WAAT #03: “. . . The Peace of the Dancing Mind–Is Our Work . . .” (Morrison)


Cultivating a practice of translation also means cultivating a habit of sensitive, close reading.

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A few years ago, I spent an entire year reading or rereading Toni Morrison’s works because I felt I’d missed a lot from them as a younger reader. We all have such favorite writers or works we revisit and learn something new each time, right? One of the works I revisited was her acceptance speech for the 1996 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. That’s where today’s subject line comes from.

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This Morrison metaphor was referenced in another book I began reading this week (which is why I went back to her words): Sensitive Reading: The Pleasures of South Asian Literature in TranslationHere’s a free download from the University of California Press. I’ve already got multiple highlights on almost every page. If you do read it, please share your favorite bits via the social links below? Maybe we can have an informal group read?

As the title says, the book is about how we approach and read translations from other languages and cultures. The editors have included “near” (meaning: from someone close to the culture and language) and “far” (from someone who has little to no association with the culture or language) essays on different translated excerpts to highlight the diverse ways we read and how that may enrich or diminish our appreciation of a text.

My literary translation journey also began with re-learning how to read. I’m a much slower reader now and I know that helps me be a better writer and translator. I journal as I read and translate. Those private conversations with the author, myself, and the text have been invaluable. So, whenever someone asks me how to start a regular translation practice for themselves, that’s my first suggestion: begin journaling as you read so that you’re teasing out the deeper meanings and complexities for yourself.

In the end, though, there is no right way to go about creating your own translation practice, as Samantha Schnee shares in this great interview with Aneesa Abbas Higgins at Words Without Borders.

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And, this week, we aired an interview with the literary translator, Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma, who has a new translation, The Kural, just out. He talked about the inner journey of a translator and a lot more. Have a listen.

Speaking of translation practice, ALTA has some awards and fellowships opening up here.

I’ll close with a reminder about this virtual conference where I’m on a panel titled ‘Translation as Activism and Self-care’ with three other translators: Wendy Call, Rajiv Mohabir, and Jenny Kellogg. It’ll air on Sunday, January 23, and you can register here with Writers & Books. A big thanks to Sejal Shah, the writer who curated this panel with three others.

So are you in for the informal group read of the book linked to above? Let me know via the social links below or in reply to this note.

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Jenny Bhatt is an author, a literary translator, and a book critic. Currently, she is a Ph.D. student of literature at the University of Texas at Dallas. She has taught creative writing at Writing Workshops Dallas and the PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship Program. Sign up for her free newsletters, We Are All Translators and/or Historical Fiction Craft Notes. Jenny lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Texas. (Photo Credit: Pixel Voyage Photography / Arushi Gupta)

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