Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Week (or rather, Book) 9: Music and Literature

No, not the magazine, but:

A Greater Music, by Bae Suah
Translated by Deborah Smith
Open Letter Books, 2016

First order of business: Rather obviously, 40 Books in 40 Weeks has become an unattainable goal. I developed some health problems over the summer, which absorbed all my energy and time. This will probably also be the subject of a future blog post, however ironic that seems . . . However, I have kept reading books, and I enjoy sharing my reactions with all of you lovely readers. So, here's the new deal (not the New Deal; I don't have that kind of political power):
I'm reading books from my to-read shelf, because darn it, they need to be read. Afterward, I'll write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It is keeping me accountable, and will continue to do so.

This is the first book of Bae Suah's that I've read, and I intend to read all of them.

This is one of those books that you read not for what happens, but how things happen.

This is one of those books you read for how the narrator views the world.

This is a classical music lover's heaven in literary form.

This is a language learner's trials and tribulations in literary form.

This is being in love with the idea of a person.

This is not knowing if drowning is dying.

This is a small dog regulating your emotional state.

This is family being not the most important thing or preconception in your life.

This is such a better blank narrator for a reader to superimpose themselves on than Twilight.

"The sequence of past, present, and that time we call the future, exists in this successive form only as it appears to the eye. Such a sequence has no real existence in our mental world."

This is humanity.

Next up: Foreign Gods, Inc., by Okey Ndibe

Week 7 & 8: Lots of Strangers in Lots of Strange Lands

40 Books in 40 Weeks: I'm reading one book from my to-read shelf per week through the end of the year. Afterward, I write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It's keeping me accountable.

Muddling Through in Madagascar, by Dervla Murphy
Overlook Press, 1989


Okay. Murphy, a travel writer, took a trip to Madagascar over thirty years ago. On the one hand, it's neat to see how the country has changed and evolved since then. But on the other hand . . . frick, this book was hard to get through. There's so much judgment based on tribes, race, "those people". There's so much entitlement of a white person saying "I just want a peaceful, uninhabited trek through nature, so let me just wander across the countryside, spooking all the people there because they equate white people with brutal colonizers." To her credit, at least she tries to puzzle out the reason that she worries more about plants and animals going extinct than people losing their lives and livelihoods.

I don't know. I suppose most people's reasons for travelling, for wanting to see the world, are pretty selfish. Goodness knows I've done my fair share of it. But to then turn around and write a book detailing the "primitive" nature of the different "tribes", playing into the completely incorrect assumptions that certain "tribes" are "more suited to intellectual and managerial work" than others, giving all the credit for technological advances to Westerners, listing out all the wonderful things colonization did for Madagascar, blaming Senegalese troops for the bloodletting in the 1947 rebellion, blaming tourism for many new problems, even saying that city girls who wore European clothes would have looked "so much lovelier" in traditional garb? It's so patronizing. Even racist. Makes my stomach turn.

Anyway. That's why it took me a few weeks to get through this book. But moving on, here are some useful things I learned from it:

  • The Tana-Tamatave train line was not only still running in the 80s, but was the primary method of travel between the two cities, as the Route Nationale I took in a taxi-be was in utter disrepair at the time.
  • Taxi-bes were NIGHTMARES 30 years ago. Health hazards. Torture. Awful, inhumane modes of transportation. But the only option for travel between many parts of the country. Makes me thankful for today's Sprinter vans.
  • Chinese companies had a huge presence in Madagascar in the 80s. I suppose they've all moved on by now due to a lack of precious metals or other valuable resources.
  • One of Murphy's observations was actually quite apt: There's a difference between not having money and being impoverished. Many families or communities who we would consider "poor" had actually been entirely self-sufficient, and are now struggling from being forced into a cash society. If you've never had to earn money before -- if you just work to feed your family and protect your community -- then there's a vast mindset shift to be made to become accustomed to the imposition of existing in a cash-based economy. That is, in fact, one factor that contributes to the poverty across Madagascar.
  • Religious missions still serve a very important purpose across Madagascar (in the 80s as well as today), because in many places, they're the only ones providing education or medical care. The government can't, and there aren't enough NGOs on the ground.

So, what is a travel writer to do? How is the best way to experience everything that a country has to offer, without passing judgment or invading or killing local culture? Who knows. Maybe it's best to have a reason for traveling, to be a scientist or biologist with a specific research project in mind. Maybe it's best to just stick to areas set up for tourists, and avoid bothering the people who don't want to be bothered. Maybe it's best to visit friends and family, have them be your guides.

I don't have the answers. I question all the time whether I just have "white savior" syndrome, whether I'm over-exoticizing the other, whether I'm using a Western system to take advantage of other people. I suppose, at the very least, it's good to keep in mind, to keep struggling with, to keep questioning. Never get complacent.

Also, don't get gout from unknown local alcohol. But that's Murphy's story to tell.


BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! In my struggle to muddle through Murphy's book, I went to the library to pick up the latest volume of:

Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Image Comics, 2012 - present


The first hardcover bound volume is a close-up of a baby breastfeeding.

The first page of the first issue is the realest birth I have ever seen in a fiction setting.

THERE ARE NO VILLAINS. At least, not as such. Everyone is a real person, a real complex character with a complex personality and a set of wishes and needs and sometimes that means they are working against other people but it barely even matters if they're working against the main characters or not because they're not really heroes, either.

There are robots. Who have their own kingdom. Who can procreate. WHO HAVE SEX IN THE BOOK.

Six volumes in, one of the characters gets a prison tattoo, and it's just on the cover and it's never mentioned in the story, but it's such a meaningful and sad tattoo that I just sat and looked at it and cried for a bit.

The artist, Fiona Staples, has started getting top billing on many of the issues. Because she's just insanely brilliant, and Image Comics is recognizing that.

If you've never picked up a comic or a graphic novel, if you've always thought it was a medium that just wasn't for you -- and I totally get that, because I never read one until a friend pushed Watchmen into my hands in college, and I had to re-read the first three chapters once I figured out how to wrap my brain around reading in that format -- START HERE. START WITH SAGA. It's the realest story you'll ever read.

If I haven't convinced you yet (really?), here's some more convincing from Buzzfeed, back when the series was first starting.


Next up: A Greater Music, by Bae Suah, tr. Deborah Smith

Week 6: Through Feminism-Colored Glasses

40 Books in 40 Weeks: I'm reading one book from my to-read shelf per week through the end of the year. Afterward, I write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It's keeping me accountable.

Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
Harper Collins, 2000

This book made me mad by page 6.

It's a bad one to read directly after feminism is for everybody. The whole meeting in the forest, it's supposed to be mysterious and sexy and yes, a little intrustive, I'm sure. But now I read it differently. Trespasser? Predator? A female would never be called those things. Or maybe it's because the main character in that cycle (there are three separate but interwoven stories) is a cis-hetero female. Who is alone. Attractive to a man. Attracted to a man, without wanting to be. Fine. Whatever.

Except it's not fine.

[Major spoilers coming]

Deanna's entire storyline is how her life has been driven/directed/led/affected forever by men. Her divorce is what pushed her into the Forest Service job on the mountain, alone, content, part of something bigger. That was her choice, but she was forced into a position where she had to make a choice because of her ex-husband. And then she spends the entire summer with a fierce battle raging in her mind because Eddie Bondo (clearly a whole person, because he always gets a last name) doesn't listen to her when she REPEATEDLY tells him to clear off. I mean, the whole idea of "oh come on, you know you want it"? That's disrespectful at best. Perpetuates rape culture at worst. (Seriously. In the workplace, that's considered sexual harassment.)

And then, in the end, she chooses to come down off the mountain, BECAUSE HE KNOCKED HER UP. In her late 40s. She goes back to the world, back to family connections, she's terrified of the dark: "What had changed, when she used to be so fearless? But she knew what had changed. This was what it cost to commit oneself to the living. There was so much to lose." Ugh. She's making her own choice, sure. She chooses to move in with her step-mom who she adores, she chooses to keep the baby, she chooses not to tell Eddie Bondo. But again, she's forced into a position where she has to make these choices because of him.

I enjoyed reading this book. It's gorgeous. Lyrical. I feel like I understand so much more about nature and its cycles now (having never lived off of the land myself). Birds crying for a mate, the beauty of coyotes and other predators in the balance of the ecosystem, chestnut trees fighting to survive. But then there's the idea of sex and reproduction as a search for eternal life among the birds and the bees (and other animals), and . . . something just catches in my stomach.

Well. I can enjoy a book while hating its characters. That's one of the marks of a well-written book. I enjoyed being frustrated to no end by Garnett S. Walker the Third's sanctimonious letters, his equating Unitarians with witches, his cognitive dissonance over pesticides and organic certification. I enjoyed learning with Lusa how to navigate a big family that seemed so inhospitable but was really just trying to hold itself together. I fell in love with coyotes. But the more you learn, the more complications and complexities you discover. In anything.

Next up: Muddling Through in Madagascar, by Dervla Murphy

Week 5: All That Is Known and Unknown

40 Books in 40 Weeks: I'm reading one book from my to-read shelf per week through the end of the year. Afterward, I write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It's keeping me accountable.

feminism is for everybody, by bell hooks
South End Press, 2000

Whoa. I needed this book.

I need this book.

Everyone needs this book.

Like. If you'd asked me if I'm a feminist before, I'd always say "sure", but apparently that was never part of my identity. It should be an integral part. I need to be an active feminist.

Yeah, I'm young, fine, I was born in the late 80s, but I thought I pretty much understood that, "way back when", women started wearing pants and eschewing bras if they wanted to, but I never understood just how much work other women had done on my behalf. How hard they fought. How easily all of this could be taken away. Reproductive rights -- we're still fighting for that. Equal pay -- we're still fighting for that. So how much of what women today enjoy as givens, what we take for granted, might vanish in a poof of conservative patriarchal whimsy?

But at the same time, here's something else I never understood: White Feminism. (Yes, capital W, capital F.) Everything that I've been conditioned to see as the goals of feminism, what we've already accomplished . . . most of that has been for the benefit of white upper-middle class women. Getting into the workforce? Most women in poverty, most women of color, they'd already been in the workforce in the 30s/40s/50s/60s. They'd love to have the freedom and financial flexibility to stay home with their kids. Why did I never consider this before.

And how there's a huge difference in being able to exist and succeed within the current white patriarchal society as a white woman -- being able to succeed in the way that white men have defined -- and completely redefining and restructuring society to be feminist. Friendly to everyone, conducive to everyone's success, whether male or female or both or neither or otherwise.

OK. There's a lot more for me to learn, and a lot more I've already absorbed in the last few years. Here are some other interesting links to consider (which have been helping me a little, so maybe other people will find them helpful, too):

And finally, if I haven't made this clear enough: for anyone who's never read this book before, GO READ THIS BOOK. Go find out who bell hooks is. Go understand why there's so much more to learn.

Next up: Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver

Week 3/4: Oh My, OMI

Ach. Of course I've already missed a week. Oh well. Onward and upward!

40 Books in 40 Weeks: I'm reading one book from my to-read shelf per week through the end of the year. Afterward, I write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It's keeping me accountable.

Ghachar Ghochar, by Vivek Shanbhag
Translated by Srinath Perur
Penguin Books, 2017

For an actual review, see the one in the New York Times.
For one of the most beautiful, touching, and appropriate examples of how to review a translation, see here. (Spoiler alert: it's the same link.)

Here are my thoughts: Ants. Ants. Ants ants ants ants ANTS ANTS ANTS. Ants.

No but seriously I laughed so hard at the ants. And then felt awfully guilty several dozen pages later when Anita is so horrified that the narrator "casually jabbed" at another one in another time and another place. Have I been treating ants all wrong my entire life? Are we all just ants in someone else's house, falling desperately on any scrap of leftover food, only to be surrounded by a moat of water and drowned without remorse? Do rich people squash poor people like ants, and call them evil spirits to assuage any guilt they might have? And what about the spilled curry? Why was there only one person crying over it?

Oh, Vivek. Oh, Srinath. Thank you for this book.

(I got to meet both of them at Art OMI's Translation Lab last fall. We had long discussions about many things, including why it is that Americans don't generally have cooks, even as the upper and middle classes have started hiring other people for cleaning and childcare and lawn maintenance and basically everything else.)

Next up: feminism is for everybody, by bell hooks

Week 2: A Narrative Introduction to White Supremacy in America

40 Books in 40 Weeks: I'm reading one book from my to-read shelf per week through the end of the year. Afterward, I write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It's keeping me accountable.

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Ernest J. Gaines
Dial Press, 1971

This is the book that ties it all together. In history class, you learn about slavery, you learn about sharecropping, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow laws, segregation, and then the Civil Rights era. But this book links all of that in one person's life, one narrative. It helps you understand how, truly, there never was a time in our country's history where black people were treated fairly, decently, like full citizens, like humans. The government had to legislate equality. But legislation can't abolish racism.

Found this on Wikipedia: "Because of the historical content, some readers thought the book was non-fiction. Gaines commented:

Some people have asked me whether or not The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is fiction or nonfiction. It is fiction. When Dial Press first sent it out, they did not put "a novel" on the galleys or on the dustjacket, so a lot of people had the feeling that it could have been real. ... I did a lot of research in books to give some facts to what Miss Jane could talk about, but these are my creations. I read quite a few interviews performed with former slaves by the WPA during the thirties and I got their rhythm and how they said certain things. But I never interviewed anybody. (Ferris, Bill (July–August 1998). "A Conversation with Ernest Gaines". Humanities. 19 (4).)"

There's just so much in here to be ashamed of as a white American, from the grand sweeping societal norms to the little details, like how the black narrator very naturally sees Jesus as a blond-haired "White Man" and the devil as "jet black" in color.

As a girl of about twelve at the end of the Civil War, Jane ends up trying to travel north to Ohio from Louisiana with a small boy. After travelling for several days, they get food and water at an old man's house. He's got a map. She asks how long it'll take them to Ohio. He spends three whole pages in one run-on paragraph guesstimating how much ground they can cover based on their weight, in bad weather, running away from dogs, keeping out of sight of people, but then reaching a place where the news of emancipation hasn't gotten to yet so they get roped into essentially slavery again, years pass, she gets saddled with a bad husband . . . "The boy'll never make it. You? I figure it'll take you about thirty years. Give or take a couple."

She's stubborn and tired of people telling her she shouldn't be trying to get to Ohio, so they set off anyway. But it's all so true. She didn't ask that question, but he answered it anyway. These are all the obstacles black people have been fighting in this country since the Civil War. It didn't all of a sudden get easy.

Miss Jane, she tells her story the way she wants to, though. And I loved the way she tells it, the people she knows, her world, her matriarchal society, mentioning women before their husbands, pointing out the house where Grace Turner lived, oh, she was married to so-and-so.

But she never did make it to Ohio. A hundred and ten years old, and she never left the state of Louisiana.

Next up: Ghachar Ghochar, by Vivek Shanbhag, tr. Srinath Perur

Week 1: Waiting for Dogot

40 Books in 40 Weeks: I'm reading one book from my to-read shelf per week through the end of the year. Afterward, I write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It's keeping me accountable.

Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs, by Lina Wolff
Translated by Frank Perry
And Other Stories, 2016

Jacket copy. A necessary evil. The back cover of this book starts off by saying this:

"At a run-down brothel in Caudal, Spain, the prostitutes are collecting stray dogs. Each is named after a famous male writer: Dante, Chaucer, Bret Easton Ellis. When a john is cruel, the dogs are fed rotten meat."

Also, the book's title hints at these dogs. Vaguely. Around the edges.

And how long did I have to wait for the dogs to show up?? TWO HUNDRED PAGES. The whole book is only 297. And Bret is mentioned (in passing, I might add) for the first time on page 201. His backstory, and indeed the whole treatment that the dogs are given at the brothel, shows up a mere 50 pages from the end.


Thing is, this is an awesome book! Female narrators (for the most part) that are real, multifaceted people, telling engaging stories -- one is actually an author, explicitly writing engaging stories within this novel -- but I literally thought I'd picked up the wrong book at numerous intervals. Or maybe that the wrong cover had been slapped on. It's distracting, when all you're trying to do is enjoy the remarkably vindictive feminism of Alba Cambó, the aforementioned author, who has an interview in a magazine alongside a short story:

"In it she said that the entertainment value of a violated female body was infinite and inexhaustible and that in writing about violated male bodies her aim was to explore the kind of entertainment value they offered. Rather unwisely she pre-empted the journalist's questions by wondering rhetorically what was wrong with depicting violated male bodies when women's bodies were continually being used in literature for that purpose? Some writers wrote like lazily masturbating monkeys in overheated cages, she said. They wrote as though they had lost the taste for the real flavours of a dish and had to keep adding salt and pork fat in order to make it taste of anything. Raped and murdered women here, raped and murdered women there, that was the only way the readers' interest could be kept alive, said Alba Cambó."

Aaaaaaaaaahhhh. Thank you, Lina Wolff.

All the women's stories are better than the men's. Just in general, all throughout this book. Although one of the males who narrates his own story is a very anti-macho character, which is pretty edifying, too.

Last thing I'll say: Alba's childhood tucked away in a gorgeous house outside of a crushingly ancient rural town reminded me so much of the women in Cristina López Barrio's The House of Impossible Loves, translated by Lisa Carter a few years back. Also a really excellent book. But of course that meant that all the stories in both books started twisting around in my head, and now I think of a maid from one book as a muse from the other, just because they were both gazed at from one apartment window to another across the way. Eh, well. Worse things have happened.

At least I finally met those dogs.

Next up: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, by Ernest J. Gaines

40 Books in 40 Weeks


Erm. Yes, hello. Yes, this thing is still on. Good.

Sorry for the absence. I went on maternity leave . . . and now my son is approaching his first birthday. My how time flies, and other platitudes.

Now, I find myself with very little free time, yet facing an unwieldy to-read pile and craving a reason to restart this blog. So let's kill two birds with one stone, and other sayings. Besides, everybody likes a good challenge!

Here's the plan: I'm going to read one book a week from now until the end of the year. (Conveniently, that's forty weeks. How pleasing.) I'll write a reaction post when I finish each book. It should be fun. I've got a lot of good books I've been meaning to read. Now I will!

A few notes to the public, since I happen to be writing in a public place:

  • All books will be ones I already own. They're literally in piles on the floor next to my bookshelves. Suggestions are welcome, but will ultimately be ignored. (Until next year.)
  • The posts will not be reviews, at least not in any traditional sense. Maybe I'll talk about the whole book, maybe I'll rant about two sentences on page 72. Maybe I'll give a synopsis, maybe I'll rewrite the ending. There will probably be a lot of emotions. Who knows? I'm also not setting any sort of minimum length -- I can barely keep up with producing enough words for my translations, as it is.
  • This is just to keep me accountable. I'm only reading for myself. But if you find all of it interesting, then, well, welcome to my brain. You'll like it here.

First post will come next week, once I finish one of the books sitting partially read next to my bed . . .

Want to read along? First up: Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs, by Lina Wolff, tr. Frank Perry

The Money Question

This is the big, million-dollar question: can you actually make a living as a literary translator?

Although if I could make a million dollars just by answering that question, I wouldn't have to worry about that, now, would I?

Here's the simple answer: no.

Sorry to burst your bubble and all that. But it's very true, and we can't delude ourselves. You really can’t make a living just as a literary translator. At least, not until you’ve got a decade or two under your belt. That being said, though, it's not that surprising: this is a creative, artistic industry, so this is just like how you can’t make a living just as a fiction writer until you get your first big advance, or until you've got a few books done, or until (wait for it) you've been working at it for a decade or two (surprise).

That being said, though, there are plenty of ways to earn enough money to live off of, and not all of them are abhorrent. Cross my heart! You don't have to waitress, temp, or stock a grocery store. Unless you want to. Chances are, you can get a day job (or additional freelance work) that actually has something to do with translation, or literature, or some facet of what drew you to this career in the first place.

On to the examples! I know you were dying for some examples. That's why you're here, right? At any rate, these are all real, actual jobs that friends and colleagues of mine have. They're really real. And they get paid well enough to support themselves. I promise.

•    Academia: This has been the classic path for a while. You get tenure, benefits, funding, and a healthy amount of time to work on your own research, which can of course include translation. This is starting to be a little less of a sure thing, because of high adjunct rates and not enough jobs, but many universities are starting to be much better about counting translations toward tenure. (Some people love scholarly work, but obviously, if you're someone who sees academia as a prison, you'd do best to avoid this route.)

•    Freelance editing, copyediting, proofreading, or other publishing tasks: This can be of translated or non-translated texts. Either way, though, you're probably going to be working for more commercial houses, and probably doing a lot of what could be considered more "popular" work -- romance novels, mysteries, a lot of the genre works.

•    Commercial translation, otherwise known to the wider world as just "translation": This is the business side of things. Legal, pharmaceutical, marketing, subtitles . . . any type of company and industry you could possibly imagine, so long as they operate globally. As a fair warning (from personal experience), this can be pretty dry and dull, considering the types of writing that probably got you interested in the literary side of things in the first place. That being said, though, if there's a particular subject area that you enjoy, you can specialize and get direct clients, which can actually be fairly lucrative.

•    Salaried publishing job: This one's nice, if you can get it. In addition to actually working in the industry you'd like to be in, stretching your own editing and writing skills, and learning much more about the publishing process, you could even end up working for a translation publisher! (As of when this post was published, Two Lines Press still had an opening available for an assistant editor. So cool!)

•    Get a sugar daddy/mama: I mean, let's not beat around the bush. If you happen to be dating/married to someone who has a really well-paying job, then you don't have to worry about supporting yourself. Full disclosure: this is me. I have an engineer husband who is, shall we say, the primary breadwinner. (So instead of worrying about pulling my weight financially, I spend some time each week volunteering and giving back, translating for a couple of NGOs and serving on the ALTA board, among other things.)

So, those are the broad strokes. How about you? If you survive just doing literary translation, how long did it take you to get there? If you don't, what other kinds of work do you do? What other ideas can we give people?

How to Pick an MA/MFA Program in Literary Translation (But first, do you even need one?)

I recently made a quick trip down to NYC at the invitation of the magnificent Sal Robinson for the first event in this spring's Bridge Series: Breaking In. Moderator Allison Markin Powell led Heather Cleary, Katrine Øgaard Jensen, Mary Ann Newman, and I in a discussion about the state of getting started in literary translation. As usual, though, there's so much more to say than can possibly be covered in such brief (but otherwise lovely) events. Blog posts have fewer limitations and more links, so let's unpack some of these issues a little more.

The night's first topic was MA/MFA programs in literary translation. One of the great things we've seen in the past decade or so is the sheer growth of programs, especially with how many new programs have started being offered in the States. But here's the thing: you absolutely do not need an MA/MFA to be taken seriously in the literary translation community. There's no real prestige to having an advanced degree in this field. So if you're already getting started yourself, you don't want to take on even more student debt, or you just don't really care for the world of academia, don't fret! This is a creative profession. Your work speaks much more to your abilities than any university-issued piece of paper can.

In order to decide whether or not an MA/MFA is right for you, consider what you’re looking for. Perhaps you feel your English (or whatever language is your own target language) writing isn't strong enough, or you're hopelessly under-read in world literature. Maybe you need to cultivate the relationships and connections necessary to be a freelancer in a creative profession. Or do you need pure business help, a better understanding of how the publishing industry works? If you're just looking for one or two facets of getting started, consider the following (much cheaper) options:

WRITING PRACTICE: There are lots of straight writing workshops offered by many different organizations. Look in your area, or check out these two online:

FEEDBACK ON YOUR TRANSLATIONS: This is pretty easy to do in an exchange between two or several translators. Don't be afraid to ask people -- chances are, they'd like another set of eyes on their work, too! Otherwise, for a more formal setting with experienced translators looking at your work, try the following options:

PUBLISHING INFO: Get an internship at a publishing house. Period. It's insanely useful. Find a publisher you admire and just ask them, especially if it's a newer or small press. Otherwise, here are some good places to start:

  • New Directions
  • Open Letter (generally offers month-long internships over the summer -- email them for more information if you can't find any online)
  • Archipelago
  • The New Press (another of my alma maters, if you can call it that)

THE BUSINESS OF FREELANCING: There are books to read, and there are online courses to take. Mix and match, if you like:

CONNECTIONS: Joining an organization and talking to people, whether online or in person, works really well! Check out ALTA and ELTNA (or, for a more UK- and Euro-centric focus, the ETN; or, for a global expat view, the Translators Association Diaspora group on Facebook). Plus, look in your area for translation-related events, and strike up conversations with people there. A mentor, whether informal or through a program, could also be a big help:

  • ALTA's Emerging Translator Mentorship Program
  • BCLT's Emerging Translator Mentorship Programme (old link here; new one coming once the administration of the program changes to Writers' Centre Norwich in mid-2016)

THEORY: Well, in that case . . . maybe you should just go apply to that MFA, after all.

So if you have decided on an MA/MFA program, now you have to choose which one! Although there aren't many out there yet (at least, not in the States), there are still enough different options for everyone, from the 1-year MA at the University of Rochester (the MALTS program, my own alma mater) to the 4-year MFA at the University of Arkansas (which is also lovely, and I know many people who've done that program who would tell you so).

Besides considering things like location, duration, and cost -- which are all very important -- here are two tactics to figure out which program to choose based on what you're looking for:

  • Look at the course list: Is it more theory-based? Lots of writing workshops? Any teaching required/offered? Any courses on how the publishing industry works? What are the thesis requirements? That should be enough to tell you what the different programs have on offer.
  • Look at the faculty, and do a quick Google search on them: Are they purely scholarly? Do they have translations published for a general audience (e.g. published by a non-university press)? Have they written articles for non-academic outlets? Do they serve on boards or run outside programs? That’ll tell you more about what the program will be like and what kind of contact circles/relationships you can expect to build.

So, that's that! Customary disclaimer: This is essentially my own opinion, and it's not the whole picture. Also, it's basically US-specific, since I don't know anything about the many graduate programs that exist in the UK or elsewhere. My personal frame of reference is that I took three years off after undergrad before going to get my MA from the University of Rochester, which was an excellent choice on my part and served the purpose I was hoping it would.

But what about the rest of you? If you got an MA/MFA, did you think your experience was worthwhile? Anyone out there not get an advanced degree and really wish they had? Do you disagree with me altogether? What information am I missing? Let me know in the comments below!