WAAT #62: A Literary Translation Links Roundup


A monthly links roundup of recent essays, interviews, submission calls, and upcoming events exploring topics related to literary translation from around the world and across the publishing ecosystem.

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If you’ve been around the publishing ecosystem long enough, you know how much a book’s publication and trajectory has to do with happenstance: being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right folks who can help open doors, having the right agent and/or publisher who will represent, position, and promote your work well, etc. Look under the hood of any major award and the eligibility criteria or applicable conditions of submission will reveal problematic exclusions too.

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It always gives me heart, though, in this crazily lopsided world of ours, to learn about people who create and occupy a niche so that it becomes entirely their own. Their hard-earned, often self-taught, expertise is such that they have no competition whatsoever and don’t even care about such matters. In the past month, I discovered two such people who had dedicated their lives to language/translation. Sadly, it was after their deaths, which is so often the case with such people. Not that they court attention during their lifetime either.


A Niche of One’s Own

1) The first is Madeleine Kripke, who had collected over 20,000 dictionaries including what Heidi Landecker calls a “dictionariana beyond the world of books” in this essay at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Kripke passed away in 2020.

Kripke wasn’t only a collector. She read dictionaries and compared them. She knew what her 20,000 volumes contained, and she loved sharing that with people who cared about what she knew. […] Her business card read “Madeline Kripke” and identified her as a book collector. On the back, it said, “Lexicunt.”

Landecker, Heidi. “The Mistress of Slang.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. February 06, 2023. https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-mistress-of-slang.

The collection is now part of the Lilly Library at Indiana University and Michael Adams, the chair of the English Department there, is writing a fascinating blog about it.

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2) The second person is a Vietnamese translator, Duong Tuong, who translated “more than 50 books, large and small, from English and French, as well as performing secondary translations from Russian, German and several other languages.” He contributed greatly to introducing Western literature to Vietnamese readers. Seth Mydans writes at the New York Times that Tuong, who recently passed away at age 90, was also a poet and a revolutionary. (paywalled, but I’m gifting via my subscription.)

Mr. Tuong took an idiosyncratic approach to translation, infusing his work with his own personality. “An ideal translation should be a work in which the translator is the co-author,” he often said.

“I have held this view when translating nearly 60 foreign works into Vietnamese,” he told a journalist with the newspaper Thanh Nien. “Clinging to the words is not loyalty but becomes slavery, which may run counter to the general idea, the common theme.”

Mydans, Seth. “Duong Tuong, Who Opened Western Works to Vietnamese Readers, Dies at 90.” The New York Times. March 07, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/07/world/asia/duong-tuong-dead.html.

Essays on the Practice of Translation

3) Kristen Renee Miller writes about how every writer should learn how to translate at Literary Hub.

Not “Becoming a Translator​​™” necessarily, but literally, simply: picking up a text in a language other than your home language, one with which you do (or do not!) have familiarity, and starting the invigorating, maddening, mind-bending process of figuring out how to remake that text while replacing every single word.

Miller, Kristen Renee. “Every Writer Should Learn How to Translate.” Literary Hub. March 20, 2023. https://lithub.com/every-writer-should-learn-how-to-translate/.

4) The French-to-English translator, Lara Vergnaud, writes about translating a novel while dealing with grief at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Words for loss and rage, words for the grief whose age-mottled hands were firmly tightening around my throat, but also, especially, for the after-grief, for the forever flying forward. 

Vergnaud, Lara. “Winged Creatures.” Los Angeles Review of Books, March 14, 2023. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/winged-creatures/.


Essays on Language and Linguistics

5) Alejandra Marquez Janse writes about four words from other languages that have no English equivalent at NPR. (Also read this.)

Sometimes they describe an attribute. Or a moment. Or maybe just a vibe.

Janse, Alejandra Marquez. “Lost in translation: 4 perfect words that have no English equivalent.” NPR. March 11, 2023. https://www.npr.org/2023/03/11/1162340949/words-language-english-dictionary-translation

6) George Packer makes a moral case against “equity language” at The Atlantic (might be paywalled for some.)

This huge expense of energy to purify language reveals a weakened belief in more material forms of progress. If we don’t know how to end racism, we can at least call it structural. The guides want to make the ugliness of our society disappear by linguistic fiat. Even by their own lights, they do more ill than good—

Packer, George. “The Moral Case Against Equity Language.” The Atlantic. March 02, 2023. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2023/04/equity-language-guides-sierra-club-banned-words/673085/.


7) Michael Ross writes about how linguistic diversity in English language fiction reveals resistance and tension at The Conversation.

Linguistic collisions are rife in works of post-colonial literature, where they coincide with political struggles between regimes of European hegemony and decolonizing movements.

Ross, Michael. “How linguistic diversity in English-language fiction reveals resistance and tension.” The Conversation. February 23, 2023. https://theconversation.com/how-linguistic-diversity-in-english-language-fiction-reveals-resistance-and-tension-198628.

8) James Lane writes about how linguistic hegemony is a threat to education in the developing world at Babbel Magazine.

Let’s be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with teaching other languages in school — in countries like the Netherlands or Denmark it’s quite normal to learn four or more languages — but it’s important that students have a strong first language base to draw from. There is also a distinction to be made between learning a language, and learning a subject in another language.

Lane, James. “The War On Local Languages: How Linguistic Hegemony Threatens Education In The Developing World.” Babbel Magazine. February 23, 2023. https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/the-war-on-local-languages-how-linguistic-hegemony-threatens-education-in-the-developing-world.

9) James Parker writes an ode to swearing at The Atlantic (might be paywalled for some.)

Swearing is an art, like everything else. You can overdo it, you can underdo it, and you can do it just right.

Parker, James. “An Ode to Swearing.” The Atlantic. February 14, 2023. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2023/03/an-ode-to-swearing/672784/

10) Gina Cherelus writes in the New York Times about how the language of dating and romance has evolved in recent times, with a glossary of modern dating terms. (paywalled but I’m gifting via my subscription.)

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To describe yourself as single and in search of a relationship is almost too simple of a label in 2023. The way we seek romantic connections, especially with the influence of social media and dating apps, has naturally altered our behaviors and language around dating.

Cherelus, Gina. “‘Ghosting,’ ‘Orbiting,’ ‘Rizz’: A Guide to Modern Dating Terms.” The New York Times. February 11, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/11/style/dating-terms-guide-ghosting-rizz.html.


Interviews and Conversations

11) Author Jessica J. Lee and sound artist Claudia Molitor discuss their art installation ‘A Thousand Words for Weather‘ at Orion Magazine.

One of the things I found really interesting, working with the poets and translators, was to see how they were translated by others. That was a fascinating process for me to observe, how others worked in languages where I might have done something differently, or the resonances that were so personal that were picked up with each word.

Lee, Jessica, and Claudia Molitor. “A Thousand Words for Weather.” Orion Magazine, March 21, 2023. https://orionmagazine.org/article/a-thousand-words-for-weather-installation/.

12) David L. Ulin interviews translators Jennifer Croft and Boris Dralyuk about their competing award nominations and life as a translator couple with twins at Los Angeles Times.

Authors have told me translators are their closest readers. That we understand their work better than any other, including editors. Still, unlike many translators, I never consult the writer as I’m working. I feel the text has to be a separate entity. I want it as the original reader would have experienced it.

Croft, Jennifer, and Boris Dralyuk. “Two of the Country’s Best Translators Are Married — and Competing for the Same Big Prize.” Interview by David Ulin. Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2023. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2023-03-15/two-of-the-countrys-best-translators-are-married-and-competing-for-the-same-big-prize.

13) Jhumpa Lahiri speaks to Khairani Barokka: ‘On self-translation and turning to poetry‘ at the Modern Poetry in Translation podcast.

Looking for book recommendations? Check out my ongoing book lists.

…translation has, has literally sort of converted the way I think about practically everything. Because the more I think about translation, the more I realize that everything can be thought of vis-a-vis translation in some sense. I think, I feel that, you know, all of life has, is, is somehow vitally linked up to the question of translation.

Jhumpa Lahiri. “Jhumpa Lahiri Speaks to Khairani Barokka: On Self-Translation and Turning to Poetry.” Interview by Khairani Barokka. Modern Poetry in Translation, March 02, 2023. https://modernpoetryintranslation.com/jhumpa-lahiri-speaks-to-khairani-barokka-on-self-translation-and-turning-to-poetry/.

Submission Calls and Upcoming Events

14) Bristol Translates: Literary Translation Summer School (University of Bristol, UK) is coming up. They have bursaries available. And, particularly, there are two available for Indian residents to attend the Hindi school. Details here.

15) Exchanges: Journal of Literary Translation (University of Iowa, US) is accepting translation submissions until the end of this month. Details here.

16) Asymptote Journal has a new call for myths and myths in translation. Details here.

17) Gabo Prize for Literature in Translation & Multilingual Texts (Lunch Ticket, Antioch University, US) is accepting translation submissions for their bi-annual Gabo Translation Prize. Details here.

18) University College, London (in-person): Translators and writers Sawad Hussain and Ayesha M. Siddiqi in conversation with Lucelle Pardoe about their writings from Violent Phenomena: 21 Essays on Translation, an anthology edited by Kavita Bhanot and Jeremy Tiang, published by Tilted Axis Press. When: Fri, 19 May 2023 18:00 – 20:00 BST. Details here.

19) Two Lines Press is soliciting translated works for a Latin American horror edition of the Calico Series. Details here.

Personal Updates (An Essay and Two Conversations)

20) My guest-editing gig for the Gujarati literature in translation collection at Words Without Borders wrapped up with my closing essay: a broad strokes summation of Gujarat’s literary history over the last hundred years or so. There were a couple more aspects I wanted to include (e.g. literature related to the 2002 Gujarat riots) but ran out of space.

21) In November 2022, I had a virtual conversation about Gujarati literary history from the fifteenth century until now with the historian, Dr. Aparna Kapadia, for the Transnational Literature Series. It was just published in video format here.

22) Last month, I was interviewed by Priyanka Purkaystha of Writer’s Melon about the Indian edition of my translation: Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu. We discussed the differences between Indian and US publishing ecosystems and more. Watch here.


Scroll further to the discussion area to share your thoughts or drop links to other reads you’d like to share with the community. Also, here are some earlier literary translation links roundups for your reading pleasure.


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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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