tl_35-2_coverA small publishing house in San Francisco is making its mark in the industry by bringing  previously untranslated international works to an American readership.

For nearly 20 years, the anthology series TWO LINES: World Writing in Translation has published international literature in translation. This effort led to the launch in 2012 of Two Lines Press, a San Francisco-based publisher that is an offshoot of the nonprofit Center for the Art of Translation. Recently, Two Lines editor CJ Evans was kind enough to reveal a bit about the inner workings of this local publishing gem. → continue reading



Amusing anecdotes offer wisdom on the topics of poetry, translation, and even ballet; a lunch hour presentation by American poet and translator Richard Howard leaves this reporter reminiscing of a 1970s Paris. BY ERIC CHIANG

A presentation by Richard Howard, American poet and translator of such French authors as Roland Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault and Alain Robbe-Grillet, brought back memories of the Paris I knew in the 1970s. These illustrious French authors, now all deceased, were very much alive when I was a student in France in 1973. My sister and I were there on separate study abroad programs. I went to the University of Nancy in Lorraine while she studied at Reid Hall, a veritable chateau on Rue de Chevreuse in the sixth arrondissement of Paris. I went to Paris as often as I could and slept in the men’s dormitory at the chateau for free. The sixth arrondissement wasn’t the most chic and expensive district of Paris that it is now; those fancy shops didn’t start to move in until the late 1970s. There was a quartier chinois that consisted of a small grocery store of unknown Asian origin and a couple of Vietnamese restaurants on Rue Monsieur-le-Prince. From her memoirs, I knew that Simone de Beauvoir lived in an apartment on Boulevard Raspail. → continue reading




Congratulations are in order for Alison Anderson and Sarah Llewellyn on the publication of their translation, from the French, of the recently released memoir of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, “Even Silence Has an End” (Penguin Press).

Alison, a long-time member of NCTA before her move to Switzerland in 2008, was the work’s principal translator, with Sarah, who is based in San Francisco and is currently NCTA’s Continuing Education Director, collaborating as second translator.

The book is a riveting account of Betancourt’s harrowing ordeal as a hostage of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), which kidnapped her in 2002 and held her in the most appalling conditions imaginable, deep in the Colombian jungle, for more than six years. The book is as much a tale of survival as it is a meditation on the meaning of life itself: fear and freedom, hope and what inspires it.

Within two days of its release, the highly-anticipated memoir reached Number 4 on the Amazon.com bestseller list and went on to achieve a top-10 ranking on the New York Times bestseller list (Hardcover Nonfiction). SG



Acclaimed translator of Russian literature gives practical tips and guidelines for producing a good literary translation. BY CHRISTY RODGERS

NCTA and the Center for the Art of Translation held a joint workshop at the Mechanics’ Institute Library in San Francisco on Saturday, March 20th: “Literary Translation: an introduction for the novice and new ideas for the experienced translator.” The workshop was conducted by Marian Schwartz, an acclaimed translator of Russian literature, who also has an extensive background as an editor. → continue reading



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. → continue reading



Association business, literary translation & business pointers are all covered at the September GM. BY NORMA KAMINSKY

Margarita Millar and Anne Appel on literary translation

Margarita Millar and Anne Appel on literary translation

The Fall NCTA General Meeting was held on September 12 at The Center. First on the agenda was the approval of an amendment to the NCTA By-laws, Article 11, covering Voting and Elections. The text in bold was added to the existing article: “Each member in good standing shall be entitled to one vote cast either at General Meetings of the Association, cast electronically or sent by surface mail in the pre-addressed envelope attached to the Notice of the Annual General Meeting. The Board shall decide which of these methods shall be used for voting. Proxies shall not be recognized in any voting.”
This change means that members will now be able to cast their votes electronically in NCTA elections. Fewer resources will be used and our voting system will be more environmentally friendly.
The proposed amendment was approved by a vote of 22 to 0 with 0 abstentions.
After the vote, we had interesting and varied feature presentations. In the first part, two translators shared some of their experience and insights into literary translation. → continue reading



A workshop directed by Karen Emmerich inspires translators to do what sometimes seems impossible: translate poetry. BY NORMA KAMINSKY AND OLIVIA SEARS

On the evening of Wednesday, May 13, several translators met at the Mechanics’ Institute to discuss an impossible thing: translating poetry. The Center for the Art of Translation (CAT) and the NCTA jointly hosted this workshop directed by Karen Emmerich, a translator of Greek poetry and prose. → continue reading



On October 7, the Center for the Art of Translation began its 2008-09 “Lit & Lunch” series with a reading by Katherine Silver. BY ANDREA BINDEREIF

Katherine Silver, a renowned translator of some of Latin America’s leading contemporary authors, read from her latest translation, Senselessness, a novel by Salvadoran writer Horacio Castellanos Moya. This is Moya’s first novel to appear in English. Silver received grants from the PEN translation fund and the National Endowment for the Arts to complete this translation and she has since been recognized with an NEA award for her outstanding work. → continue reading



On April 15, poet and translator W. S. Merwin was the featured speaker at the Center for the Art of Translation’s Lit & Lunch program.  BY ANNE MILANO APPEL

W. S. Merwin

In its announcement, CAT described W.S. Merwin as follows: “One of the most influential poets of the late-twentieth century, W. S. Merwin has won innumerable honors including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Well-known for his poetry since the 1960’s, he is also one of America’s most recognizable translators, working with Spanish, Latin, and French poetry [and I would add, Italian]. An environmental activist in Hawaii, where he lives, his recent work has been influenced by themes of environmental preservation and deep ecology.” → continue reading



Translators and poets met at our latest workshop in May to explore the topic of poetry translation and, perhaps, to dispute Robert Frost’s dictum that “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”  BY NORMA KAMINSKY

Sidney Wade, professor of translation and creative writing at the University of Florida in Gainesville, a poet and translator of Turkish poetry, was the presenter at this workshop held at the Mechanics Institute. Under her guidance participants actively and enthusiastically explored a number of issues relevant to the art of translating poetry. Professor Wade began her presentation with the assertion that there is a great need, as well as an excellent reception, of poetry in translation. → continue reading



It is one of the oldest dilemmas in literary translation: if it is the translator’s mission to remain invisible, how does one recognize—and value—the translator’s work? 

By Anne Milano Appel

“Good humor is a paradox,” writes humor aficionado Mel Helitzer. “The unexpected juxtaposition of the reasonable next to the unreasonable.” The literary translator must indeed be equipped with good humor to be able to hover in that paradoxical and perpetual state between visibility and invisibility. If I needed yet another reminder of this chronic condition (which I don’t!), it came in the form of a recent article by Umberto Eco in the Italian weekly L’espresso (“Cappelli alti di forma”, Sept. 28, 2007)i. In it the well-known semiotician, philosopher, medievalist, and writer (perhaps best known for his ambitious novel The Name of the Rose) makes a statement whose obviousness on the surface may seem equivalent to “aria fritta” (fried air), as the Italians say when they mean “so what else is new?” Something that is “fritta e rifritta” (fried and refried) is an old story, old news. As Eco puts it (I’m translating of course):

“The translator’s job is therefore difficult and paradoxical, since he should do all he can to make himself invisible, … and yet he would (justly) like this invisibility to be rewarded with a certain visibility. Yet the translator’s success lies precisely in achieving invisibility… ii

Now I have two reactions to this statement. The first is the duh-uh factor: so the translator’s job is difficult and paradoxical. Tell me about it. The second, and more serious, issue has to do with the use of the word “rewarded” (premiati). As I see it, the “certain visibility” sought by the translator should not be considered a “reward,” but something he rightfully deserves for his success at being “invisible.” Eco himself uses the word “justly” in describing the translator’s desire for visibility. Indeed, it seems to me that a distinction should be maintained between the invisibility of the translator’s hand in the work he produces – something that is decidedly desirable – and the fair, just and merited attribution of the work that is rightly due him. There is a vast difference between striving for invisibility in the act of translation (not letting your hand show through) and being treated as invisible when it comes to having your name identified with the work you’ve produced. Unfortunately, the “invisibility” that is most associated with the translator is all too often not his skill in hiding his hand, but rather the lack of attribution. For example, some publications, here and abroad, regularly neglect to include the translator’s name when referring to a book, and many publishing houses refuse to put the translator’s name on the cover. As a colleague recently put it: this type of recognition should not be considered a “reward” but, given the circumstances, it often ends up being regarded as such. And therein lies the intriguing paradox: if the translator is invisible (“good,” in Eco’s world), who then is able to notice him, and presumably accord him some form of visibility?

Erasing the tracks

Invisibility in the text is certainly something to strive for. One way to see if a translator has “erased” his own tracks is to check his body of works. If the translations are of works by different authors yet they all display (betray? traduttore, traditore…) the same hand, chances are the “voice” you’re hearing is the translator’s and not the author’s. This cookie cutter approach lies at the far end of the spectrum from invisibility and transparency. Malcolm Jones, writing about two new English translations of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, mentions Constance Garnett’s approach as what may be considered an example of cookie cutting:

“Garnett was a woman in a hurry—she translated some 70 Russian books into English—but what she gained in speed, she lost in subtlety. Her version of “War and Peace” isn’t bad, but it’s not exactly Tolstoy either. It has a sort of one-size-fits-all quality”. (Malcolm Jones, “Lost in Translations”, Newsweek, Oct. 15, 2007)iii

Invisibility in rendering the author’s text is prized and justly so. Wyatt Mason, for example, reviewing Margaret Jull Costa’s translation of Javier Marías’ Your Face Tomorrow: Dance and Dream, notes that Marías’ style is “faithfully rendered by Margaret Jull Costa, his principal English translator, who achieves a rare feat: presence and near invisibility.” (Wyatt Mason, “Interpreter of Malefactors”, The New York Times, August 27, 2006)iv More recently, Kathryn Harrison’s review of a new work by Mario Vargas Llosa praised translator Edith Grossman as having produced “the fluid artistry readers have come to expect from her renditions of Latin American fiction.” (Kathryn Harrison, “Dangerous Obsession,” The New York Times Book Review, October 14, 2007)v The reviewer goes on to speak of “a remaking rather than a recycling”, and though she is referring to Vargas Llosa’s recreation of Emma Bovary’s story, the words could readily be applied to the translator’s craft as well:

“The genius of ‘Madame Bovary,’ as Vargas Llosa describes it in ‘The Perpetual Orgy,’ is the ‘descriptive frenzy … the narrator uses to destroy reality and recreate it as a different reality.’ In other words, Flaubert was a master of realism not because he reproduced the world around him, but because he used language to create an alternate existence, a distillate whose emotional gravity transcends that of life itself.”vi

The writer creates an alternate existence, much like that created by the literary translator. Just as A is to B (the real world is to the author), so C is to D (the author’s text is to the translator). By engaging in a form of rewriting or re-creation of the original text (while remaining invisible) the translator gives the writer a voice in another language. It has been said that the act of translation allows the translator to have a love affair with the author’s words. Indeed, there is a sensual component to the process, since words appeal to the senses and have a voluptuous quality. On one level it is all about seduction and attraction. It is paradoxical then that the translator should vanish after weeks and months of living in close, intimate contact with the author, attempting to render the subtle meanderings of his mind… after the “I” has become “we” and distinctions have blurred.

Part accomplice

The invisibility of the translator in the text stands in distinct contrast to the invisibility that is all too often represented by the denial of due recognition for the work he has produced – a recognition that is not only fair but merited. In his article in L’espresso Eco also writes: “For years one of the battles translators have waged has been that of having their name on the title page (not as co-author but at least as an essential intermediary)…”vii This “not as co-author” is interesting and telling. Certainly many authors (and many translators) would agree with Eco. Others, on the other hand, are more generous and more acknowledging. For Claudio Magris, for example, the translator is a co-author. In Ilide Carmignani’s interview of Magris which I translated for Absinthe: New European Writing (March 2007), the writer states: “unquestionably, both when one translates and when one is translated, there is a strong sense that the translator is truly a co-author, part accomplice, part rival, part lover…”.viii

Accomplice, rival, lover… heady stuff. Definitely at the other extreme from the prosaic intermediary, middleman or go-between. There is perhaps a second paradox to be noted here. Without the translator, the author would be invisible! José Saramago, the Portuguese novelist and winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for literature, once stated that writers create national literatures with their language, but world literature is written by translators.ix French filmmaker Robert Bresson,x whose films were characterized by a profound intensity, wrote that his aim was to “Make visible what … might perhaps never have been seen.” And Swiss artist Paul Klee: “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible [sic]”.xi The translator too “makes visible” the author. Another way to think about how the translator brings visibility to the author while remaining in the shadows is to imagine the act of translation as a mask. The mask as an age-old form of disguise and masquerade is worn over the face to conceal an individual’s identity and, by its own features, create a new persona. In this metaphor, when the wearer (translator) is attired in the mask (engaged in the act of translation), there is a loss of his previous identity and the birthing of a new one (the author’s new voice). And so we have the Masquerade of Translation. 

If there is indeed a second paradox to be found in the literary translator’s craft, the words of physicist Edward Teller come to mind: “Two paradoxes are better than one; they may even suggest a solution.” Solutions, anyone?


i. Umberto Eco, “Cappelli alti di forma”, in the column La Bustina di Minerva, L’espresso, Sept. 28, 2007, online at http://espresso.repubblica.it/dettaglio/Cappelli-alti-di-forma/1796108).
  ii. Ibid.: “Dura e paradossale fatica è dunque quella del traduttore, il quale dovrebbe fare il massimo per rendersi invisibile… eppure vorrebbe (giustamente) che questa invisibilità fosse premiata con una certa visibilità. Eppure il successo del traduttore è proprio il raggiungimento dell’invisibilità…”
  iii. Malcolm Jones, “Lost in Translations”, Newsweek, Oct. 15, 2007.
  iv. “Interpreter of Malefactors”, Review by Wyatt Mason, The New York Times, August 27, 2006.
  v. “Dangerous Obsession”, The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa, Review by Kathryn Harrison, The New York Times Book Review, October 14, 2007.
  vi. Ibid.
  vii. Eco, op. cit.: “Una delle battaglie dei traduttori è stata da anni quella per avere il nome sul frontespizio (non come co-autore ma almeno come mediatore fondamentale)…”
  viii. “Part Accomplice, Part Rival: the Translator is a True Co-Author: An interview with Claudio Magris”, Anne Milano Appel, translator. Absinthe: New European Writing, Dwayne Hayes, ed., March 2007. (Translation of an interview by Ilide Carmignani that originally appeared in Comunicare. Letterature .Lingue, Il Mulino, Bologna, n. 6, 2006, pp. 221-226.)
  ix. Saramago reportedly made the statement in May 2003 during a speech to attendees at the Fourth Latin American Conference on Translation and Interpretation in Buenos Aires.
  x. Bresson felt a deep feeling of responsibility to his audience, and thought that it was not the aim of his filmmaking to impress the viewers with his brilliance or the brilliance of his performers, but to make them share something of his own vision. Cited at:
  xi. “L’art ne reproduit pas le visible ; il rend visible…