Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

International Translation Day!

Happy International Translation Day, everybody!

We celebrated early in Tana. ITD, celebrated every year on September 30 (the feast day of St. Jerome, patron saint of translators), falls on a Sunday this year, and there is zero point trying to organize anything on a Sunday in Madagascar. Besides church.

So yesterday, we all took over the bar at Madagascar Underground for a Café littéraire de la traduction — the very first celebration of ITD in the entire country that we know of. There were writers, translators, slam poets, writers who also translate, translators who also write, a singer-translator, and a really awesome number of people who are ready to take a flying leap into literary translation.

Also Mexican food, which is something of a novelty here. I got to introduce several people to the concept of burritos. But I digress.

This event was probably the most joy I’ve felt in my entire stay here in Madagascar. Clearly, I’m passionate about literary translation, so anything that focuses on that is good by me. I also got to talk about my experience in translating “Beyond the Rice Fields,” which is always fun. It was especially rewarding to be able to tell a bunch of Malagasies just how much Malagasy we kept in the English translation, and how many American readers are learning about their country.

But it was also so excellent to be able to share the knowledge that I have of translation and the industry with a bunch of people who are dying to get started, if only they had a direction to go in. Most of the questions during the Q&A session were some variation of “I do X for a living but I’ve always been interested in translating books/poems/literature. How can I start?” That, I can help with.

Some other choice moments and quotations from the afternoon:

  • Tsiky, a writer who’s just starting out in translation, said that “Une langue est toute une universe,” a language is a whole universe.

  • In response to a question about his translation process, one of the slam poets (Joak Kely, I believe) said “Il faut de la patience et il faut de l’amour,” it takes patience and love, to translate.

  • Fara, another writer here, was asking me about how I handled certain things in translating “Beyond the Rice Fields,” so I whipped out the classic translator’s line, “Ça dépende du contexte !” It depends on the context. Most of the audience laughed — they understand.

And probably the coolest part of the whole event wasn’t even a scheduled part of the event: There was a journalist from Viva, a bilingual TV station, who came to report on the event and interview a few of us. Less than four hours later, there was a really flattering segment in the evening news of us and our event. Two segments, in fact — one for the French-language news, and another 30 minutes later in the Malagasy-language news. So now I can say I’ve appeared on Malagasy TV, which is already pretty cool. But what’s even cooler is that I got a message from one of the younger writers right after the program aired. She’s a law student at the university, and her family hasn’t really understood or accepted “the whole writing thing.” But her mom was watching, and the young woman’s appearance on the evening news made her mom very proud and started to legitimize the writing work she’s doing.

The literary scene here is growing. It’s gaining attention and acceptance. Happy ITD, indeed!

"Beyond the Rice Fields" Giveaway Winners!

Happy Friday, all! We had two signed copies up for grabs of Beyond the Rice Fields, by Naivo, translated by yours truly, published by Restless Books. Please give a hearty congratulations to our two winners:

Twitter entrant @ritualgibberish
AND
Blog commentator Christiana

I'll be contacting both of you shortly to get your mailing addresses!

Beyond the Rice Fields_cover.jpg

And THANK YOU to everyone who commented and spread the word! If you're interested in purchasing your very own copy of the book, you can, right here.

Enjoy!

"Beyond the Rice Fields" Giveaway

I promised it would happen, and here it is! The first couple times I did this, I called it something ridiculous. And tradition must be upheld. Please, prepare yourselves for:

The Third Not-Nearly-Regular-Enough-To-Be-Called-Annual-or-Biennial-or-Monthly-or-Anything-Else A.M.C. Giveaway!

*assorted cheers and trumpets*

Isn't it pretty??

Isn't it pretty??

The Prize: Two (2) randomly-chosen people will each receive one (1) paperback copy of Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo, translated by yours truly, published by Restless Books, released this month. Each book will be signed by me and inscribed however the winners desire.

The Entry(-ies): There are two ways of entering, each of which grants you one entry (so every person can enter up to twice).

  1. Beyond the Rice Fields is the first novel to be translated into English from Madagascar. Without translation, the English-speaking world would have no Naivo, and no Madagascar. In light of this revelation, comment on this post with your favorite non-Anglophone writer, who you'd never have been able to read if it weren't for translation. (Bonus brownie points if you #namethetranslator!)
  2. To help spread the word, tweet a link to this post. Must either tweet at me (@sunshineabroad) or include this hashtag: #NaivoGiveaway

The Deadline: One week from today! Thursday, December 7, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

The Rules: After the contest, I will randomly select two entrants (by assigning a number to each comment and Twitter account and using a random number generator), and announce the winners on this blog on Friday, December 8. I will then contact the winners for their email and mailing addresses. Anyone with a valid mailing address anywhere in the world may enter. Limit two entries per person.

The Why: Did I mention this is the first novel EVER to be translated into English from Madagascar? And that it's amazing? (True fact, not my very biased opinion.) That's why.

Good luck to all!

You Can't Please Everyone

Beyond the Rice Fields is out. We've been getting some really nice reviews about it. (And there will be a giveaway coming after American Thanksgiving! Watch this space.)

Reviews are all subjective, though. One person's opinion. And people's opinions can vary wildly. I accept that. It's part of putting creative things out into the world -- no matter how much negative reviews might hurt.

And yet . . . sometimes you have to wonder.

Here's one review in Publishers Weekly. It includes this:

"Naivo’s encyclopedic attempt to capture Madagascar’s history is admirable, but the depth of that portrait comes at the expense of the novel’s characters: they are only fully realized in the novel’s thrilling conclusion, and only then as victims of “the foundational animosities” tearing the island apart. Nevertheless, Naivo provides readers with an astonishing amount of information about Madagascar’s culture and past."

Seems legit.

Here's another review from the Historical Novel Society. It includes this:

"The period of Queen Ranavalona’s horrific reign was one of intensity and violence, and yet for a few occasions near the end of the book, much of the historical context is superficial at best."
"Naivo captures a profound relationship between two people and how vastly our lives and experiences change on our various paths, while also illuminating the Malagasy experience."

Also seems legit.

*record scratch*

Wait. Wait a sec. So, on the one hand, the characters are sacrificed at the expense of the historical context, and on the other, the historical context suffers from the relationship between the characters?

Friends, I have translated a paradox. It seems congratulations are in order. :-P

Hey, at least people are talking about it.

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!

The Dramatic Irony Inherent in a Simple Bio

Repeating the same story ad nauseam can get boring. (Well, when you're learning a foreign language, introducing yourself and explaining what you study and why you're in Paris to forty-five people in two days is actually a good practice drill, but that's neither here nor there.) And granted, there's a good reason that lots of people in lots of different situations want to hear how I got started in literary translation, but it still eventually gets to the point where I'm dying to find different ways to spice it up a bit.

Well, I've figured it out.

Kind folks, I now present to you: the revised bio of Allison M. Charette.

So, you know the dramatic irony when you’re watching a really cheesy murder mystery on TV, and the killer hides behind a curtain just as the detective sweeps into the room? And the detective looks everywhere, getting closer and closer to the curtains, making you want to scream at your TV set “DUDE HE’S RIGHT THERE JUST GET CLOSER A LITTLE CLOSER COME ONNNNNNN”, and then finally, after what feels like forever, he sweeps aside the curtain—but it’s the wrong one. And he looks, carefully, painstakingly, then straightens up and says “Well, that’s that! A thorough search of this room: complete.” and he turns so confidently to leave and you’re like “NO YOU IDIOT THE OTHER CURTAIN YOU MISSED THE OTHER CURTAIN!!!!!!” and you start swearing at the detective and he can totally hear you through the TV set, can't he? And then it takes another forty-five minutes for the detective to finally catch the murderer, through a really circuitous series of roundabout wanderings, and you’re like “but if ONLY you’d just searched both curtains back at the beginning, you could have a whole month of your life back!”

Yeah, that’s how I got into translation.

Let me explain: I majored in French and even took two translation courses in undergrad (the first of which was taught by Emmanuelle Ertel, who’s just the most fabulous French translation professor). And I loved it, I spent half of my psychology lectures puzzling out new solutions to the translations we were doing. But I didn't look behind the second curtain, where there was a flashing sign that said “NEWSFLASH: YOU CAN DO THIS AS A CAREER”, so I didn’t get around to that revelation until three years later. Three years, a teaching stint in France, an admin job at a language school, a soul-sucking time at a mega-agency, and a publishing internship later. That's when I finally started translating for anything more than my own personal edification. And while I'm not really looking for those three years of my life back, because there were plenty of other wonderful, enlightening things that occurred during that time . . . I really could have caught the murderer sooner.

 

Well, frick that, then.

A friend of mine passed away today.

Except he couldn't have been a friend, right? We only exchanged a few emails.

And it wasn't today. Today is just when the news reached me.

David Jaomanoro is a Malagasy writer who spent the last eighteen years living in Mayotte. He won the Grand Prix RFI-ACCT de la nouvelle, a French short story prize, for "Funérailles d'un cochon". That story (and one other, along with a handful of his poems) was translated into English for the bilingual anthology, Voices from Madagascar/Voix de Madagascar.

This guy was a master of short stories. I read an entire collection of his, and you know how many stories I earmarked? 90% of them. I only earmark stories that I really want to work on.

I started translating one of these stories, "Nenitou", over a year ago, before I even went to Madagascar. I loved it, but I didn't understand half of the references. While in Madagascar, I asked everyone I met if they had an email or phone number for David. No luck. He was the only author I wanted to contact that I didn't reach by the end of my trip.

Months later,  I finally found a lead online. I sent him an email introducing myself and my project, held my breath, and let it out almost instantly -- he responded within just a couple of days. I asked him general questions about "Nenitou" and the rest of his writing, and he answered with grace and gratitude. He was incredibly sharp and well-spoken, and it was wonderful to read all his explanations. I promised to send him a list of all the specific questions I had about "Nenitou".

That email was sent on December. I never heard from him again. I followed up in March, just to see if it had gotten lost in the shuffle, but still no reply.

This weekend, I am in DC, working with a Malagasy-American author on a co-translation from Malagasy (not French) directly into English. We got to talking about other authors from her country, of course, and she started listing some of her favorites. She mentioned David's prize-winning short story and grabbed the collection it had first been published in, and then said, "Oh, but wasn't he the one who died?"

I hate it when my heart stops like that. When there's ever a reason for my heart to stop like that.

David Jaomanoro passed away from a stroke on December 7, 2014 -- the day before my last email to him.

It's the strangest feeling to suddenly understand the lengthy silence, to know that your questions will never be answered, to try to mourn someone you never met and knew little about.

Anyway. There's a nice obituary in French here, and a hefty bio also in French here. The first result I found online for an English-language biography is a one-line mention in a Wikipedia list. Maybe I can do something to change that. Maybe that's what I can do.

"Erfurt" Giveaway Winners!

Happy Monday, everyone! And let me be the first to bring you good news. I don't have an envelope in my hand, but I do have your two winners for the e-book giveaway of Return to Erfurt, Story of a Shattered Childhood: 1935-1945.

Please give a big congratulations to two winners from Twitter:

James Garza (@GarzaWords) and Debbie Garrick (@DebbieTranslate)

I'll be contacting both of you shortly with how to claim your prize.

Thanks to everyone who commented and spread the word! If you're interested in purchasing your very own copy of the book, you can. There are even options: paperback or e-book.

Enjoy!

"Erfurt" Giveaway

I was going through old posts this morning and discovered that, the first time I did this, I called it something ridiculous. But tradition must be upheld. And thus, please prepare yourselves for:

The Second Not-Nearly-Regular-Enough-To-Be-Called-Annual A.M.C. Giveaway!

*assorted cheers and trumpets*

The Prize: Two (2) randomly-chosen people will each receive one (1) e-book copy of Return to Erfurt, Story of a Shattered Childhood: 1935-1945, by Olga Tarcali, translated by yours truly, published by Centro Primo Levi Editions, released this month. I can't inscribe them this time, but you have the option of receiving a handwritten letter from me to go along with your book, if you so choose.

The Entry(-ies): There are two ways of entering, each of which grants you one entry (so every person can enter up to twice).

  1. In honor of Olga Tarcali, Marianne's best friend who wrote her story in book form, leave a comment on this post of who you would want to write your memoir (other than yourself). Bonus brownie points for explaining why.
  2. To help spread the word, tweet a link to this post. Must either tweet at me (@sunshineabroad) or include this hashtag: #ErfurtGiveaway

The Deadline: End of this week! Friday, February 27, 2015, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

The Rules: After the contest, I will randomly select two entrants (by assigning a number to each comment and Twitter account and using a random number generator), and announce the winners on this blog on Monday, March 2. I will then contact the winners for their email address and, if desired, mailing address. Anyone with a valid email address anywhere in the world may enter. Limit two entries per person.

The Why: This is the most important book I've ever worked on, and it's a damn good one. I'd like to share it with people.

Good luck to all!