these readings with my translation of the poems by the late Colombian author, Maria Mercedes Carranza. The book, Canto de las moscas (Song of the Flies), will be released in January 2010. I was assigned to read in a group of poetry in Sumerian (Betty De Shong), Hebrew (Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld), Yiddish (Leah Zazulyer and Natania Rosenfeld), and Spanish. At first I thought it was an odd combination of languages, in which Spanish seemed out of place. But as our reading progressed the collective beauty of these poems electrified the room. They were a powerful combination of works by women poets from different parts of the world and periods in history, in which they expressed their anguish about repression and war. For me, it was very moving to experience the true importance of the art of translation in the company of these women, whom I met here for the first time just an hour earlier. Although from different cultures we spoke the common language of human emotion: poetry.
Getting to know people who share your interests is one of the benefits of coming to this type of gatherings. I had the great fortune to meet Clara Ronderos, a Colombian poet and a teacher at Lesley University in Cambridge. Because the reading of her poems was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, too late for me to attend, Dr. Ronderos and the translator of her work, Mary Berg, allowed me to listen while they prepared for their presentation. This was such an unexpected gift: to witness the dialogue and exchange between a poet and her translator, and in the case of these women, the equal collaboration of two artists. When the original and the translated poems were read together, it resulted in a mesmerizing echo of the works.
But it wasn’t all emotion and poetry at the conference, there were also panels addressing the practical aspects of translation, such as how to get your work published. Amy Stolls, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Literature Program Officer, discussed ways to obtain NEA grants for this purpose, and encouraged the submission of proposals for translated works. She said that the NEA doesn’t receive that many requests for this type of work, but the money to fund it is available. Kate Gale, the managing editor at Red Hen Press, stressed her interest in translated material, mostly poetry and fiction. Gale said her publishing house focuses on works which would have a hard time getting published in the mainstream publishing world, which was relevant to many of us attending this panel.
It was clear throughout the event that this was a gathering of old friends. At the same time, as a newcomer, I felt welcomed. And like everyone else, I bought more books than I could carry in my bag. MM