THE REALITIES OF LITERARY TRANSLATION

Acclaimed translator of Russian literature gives practical tips and guidelines for producing a good literary translation. BY CHRISTY RODGERS

NCTA and the Center for the Art of Translation held a joint workshop at the Mechanics’ Institute Library in San Francisco on Saturday, March 20th: “Literary Translation: an introduction for the novice and new ideas for the experienced translator.” The workshop was conducted by Marian Schwartz, an acclaimed translator of Russian literature, who also has an extensive background as an editor.

Ms. Schwartz gave the group a comprehensive overview of the realities of publishing for the literary translator, including the issues of acquiring rights for foreign language literary works and negotiating contracts with publishers. She also discussed the rapidly changing nature of publishing today, and the effects this has had on the role of the translator, who now has to function much more as an independent contractor and business agent for the work he or she does. Helpful organizations,  such as the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA), PEN, and the National Endowment for the Arts, were noted, and new trends, particularly related to online publishing, were discusssed.

In the second half of the workshop Schwartz presented crucial guidelines for producing a good literary translation. She stressed that translators into English need to have a high level of mastery of the potentialities of the English language and an understanding of its particularities. She recommended a multi-stage process of translation, moving from focusing on the original to focusing on the translation in the editing process.

Finally, students participated in a translation exercise,which illustrated the range of issues that a single sentence can present. The exercise was exemplary of the challenge, but also the pleasure and excitement, of literary translation. CR

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