The A to Z of Literary Translation by Georgia de Chamberet was posted on the Words without Borders blog in instalments from February to May 2008. It was circulated at the Masters Class in Translation Studies which Alane Mason (W.W. Norton) and Dedi Felman (Simon & Schuster) team taught in at Columbia University in the City of New York in 2008. Founded in 2003, Words without Borders is a superb site which promotes cultural understanding through the translation, publication, and promotion of the finest contemporary international literature.
I contributed to the @wwborders blog from 2005-2009. Whilst writing about English PEN’s Writers in Translation committee of which I was a founder member—tapping into my experiences as an editor, agent and publicist—the idea of doing a fun, but far from definitive listing, The A to Z of Literary Translation came to mind.
Artistry and adaptation are essential to the process of literary translation, since translation is an act of writing. Also accuracy and avoiding short cuts based on the when in doubt, cut it out approach. Writers make good translators—obvious examples being Baudelaire (translator of Edgar Allen Poe) and Robert Graves (translator of classical Latin and Greek authors and George Sand).
Beyond words into the mystery of language, and its cultural hinterland, is where a good translator will carry the reader on a journey of discovery. Good literature is primarily concerned with human beings, and is cosmopolitan, traveling beyond national identity and a book’s original social and cultural context—the same goes for a good translation.
Continue reading Georgia de Chamberet, The A to Z of Literary Translation | Words without Borders, 2008
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Scotland and moved to the US with my family at the age of four. We lived in the heartland of the US, in Nebraska, for several years, before moving to Texas, where we settled. I became an American citizen during my first year at uni. I started learning German, took lots of Spanish literature courses, and studied abroad in Berlin, Madrid, and Mainz, but in the end I became an English major because I wanted to access the creative writing courses offered by that department. I wrote a collection of short stories for my senior project. By the time I graduated I had gorged on literature for so long that I felt like I needed to do something completely different, so I went to work for a bank. I ended up in the Latin American group of an American bank, helping companies from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil access the US markets. I loved the clients but I didn’t love the work itself, which was incredibly demanding — I didn’t have the time or energy to read a book for three years — so I left that industry for publishing. I worked for Andrew Wylie as his assistant for a year, then for Francis Coppola, launching his literary magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story, finally settling at Words Without Borders, which published its first issues of writing from Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, six months after I began working there in 2003.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
It’s so lowbrow that it’s slightly embarrassing to admit, but I loved the Nancy Drew mystery series; I read every one, some multiple times. I think what appealed to me was the girl power — that these three young women were daring and fearless in the pursuit of truth and justice was quite inspiring. The book I probably read the most times was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Little Princess. I was captivated by the character Ram Das, who would sneak across the rooftops into the little girl’s garret with carpets and firewood, pillows and blankets, to make it a more pleasant place for her to live. It seemed utterly magical to me. I suppose I’m still rather fanciful.
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