Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Everyone Is Just Like You – A Report from the 2012 Annual Conference of ALTA

I’m showing my age, and not in the way it’s normally meant. Lunch on Saturday, with a group of literary translators, was punctuated by that song from Barney and Friends: “You are special! Special! Everyone is special, everyone in his or her own way!” (Yes, the exclamation points belong there. Kids’ songs buzz with energy.)

But one thing I learned at the American Literary Translators Association conference, to my delighted relief, was that everyone is not, in fact special and individual and completely different from everyone else. Everyone is, in fact, just like you. Everyone thinks just like you. Everyone has the same fears, the same dreams, the same uncertainties, the same wishes.

  • Everyone wants to be published and widely read.
  • Everyone wants to get paid for their work.
  • Everyone dreams of having the latter two wishes intersect in every job.
  • Everyone has had to deal with that editor who insisted on a long-winded, frankly boring introduction.
  • In a bookstore, everyone bemoans a lack of money for books. And then buys books anyway.
  • While dealing with a particularly tricky passage, everyone has been smothered by the sense that they can’t translate, can’t speak French, can’t even speak English properly.
  • Everyone struggles with procrastination, or not dedicating enough time to their passions, or the overwhelming guilt when procrastinating gets in the way of passion.

So yes, everyone is just like you. At least among literary translators, that is.