Livestreamed on this page on Tuesday 11 August 2020 at 9 a.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC -5) / 10 a.m. EDT (New York, UTC -4) / 15:00 BST (London, UTC +1) / 16:00 CEST (Berlin, UTC +2) / 23:00 KST (Seoul, UTC +9).
Building Translator Communities and Communities for Translation
With M Lynx Qualey, Shuchi Saraswat, Allison Markin Powell & Paige Aniyah Morris
PEN America, the Center for the Humanities at CUNY Graduate Center, and the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library presented Building Translator Communities and Communities for Translation livestreamed on the global, commons-based, peer-produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Tuesday 11 August 2020 at 9 a.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC -5) / 10 a.m. EDT (New York, UTC -4) / 15:00 BST (London, UTC +1) / 16:00 CEST (Berlin, UTC +2) / 23:00 KST (Seoul, UTC +9).
Literary translation was once a lonely profession but translators no longer need toil in isolation. All manner of communities have sprung up to support translators and literature in translation. These speakers have founded blogs, publications, and databases, as well as collectives and reading series — both virtual and local — to fill the gaps and meet the needs of translators, editors, booksellers, and readers.
Guest co-host, Mary Ann Newman.
Sponsored by Middlebury Language Schools
M Lynx Qualey is founding editor of the translation-community website ArabLit, which won a 2017 London Book Fair prize. The project has since expanded to ArabKidLitNow!, the ArabLit Story Prize, and the ArabLit Quarterly magazine. MLQ is also co-host of the popular BULAQ podcast, and she writes regularly for a variety of publications. Her translation Sonia Nimr's Wondrous Journeys in Amazing Lands is forthcoming from Interlink this fall.
Shuchi Saraswat is a writer, editor, and reading series director. She's worked at the independent bookstore, Brookline Booksmith, for the past nine years and in 2018 she founded the Transnational Literature Series, which focuses on themes of migration, the intersection of politics and literature, and works in translation. In 2019, she served as a co-judge for the National Book Award in Translated Literature. She is a nonfiction editor at the literary journal AGNI, where she will be co-editing a portfolio of translated literature with Jennifer Kwon Dobbs for the Fall 2021 issue. She currently lives in Boston.
Allison Markin Powell has been awarded grants from English PEN and the NEA, and the 2020 PEN America Translation Prize for The Ten Loves of Nishino by Hiromi Kawakaami. Her other translations include works by Osamu Dazai, Kanako Nishi, and Fuminori Nakamura. She was the guest editor for the first Japan issue of Words Without Borders, served as cochair of the PEN America Translation Committee and currently represents the committee on PEN’s Board of Trustees, and she maintains the database Japanese Literature in English.
Paige Aniyah Morris is a writer and translator from Jersey City, NJ, currently based in Seoul, South Korea. She holds BAs in Ethnic Studies and Literary Arts from Brown University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers University-Newark. The recipient of awards from the Fulbright Program and the American Literary Translators Association, her writing and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in The Margins,The Rumpus, Strange Horizons, Nabillera, Necessary Fiction, and more. With Eugene Lee, Gisele Pineda, and Spencer Lee Lenfield, she co-founded Disoriented, a platform to generate discussions about how social identities translate between Asia and the US.
Esther Allen: Hello and welcome. I'm Esther Allen, a professor at City university of New York, and since Allison Martin will be part of today's conversation about translator communities, our cohost today is Mary Ann Newman, a leading translator from Catalan and Spanish, and the organizer and curator of New York's annual Sant Jordi Festival among many other events. Mary Ann is also a co-organizer of Translating the Future, the conference you are now attending. On May 19 in the second week of this conference, the immensely talented writer and translator Lina Mounzer joined us from Beirut for an unforgettable conversation with Madhu Kaza, do know last week a catastrophic explosion occurred city of Beirut. During today's conversation specific suggestions for actions to take, in support of that city and its people. For those seeking more insight into Beirut's history and current situation, we strongly recommend the work of Lina Mounzer. The two editorials first appeared on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times prior to, and following the explosion, on August 9 piece in The Guardian about its aftermath and Waste Away, her extraordinary essay published in July, by The Baffler.
Mary Ann Newman: First I'd like to thank Allison Markin Powell and Esther Allen for inviting me to be part of this. This amazing series of conversations about translation. It's really an honor. In Lina Mounzer August 5th article in the New York Times, immediately following the explosion. She movingly and angrily evoked the impact of explosions in Lebanese history, I'm quoting her now. "Growing up in Lebanon taught me that an explosion resonates across time, that the shock reverberates forward into your life and the pressure reconfigures, the landscape of the mind. The people of Beirut have been shaped by the bombs that reconfigured this country, beneath the rebel, beneath the sadness, an immense rage has begun to boil. Lebanese blood has been spilled for so long. After the war, the criminals all granted themselves amnesty, this time it won't be there for the taking." Close quote. In this spirit of resistance, we salute the courage and strength of the citizens of Beirut, and encourage everyone to choose a way to express their solidarity and collaboration with them. Communities of mutual aid, are the subject of today's conversation and what is the 14th installment of our weekly program. Today's group is particularly fore flung. Paige Aniyah Morris a writer, translator and co-founder of the platform disoriented.blog, joins us from Sol. Shuchi Saraswat a writer in reading series director is in Boston. And M. Lynx Qualey, writer, translator, and founder of the translation community website, arablit.org, comes to us from Rabat, Morocco. They're joined by Allison Markin Powell, for a conversation about building translator communities and communities for translation. You could learn more about all of today's wonderful speakers by reading their full bios on the Center For the Humanity Site.
Esther: Following today's conversation, there will be time for questions. Please email your questions for Paige, Shuchi, MLQ and Allison to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll keep the questions anonymous, unless you note in your email that you would like us to read your name. Translating the Future will continue in its current form through September, and towards the end of that month during the conferences originally planned dates, several larger scale events will take place. We'll be here every Tuesday until then, with the weeks hour long conversation, please join us next Tuesday, August 18, at our regular 1:30 hour for the third and final Motherless Tongues, Multiple Belongings pro, with Janet Hong, Pierre Joris and Maria Jose Gimenez, and do keep checking the Center for the Humanities Site for future events.
Mary Ann: Translate The Future is convened by PEN America Translation Committee, which advocates on behalf of literary translators, working to foster a wider understanding of their art and offering professional resources for translators, publishers, critics, bloggers, and others with an interest in international literature. The committee has currently co-chaired by Lyn Miller-Lachmann and Larissa Kyzer. For more information, look for translation resources @pen.org. I'm particularly happy to mention this in the context of today's topic, because for many of us, the PEN Translation Committee is our core community.
Esther: If you know anyone who was unable to join us for the live stream today, a recording will be available afterward on the HowIRound and Center for the Humanities Site. Before we turn it over to Allison and the gang, we'd like to offer our utmost gratitude to our partners at the Center for the Humanities at The Graduate Center, CUNY, the Martin E. Segal Theater Center, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, and PEN America, and to the masters of dark zoom magic at HowIRound who make this livestream possible. And for their special support for today's program in particular, we'd like to thank the Middlebury Language Schools and LTI Korea. And now over to you guys,
Allison Markin Powell: Hello, everyone. It's so exciting to be here, this panel is very meaningful to me because as Mary Ann and Esther suggested the PEN Translation Committee has for some time been the sort of source of my translation community, which has branched out into and inspired various other communities. But also speaking of that, I would like to ask MLQ if she would be able to share a little bit more about ways in which we and our audience might be able to help those in Lebanon.
Marcia Lynx Qualey: Right, and I think, as many people already know Lebanon was already deep in an economic crisis before this began. And the needs right now are very immediate. And so if, the biggest thing to do is if you have any sort of extra money whatsoever is to donate it to things, ideally, things that are on the ground and things that are happening locally. I don't think there's any wrong place to donate, unless you're planning to give money directly to the Lebanese government in which case, don't. But there are bookshops that are fundraising to reopen such as Papercup and Menara, they're studios, there are all sorts of things. The Lebanese Red Cross, Lebanese Food Bank. Ideally, if you can give to somebody who you know is traveling soon so they can bring cash with them, but otherwise, anything that's going on on the ground, such as Lebanese Red Cross, Lebanese Food Bank is excellent. There are a list of things @arablit.org. if people wanna go look there.
Allison: Wonderful, thank you very much. So to begin our conversation, I thought that maybe each of us could speak a little bit at first about the communities that we each have created. And I guess I would be glad to start. Today, I think the main communities that I would be talking about was honored to be a part of, to be founding member of two different translation collectives, or translator collectives, I should say. One of them is Cedilla & Co and the other is called Strong Women, Soft Power. So this was, I believe back in early 2016, it just, they both came together right around the same time. And I think there was a collective moment happening at that point in time, for me personally and in Heather I think. So I need to give credit to Sean Bye, and Julia Sanches, who had the original idea for Cedilla & Co. And they invited me and certain other members to become founding members of that. And that's a translators collective based in America. It was primarily based in New York, and with translators of various languages. And we wanted to be sort of a mutual support organization in service to the publishing community, but also in service to ourselves offering each other support and at the same time. So that was coming together, I was in conversations and connections with two other women who translate Japanese literature, Lucy North, who lives in the UK, and Ginny Tapley Takemori who lives in Japan. And we were coming together over various topics. And we all happened to be going to the London Book Fair that year. And so we organized our first event, which was a reading which we gave the reading, our title, our name, Strong Women, Soft Power. And so we came together, the idea was to support or to promote Japanese women writers in translation in English. And because we sort of saw there to be a need for that in terms of works and translation. And then we also felt that women translators were not getting the same opportunities. So we wanted to support ourselves, but also bring attention to that within the translation community. So, I'm gonna leave it at that, and I'm gonna pass it on maybe to Paige now, if you'd like to tell us a bit about how you're here.
Paige Morris: Sure, yeah, so the community I'll be talking about today is disoriented.blog, which is a blog platform that was founded to create a space for people to think through transnational lives and identities, essentially lives in transit between Asia and the US, and how the community came about I was in Korea a few years ago as a Fulbright grantee, and I realized during my first grant year that a lot of us were coming from the context of the US perhaps it was our first time out of the US and we were discovering that we were having very interesting experiences related to our identities, that we were struggling to find the language to name and discuss. So we had a lot of soul searching basically about, you know, for myself coming from the US as a Black American living in Korea and sort of having to rediscover or renegotiate what it means to move through a space as a Black person in the US as opposed to Korea, and trying to find ways to talk about that experience and just feeling that there were maybe other people having similar encounters and grappling with similar questions led me, and some of the other grantees I was in conversation with to think that maybe a platform for that kind of conversation on a more global scale would be really helpful. So we founded the blog sort of just as a project of kind of calling on anyone who is living this just muddled, transnational life to submit writing, art, any media that they felt they could use to ask those questions and struggled toward answers, and maybe not arrive at answers, but we found that it didn't begin as a translation project, so to speak. But I think the questions we were asking kind of naturally gave way to multilingual and multimedia ways of asking and grappling with those questions. So in the end, the blog now contains several languages, several countries represented several types of experiences in transit. And I think that's really exciting, and it was really overwhelming, but really comforting to see how many people were interested in participating in this conversation and interested in what it means to kind of live these lives, where were uprooted from certain contexts and planted and others, and just trying to make sense of it with whatever language we have at that moment. Yeah, I will pass on the torch to Shuchi.
Shuchi Saraswat: Thank you Paige, and thank you Allison, for putting this group together, I'm really honored to be in this conversation with you all. So the community I'm talking about are the bookselling communities. I work at a bookstore and how to reach readers and kind of, I guess I'm not a translator, so opening up the world of translation to communities that are not familiar with translation. So in 2018, I founded a author event series called the Transnational Literature Series. And that was really focused on the theme of migration and works in translation naturally fell into that kind of, you know, that theme. But it wasn't until later that year after I attended be used Translation Now Conference that I thought the conversations translators were having were really enmeshed with what the series themes were about, considering, you know, kind of de-centering the American experience was one of the big things that we were trying to do with the series. And that's something that translators are facilitating through bringing various works in and looking at how we use language and sort of the stories, and the way stories are told in the US, and how can we kind of open that up? And then of course, you know, just the business of translation and how hard it is to get translation published in the US. And so all of these conversations really felt like they were in kinship with what was going on in the series. And so I started to bring translators more into the conversation in a variety of ways, which we'll talk about later, but that's basically the angle that I'm here, you know, kind of representing a sort of, how do we bring this work that you're all doing to larger communities and make them aware of it? So I'll stop there and I'll pass it on to MLQ.
Marcia: Okay, so I guess the core of the community that I'm gonna be talking about is ArabLit, which started out as a word press blog in 2009. And although I've been asked about it several times only, you know, after many, many years had passed, and I no longer quite remember why I opened it up. I know I had a new baby, and I was freelancing at home, and I was probably lonely, but when I did open it up and I started to post just kind of thoughts about Arabic literature and translation and micro reviews, I found immediately that I was contacted by translators Arabic to English first, and then really very quickly English to Arabic translators as well, from around the region and around the world. So I think there was really sort of this untapped need for a communal space and for a community in a very crosscutting way. So it's now not a community, the translators of the core of the community in multiple directions in and out of Arabic, but it's also our publishers, anglophone publishers who are interested in Arabic literature, Italian publishers, who are interested in Arabic literature and read in English. And it's, you know, got Arab Kid Lit Now! which is a children's aspect to it well, which involves Arabic children's publishing. And I think what I've enjoyed the most about this community, and there are sort of a number of things, you know, we had this Arabic translation challenge recently that ran for seven weeks where we throw out poetry and people translated it in different ways, and often amusing ways, because, you know, translation is often something that you do sort of in your home, particularly in this corona time without seeing other other humans. And I freelance in a number of different ways and it's all, you know, right here in this room. But one of the thing I think that has worked the best about this community is that, for Arabic to English translation, there are a lot of people who are really brilliant at it who are not in the United States or England who don't have access to the journals. Don't know how to access publishers at all, who do beautiful work, but don't have any access to the sort of anglophone publishing or professional, or have the citizenship to belong to any institutions or residency or anything. And it has been sort of helping people work on pitch letters, and I mean, really bumbling along, I guess together, making connections between people, sharing my contacts with people, helping people who wanted to translate and who do beautiful work, find their way into publishing. So I think, you know, the ArabLit community is all sorts of different people who are interested in literature and how it moves between languages.
I would love to be reading more literature in every language. And often it comes down to just the concrete means, you know, the concrete funding support, the structural support for the work, I think.
Allison: I mean, this is just, it's so amazing to hear from each of you and to hear about this. I mean, one of the reasons that I brought this group together is I think, because I felt like there's something about the field, or if you wanna call it a field or an industry of literary translation, it's not really centralized, it's not really organized. And yet we are all, you know, striving and struggling to make it and to create literature and to get it into the hands of readers. And so I think, you know, I personally came to literary translation, translating Japanese literature, working through publishing. I'm not an academic, but I think, and so academia does offer a certain kind of structure, but I think what I noticed or what I felt about each of these you hear today is that like you saw a need, where you saw something that you wanted to exist, and you created it, and it worked, people were attracted to it. You know, obviously it was something that, you know, it wasn't, you know, it wasn't just in the void, you know, something that happened. Like I said, you know, my collectives both happen at the same times and they feel different needs. And so that's something that I would like to talk about, but, you know, one of the things like MLQ you were referring to is this sort of precarity. I mean, because of this lack of structure, you know, I think we all and, you know, booksellers are in a very precarious moment as well. But there is a lot of precarity for literary translators, particularly those who don't have jobs, other kinds, I don't have full time jobs. So we're doing this as a primary, as a profession. So MLQ, did you want us, would you be...
Marcia: I’m one of those people who doesn't have a job. I have a lot of jobs, but not a one job. When I think about creating community around Arab and Arabic literature and translation, there are so many communities inside the community and different needs and different access and different authority. So there are translators who live in the United States who are tenured professors, or in Canada, or the UK, and to have, you know, this sort of immediate authority or there's you know, there are other ways of course, gain authority, Jonathan Wright, who came to translation through being a writer's after being writer's journalist. But there are people who have this sort of settled life and they do translation as part of what they do. And that's one translation community. And, you know, they're an important part of the translation community. And they can help the broader translation community in many ways, there's another part of the translation community who is like me, who's freelancing full time and supporting oneself. One's family, sometimes one's extended family. And then there is different still kinds of other precarities. You know, I'm a translator living in Beirut right now who is also trying to support their family. And, you know, while inflation is going out of control and they don't have any windows. So this is a broad community with all kinds of different access authority, financial precarity, or not. And so around some issues, it becomes very easy to build community, right? Like some things, the Arabic translation challenge is fun. Anybody wants do it, no matter what their, you know, financial position is today. Being part of the magazine that we spawned out of it, to me it was so important that we pay writers and translators because some people can afford to participate in a magazine that where you're donating your labor, and some people cannot. And I was recently speaking before the events of August 4th with Rima Rantisi, who does something similar to our quarterly in Beirut, which is a magazine called Rusted Radishes that moves between Arabic and English. And she'd said her reaction to things becoming more and more precarious in Beirut was that they wanted to create a paid positions for people that they wanted to try and you know, put something around to protect people, to support people for doing this work. And it's important work in the arts. And I think, you know, I never imagined myself as sort of a xen photocopying teenager, like worrying about bank transfers and paying right, you know, paying translators. I mean, that sounds so like grownup and boring, but I think there is something, you know, radical also to paying people, to be part of this community. And then, you know, sometimes of course, people who have these positions where they don't need to be paid they can donate it back to the magazine as well. But it does make creating community sometimes harder because with people who are precarious and people who are not, they have different interests and don't necessarily, so for instance, publishing translations with a university press, they usually don't pay anything at all. And for an academic, this may be fine. You know, you spent whatever a year working on this translation, it can be important to you in other ways, so obviously none of us are wholly driven by the financial aspect, but for many of us, we can't just translate a book and then give it away for free as a regular practice. And there's sort of, you know, different. So there's all sorts of different entry points. It's a wonderful thing that sort of, you don't need a certificate. You don't need any, you know, you don't need to join a board or a group in order to become a literary translator, but there are all kinds of levels of belonging in the industry. And I think this was that page can really speak to in terms of gatekeeping and breaking into the industry and what the different kind of levels of barrier to entry are.
Paige: Yeah, thank you, thank you so much MLQ. I think a lot of what you talked about is especially salient to me, as you know, I consider myself definitely a new emerging, all of the sort of novice words for a translator. And, you know, I'm only really able to comfortably call myself a translator because of these opportunities, right? For, you know, getting paid to do this work and being taken seriously and having your work seen as valuable. I think a lot of the barriers that you described definitely would have kept me out of this industry, and out of doing this work, just because, you know, there are only so many people who can afford to do it for free or who have access to the sort of rooms where a lot of these decisions are made I think, you know, as someone who I also am a writer and also had an interest in working in publishing in an editorial capacity, I see a lot of the same barriers to entry in translation as a wing of the publishing industry. And I think there's a clear investment in maintaining those barriers in a lot of ways. And that's really why we often see the need to make our own communities and to sort of work around the barriers to entry. I think, obviously a lot of publishing and a lot of, you know, professionally translating is who you know, and you know, who your circles are and who do you have, who will be a person who can, you know, rope you into the correct space or rope you into the correct opportunity or room. And, you know, I've just been so fortunate in my, you know, very brief, but, you know, hopefully long tenure as a translator to have encountered a lot of individuals, rather than, you know, very large industry-wide institutions. I've often found that it's those individual gestures of outreach that have really made a huge difference for me. I don't feel that I can say I belong to something that feels coherent as a community, but I feel that at every step of my career so far, there has been someone who has done that work of reaching out and inviting me into spaces, conversations, you know, thank you to Allison again, for inviting me into this conversation in this space. And those sorts of interactions can make all the difference. And I remember just this year was my first translation reading and that all came about because it just took one person to introduce me to another person who happened to be organizing a local reading series, and then remembered me and you know, sent an email. And just like that, you know, I was brought into the space by one person, right? I'll wanna thank Sam Bett, who translates from Japanese as well, who hosts the Us&Them reading series in Brooklyn. And, you know, just brought me into this small indie bookstore in Brooklyn one night and, you know, people who were in that room and who I was able to share this work with, they, you know, are still in touch. And I think that created a community, you know, however, trends into me seem to have like a kind of one night reading. I think those are like lasting examples of community that can come from just individual gestures and the work that so many individuals do to create these spaces. And I mean, I'm especially curious to hear from, from the bookselling end of it from Shuchi like what you think about when you are organizing a reading series or organizing events in your bookstore, how do you think about those in terms of community and how does that work, you know, operate when you were trying to bring in translators and translated writing?
Shuchi: Well, I mean, I think what you said about meeting someone and what they can do, and as far as opening up community, that's so much of what was happening at the beginning of the series was I was trying to find these communities that were talking about literature in this sort of deep way, in a very transnational way. And I actually found out about the Translation Now Conference at Boston University, from Stacy Mattingly, who had been coming to the transnational events and helped organize that. So it was sort of meeting her through the events that she had been attending as just an audience member and she expressed interest in this is really great, and I'm not seeing this kind of work. And then keeping that line of communication open. And then just realizing, you know, Boston University is just a mile or so from Brookline Booksmith. I mean, really we're really close to each other and yet even in the city, and I think this happens a lot in cities, we just kind of stay within our own communities and we don't intersect. And then the second you open it up, I mean, the views conference was open to the public, you know, and I had realized that I didn't know that. And so I have this very lucky position of being in a bookstore. Brookline Booksmith has been around for almost 60 years. So it's really established within Brookline and greater Boston, and so I have access to a public space, and that I think is really, is really valuable. And, especially the last few years under Trump's presidency have understood the value of having this public respected platform and how that can be used in new ways. And how important is that those platforms are used in new ways. And so I really wanted to break out of this sort of, I want us to do something different and new, and it was necessary that I started having conversations with people who are already doing this. So talking to the Goethe-Institut was important. You know, the French Cultural Center, they've been doing so much. So all of these committees were already doing so much in Boston, and it was like, "Well, how can we help?" First of all, you know, "how can we bring what you're doing to our community and how can we sort of offer our space up to what you're doing as well." And so, I guess with incorporating translators, it was such an experiment. There was sort of nobody who had been doing this in a reading series format. So we tried a lot of different things. We, you know, we did a New England translators panel and that was sort of a great first step because we were able to find translators locally and in the community. And so that opened it up to students who are interested in translation and friends of the translators, and that brought out the kind of natural communities and introduced them to the store and to the series and saw, hey, this is a place that's welcoming, this kind of conversation. I mean, you know, so much has changed of course, since the pandemic, so we were really fixed to our space. And of course, with virtual events that that's kind of opened up in a whole new way, but, you know, when we were able to have authors and translators together in conversation, that was always really wonderful to see how two people work together on a book. And so having Gabriella Alamo and in conversation with like 'Dick Well', it's like cluster, I believe, I'm sorry if I'm forgetting his name. They read back and forth from the Spanish and English and the Spanish and English. And then it was this completely new different kind of reading that we hadn't even thought could happen him. They were alternating paragraphs and yet everybody followed and understood what was happening. And it was so amazing to just see, wow that we can even do this reading in a whole different kind of way. And then we've been doing sort of, you know, gathering translators in a particular language, which Allison knows she was part of our translating Japanese panel. And I think what that does is framing it in that particular way. It brings in people who are interested in Japan, it brings in people who are interested in Japanese literature, it was a chance for us to talk about general ideas of what Japanese literature is and how to break out beyond that. So I think it was finding these ways we were being really flexible and open what works, what doesn't, you know, translators are sometimes the most fiercest advocates of the book that has been brought into English. And so they're more than happy to be a part of these conversations and to realize that and to keep as many lines of communication open learning about the collectives has been part of that too. So, yeah, I think, you know, just kind of opening up ideas of what we can do and how we can embrace new communities has been really important. And especially in this time where we're sort of, you know, the last couple of months where we're thinking about systems and how to break open from systems that have been established, I wanna kind of turn it back to you MLQ and actually all of you, to talk about how you kind of have to, what are the challenges you've faced systemically with being a translator and how do you break outside of that? Does that seems really important to kind of start talking about now?
Marcia: Right, well, I mean, the challenges systemically for Arabic literature and translation are sort of many. There you know, there's the challenge of sort of, yeah, you can easily become a part of this group somehow, you know, you can, you know somebody, you know a writer, you love their work. You translate it, you publish it somewhere, you're translator, right? But in terms of finding a way to get inside the group, it's very difficult. And then Arabic itself, of course, is sort of on the margins. So to get inside of the ingroup, that's already at the margins, is then you're still at the margins in terms of getting work, brought into English or other languages. And, you know, Arabic is just, I think reaching a point where you're more likely to see the work read. Okay, not more likely who sometime are seeing the work read in a really literary way versus just an ethnographic, you know, behind the veil of this is a story of a woman escaping blah, blah, blah, and reaching America, you know, this sort of gloss put on. So there are systemic issues in terms of sort of imperialism in the target language. And then there are systemic issues in the source language in terms of lack of support. So I'm currently part of this group called Arab Voices, and we're trying to copy LTI and we're making a brochure for the Frankfurt Book Fair. None of us, like, I'm not sure any of us are gonna get paid on the committee. It's being organized by this super wonderful Egyptian publisher. Probably the translations will be done for free. I don't even know, it's the book like gonna be distributed? I mean and then we were hoping also that there would be some kind of translation fund attached to these 24 books that we're gonna put in this booklet. Currently there's no transition fund for Arabic, like there is for, you know, certain other languages. So there are all kinds of difficulties on multiple sides of this. And I wanted to ask actually too. So for Arabic literature, there's this sort of additional gate or difficulty of breaking in, if you have an Arab name. So you can be Lina Mounzer, you can be the best. You can be Yasmin, but you still have this. So your name is not now Humphrey Davies is also like an amazing translator. But your name is not, you know, Bob Smith, which gives you this additional credibility because Bob Smith must be really good with any English, I guess. Does this also exist, Paige, with Korean as well?
Paige: Yeah, I think a lot of what you spoke to, I can definitely see parallels in my experience so far. I think Korean is one of the languages I would say is definitely well supported within the context of the source language. I think Korea is very supportive and incredibly dedicated to getting more readers in all languages and not just support for English, but you know LTI Korea support has a translation fund for several languages. I know there've been translations into Turkish, French, you know, they really do have the resources and like pull the resources as well. And so I think my struggle so far in translating from Korean to English, are coming from the more systemic or more kind of structural issues within publishing, which is, you know, not immune to right issues of imperialism and imperialist influence or racism. And I think definitely I'm less likely to be taken seriously as a translator than, you know, someone who emails anybody, you know, on the US and or the Korean and with a name like Bob Smith. I think that it definitely it allows for those, the abundance of resources that exist to tend to kind of fall into a lot of the same hands a lot of the time, which narrows, you know, just how many people are able to, yeah, enter this already marginalized group and already incredibly small group, which I think we should be doing as much as we can to bring more people in, you know, have more people interested in reading and sharing Korean literature. But a lot of those barriers just there's an investment in maintaining them. And I think that's the most important thing is to really open up the definition of a translator and open up our understandings of what translators look like and the work that we do, so that yeah, more people can enter these spaces. And I think, yeah, it would be wonderful to see translation funds exist for every language. I would love to be reading more literature in every language. And it's often it comes down to just the concrete means, you know, the concrete funding support, the structural support for the work, I think. Yeah Korean definitely has a lot of those resources, but I think I mean, yeah, we can still be doing a lot more to diversify, who's translating and take seriously the translators of color, especially. And I think also, you know, heritage language speakers tend to be discredited or their work is not taking us seriously either or as praised or lauded. And so I think all of those are issues that need to be dealt with at the same time as the kind of concrete financial issues as well.
Marcia: Right, and I guess I'd imagine there's also an issue of transparency as well, because I just know that Bob Smith is being paid more for word than everybody else in the industry. And we don't know I mean, I do know how much Bob Smith is being paid, but I don't know what those different levels are and how to negotiate better.
Allison: I don't think that a lot... Most people don't know I mean there is transparency is a really good thing to bring up. But I think, and you know, for instance like the PEN Translation Committee has done a lot of work in terms of advocacy, and I personally have done a lot of work with them advocating for translators and for us to have better terms and standards in the industry. But I think, I mean, there's so many things to talk about here, but one of the things also I wanted to bring up is sort of like enabling the sort of inspiration for some of these, you know, like MLQ you were talking about, you know, you find something you wanna translate, you translate it, you find a place to publish it. You're a translator, but, you know, since translation is so sort of solitary, sometimes we are working in isolation and we don't even consider these other things that we might be able to do. Like as a for instance, I'll talk about a Strong Women, Soft Power. We've written articles together. We've done readings together, but back in 2017, we organized a day long symposium that took place in Tokyo. We did it in Tokyo because our target was our market or audience was Jap people translating into and out of Japanese. And so obviously that was the place to do it. But we weren't funded, we didn't really, we didn't have any funding or support we did it ourselves. But you know, the basis was we wanted to talk about community. We wanted to bring people together. We wanted to talk about some of these barriers or stereotypes that exist within publishing. So we had, you know, different panels organized, and we brought together all of these people. And I think, you know, it wasn't in the mainstream, the fact that three people living on different continents could put something like this together. And we weren't funded, like I said, we weren't funded, we didn't have, you know, an academic institution or a governmental institution supporting us. You know, there was, you know, we were scrap, you know, scrambling and scrapping things together. But at the same time, there was a certain amount of freedom and like expansiveness in terms of what could be possible. And it was a tremendous success, we were covered in the Japan Times. You know, we had, and I think out of that, conversations that took place that day, we inspired other groups to form their own collectives or to take up their own, you know, kinds of war literary or translation workshops and things. And so sometimes it's just like this suggesting what's possible, and I know I knew that this was going to happen. I'm looking at the time it's time. I'm hoping that we have some questions that have come in otherwise we can just keep asking ourselves these questions, but I knew we would just kind of scratch the surface of the things to talk about here.
Esther: So yes, I think that Mary Anne has a question… and she's coming back, yes… And there she is.
Mary Ann: Hello, I have many, many questions from the conversation. But the first one came from Paige's first intervention, because I find that the notion of creating a community through a blog really interesting, and the nature of the blog, which was, you know, transnational. So I wondered if you would give us an example of some insight that you derived from through the blog on the translational, transnational connection, something that, you know, that really struck you. And I think everybody, perhaps you could all give us an example of how your community has somehow, you know, given you some special experience.
I've often found that it's those individual gestures of outreach that have really made a huge difference for me. I don't feel that I can say I belong to something that feels coherent as a community, but I feel that at every step of my career so far, there has been someone who has done that work of reaching out and inviting me into spaces.
Paige: Yeah, thank you, thank you for the question. I think, yeah, definitely everyone who was kind of on the founding team also participated directly in editing a lot of the pieces that came in and by editing, I don't mean in the stricter publishing sense, but just sort of curating and seeing how things fit together. And a lot of those pieces I remember, I think that just in general, getting to hear from people who sort of saw the challenge of the blog and took it upon themselves to also ask questions about how their own language shapes their identity and vice versa, how their identity shapes, the way that they use language, was really interesting to see. Because I was obviously coming to it from the standpoint of, you know, an American who moves to Korea and now has a lot of questions about what I'm doing here and how I'm doing here. But I got to read a lot of pieces from writers on the other end of that. And I'm thinking of my co-founder, Eugene Lee, who is a Korean American often grappling on the blog with issues around sort of living in the US without a concrete sense of what that identity meant. And then now being in the context of Korea where, you know, certain things are expected of him and among them is like a certain skillfulness with the language, and so he wrote a lot about kind of understanding his identity through maybe the ways that language often fails him in Korea, but also the ways that that expectation sort of changes the stakes for him when it comes to speaking Korean or using Korean. I think just pieces like that really, you know, obviously I'm coming to the language from a completely different standpoint, but I think that just asking questions about like how much of our daily identities is informed by language, was something I took away from the blog and questions I still grapple with when I'm working in translation out, which is really cool.
Esther: Thank you Paige, that is really cool. We have another question from Avery Udagawa, that is you guys have all skirted around it, but I think it's good to address it directly. And I'm sure you'll each have a different response. Avery asks, "How do you organize and sustain a translator community without it becoming overwhelmed? How do you encourage others to help shoulder your burden as an organizer and activist?"
Marcia: Avery knows very well that I don't, so I'll pass.
Esther: Now, please answer the question MQL.
Marcia: I haven't the slightest idea. I mean, so the organization that I'm in with Avery is called World Kid Lit. And I think actually that group has done a far better job than ArabLit in terms of establishing a core committee that works together and that shares things together has a regular now where we're supposed to have a monthly Zoom call together, so that there's not one person who is really kind of silently doing many things that nobody else even knows about. So I think with that, I think spreading out somehow into some kind of system, whatever it is, is helpful.
Allison: I think from my experience, I guess it would actually come from my experience when I was co-chair of the Translation Committee. One of the things that I learned from that, you know, you have this group of people who are coming together and lots of people have different ideas or aspirations or ambitions for what they might like to see. And again, I think sometimes it's just about empowering people to recognize, like, you know, if this is something you want to happen, you can start working towards that goal yourself. You know, you don't necessarily, you know, we'll support you. And so I think that has a lot to do with the community of just sort of like bringing, you know, letting people have their vision, and then supporting them to I mean, I do understand, I know very well from working with Esther on Translating the Future, how it can be very overwhelming. But the translation community is also, they are very willing to lend their support and help I think. I just wanted to kind of go back to Mary Anne's I wanted to have my own chance to sort of respond a little bit to one of the things that, what Mary Anne was asking earlier. And I think obviously community is about coming together and supporting each other. But I think like the two collectives that I'm a part of, you can kind of see, like one of them is all various languages. And so you would see that we're sort of supporting literature and translation, but with the Japanese translators coming together. And I know like there are other groups, there are other like Smoking Tigers, I know is a Korean collective of Korean translators. And I know this because Ulta, we did this relay blog on Ulta last year that we interviewed each other. But I think it's one of the questions that comes up with communities who are translating the same language pairs. You might think that there's like competition that you think, Oh, well, you know, other, you know, like I'm competing with Ginny and Lucy for the same work. But the reality is that we're not. I mean, first of all, we're sharing resources, we're sharing information. And so that helps to sort of boil us up. But it's also that like a rising tide lifts all ships, I think, and the idea that if you're working together, somehow it creates more work, more opportunities. And I just wanted to make sure that I feel like that's certainly been my experience. And I wanted to share that with other people, because if that's keeping you from working together with your fellow translators, don't let it please.
Esther: We have a really good follow up on that question actually. “in creating your own initiatives, it seems obvious that having a source of dollars or money to pay participants would be desirable. Are there other specific things you want or need for your projects that institutional support might offer?”
Allison: I mean, obviously money is in funding is the most, but I mean, a platform for publishing things is, you know, extremely valuable even in this exact moment, having someone like HowIRound, you know, having a media platform who's going to help because there are a lot of technical considerations that literary translators probably don't know very much about. So there are very, you know, the Brookline Booksmith, you know, bookstores. I mean, that's another thing that, you know, I was so attracted to in the end. Just odd by what you did with the Transnational Series is that, you know, I found as I was learning too, as I was having books being published and wanting to participate in the promotion of them is that like a lot of bookstores they didn't consider inviting the translator, even like book groups, they'll do book groups and they'll select your book, but obviously they can't invite the writer who's living in Japan or Morocco or Lebanon or... So they're going, but they don't invite the translator. And so I was finding that like, you have to sort of reinvent the wheel every time you wanted to do an event, promoting a book or books in translation. And so the fact that you'd be sort of establishing this format was really helpful, not just in Brookline, Massachusetts, but also as a sort of template that other bookstores could use. So, you know, that's the kind of in kind support that I think can be offered.
Esther: Shuchi you do you wanna respond as well?
Shuchi: Yeah, I mean, I think you know, we don't actually, we've never paid our speakers, everybody who's coming in is promoting a book. And so they're on tour from publishers. And so that has been really challenging because we want to invite people and it's how do we get people, to come because it is labor. Yeah, so, I mean, I don't really have anything to add other than then that I think that that financial bit of it is always sort of a struggle. And, you know, how do we make sure people understand that this is valuable work and that their time is valued. And that even as a bookstore, when we're asking them to come and we are, you know, in kind of publishing, you know, promoting their book, but we also value that work that we're doing, even if we can't pay them, I mean, I think that's a really big challenge, definitely for independent bookstores. But I think in the industry in general, is that kind of financial compensation that proves or worth, you know, yeah.
Mary Ann: I have one quick question, I don't know if we have time for it, but English is an issue. And when MLQ was speaking, you were talking about how through arablit.org, Italian publishers were seeing Arabic works. So I'm wondering on the one hand English is an issue because it's really hard to break down that door, but on the other hand through your communities, do other people find literature in it because you're translating into English?
Marcia: Yeah, yeah, definitely. So a Greek translator just told me she watched the, interview. Oh, did she watched the interview that I did with Lissy Jacquet for the Jordi festival and now she’s [crosstalk 57:45].
Mary Ann: Oh, that's amazing.
Marcia: And… is often… articles, specific pieces are translated to Spanish, to French, to Italian, at least once a week into some. And there are a number of sort of spinoff sites. There is an Arabic literature in Spanish, there's an Arabic literature and an Italian site as well. So you know, there was a book that I felt very passionate about and translated the whole thing without having a publisher for. It's finally coming out in October. But for a while, these sort of the only fruit of it was that the author was able to show it to European publishers who were then interested in it based on that. So English can be a door, but it also can create opportunities in other languages.
Mary Ann: Does that happen in Korean as well, Paige?
Paige: I’m still too new to say with... But I think definitely just given the scope and the support that I mentioned, like LTI Korea and other foundations have, I think definitely, you know, English is not seen as sort of the only option for translating from Korean. And I think that, you know, while many of the into English translations can sort open up more readers to an interest in Korean literature. I think, you know, it's Korean is in a really interesting position where a lot of that interest is pretty close by. I think there's a lot of like interaction between, you know, Korean literature and Japanese literature, Korean literature and Russian literature, and I think that's interesting to watch from my standpoint, not working from those languages, but thinking it's just really admirable that those connections are already there. And I would love to see similar platforms spring up. Yeah, something like arablit.org or other platforms for you know, fostering those connections too.
Esther: We have one more question for these last few minutes or last minute that I think is really pertinent it's from the UK. And the question would like to ask all the panelists, if they think the established translators associations in the US and UK can do more to remove barriers to entry and welcome a more diverse range of voices into their community. What do you all think about that?
Marcia: I mean to me, it have to be about from where I am about removing citizenship or residency is a barrier. So they'd have to say, "We're open to everybody, even if you are a Moroccan living in Morocco, even if you are a Syrian living in Berlin, even whoever you are, if you translate in these languages, we are open to you." And currently I think these institutions really are for people who live there.
Esther: Anybody else?
Allison: I mean, I think no, I mean, I'm speaking more for, well, the American ones, I think they are working hard to reach outside of the sort of obvious community, not communities, but where people are. And I think, I think it's just, I think I'm seeing more and more outreach happening, but I think it's something that we always need to keep foremost in our mind, so.
Esther: All right, well, I think we've reached 11:00 a.m which is, alas, the moment where we have to say goodbye to each other. This has been an extraordinary conversation. It's been fantastic to get so many different perspectives from so many different places and really enlightening as well. I think for myself and many people in the audience. So as we say goodbye, we need to thank once again, our partners, HowIRound, PEN America, The Center for the Humanities, the Graduate Center, CUNY, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, and the Martin E. Segal Theater Center. And today in particular, the Middlebury Language Schools and LTI Korea for their generous support for today's events. And especially thank you to Shuchi, Allison, MLQ and Paige. This has been an extraordinary conversation. Thank you all so much.
Shuchi: Thank you.
Marcia: Thank you
Allison: Thank you, thank you all.
About this Conference and Conversation Series
Translating the Future launched with weekly hour-long online conversations with renowned translators throughout the late spring and summer and will culminate in late September with several large-scale programs, including a symposium among Olga Tokarczuk's translators into languages including English, Japanese, Hindi, and more.
The conference, co-sponsored by PEN America, the Center for the Humanities at The Graduate Center CUNY, and the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, with additional support from the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, commemorates and carries forward PEN's 1970 World of Translation conference, convened by Gregory Rabassa and Robert Payne, and featuring Muriel Rukeyser, Irving Howe, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and many others. It billed itself as "the first international literary translation conference in the United States" and had a major impact on US literary culture.
The conversations are hosted by Esther Allen & Allison Markin Powell.
About HowlRound TV
HowlRound TV is a global, commons-based peer produced, open access livestreaming and video archive project stewarded by the nonprofit HowlRound. HowlRound TV is a free and shared resource for live conversations and performances relevant to the world's performing arts and cultural fields. Its mission is to break geographic isolation, promote resource sharing, and to develop our knowledge commons collectively. Participate in a community of peer organizations revolutionizing the flow of information, knowledge, and access in our field by becoming a producer and co-producing with us. Learn more by going to our participate page. For any other queries, email email@example.com, or call Vijay Mathew at +1 917.686.3185 Signal/WhatsApp. View the video archive of past events.