New Youth and Old Nightmares

2015 has been a good year so far when it comes to contemporary Chinese literature in translation, thanks to the publication of English-language editions of novels by two of China’s most important contemporary writers: Yan Lianke and Yu Hua. Yan’s The Four Books, very ably translated by Carlos…...read more »
Image of The City and the Writer: In Cambridge, Massachusetts and Boulder, Colorado with David Gessner

The City and the Writer: In Cambridge, Massachusetts and Boulder, Colorado with David Gessner

Special Series/Nature Writers 2015 If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains. —Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities     Can you describe the moods of Cambridge…...read more »

The Week in Translation

APPLY what: Writers OMI at Ledig House, Fall 2015 Translation Lab: 12-day residency for five teams of writers & translators this fall when: November 10-21, 2015 where: OMI International Arts Center, Ghent, NY application deadline: July 15, 2015 more info: http://ow.ly/JvRYv   SUBMIT what: Gulf…...read more »
Image of Translation vs. Creative Writing Workshops: Structural Differences

Translation vs. Creative Writing Workshops: Structural Differences

As a track within the MFA Program at Queens College, literary translation tends to follow the pedagogical models of creative writing in poetry, fiction, and drama. Operating on the principle that better writers become better translators, we require translation students to take writing courses in other…...read more »

Dispatch from Florence’s Festival degli Scrittori

The ninth annual Festival degli Scrittori and the Premio von Rezzori, a Florence-based literary festival that culminates in a ceremony conferring the Premio von Rezzori for best foreign literary work and best translation of a foreign work, was held from June 10 through  June 12, 2015. It opened…...read more »
Image of The City and the Writer: In Portland, Maine, with Kathryn Miles

The City and the Writer: In Portland, Maine, with Kathryn Miles

Special Series/Nature Writers 2015 If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.                   —Italo Calvino,…...read more »

The Week in Translation

GO what: Launch for The Game for Real by Richard Weiner, translated by Benjamin Paloff, who will be joined by Alex Zucker.  when: Thursday, June 25, 7pm  where: Community Bookstore, 143 Seventh Ave., Brooklyn more info:http://ow.ly/OCAQW APPLY what: Writers OMI at Ledig House,…...read more »
Image of The City and the Writer: In New Orleans with Sheryl St. Germain

The City and the Writer: In New Orleans with Sheryl St. Germain

Special Series/Nature Writers 2015 If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.                   —Italo Calvino,…...read more »

The Week in Translation

APPLY what: Writers OMI at Ledig House, Fall 2015 Translation Lab: 12-day residency for five teams of writers & translators this fall when: November 10-21, 2015 where: OMI International Arts Center, Ghent, NY application deadline: July 15, 2015 more info: http://ow.ly/JvRYv   SUBMIT what: Gulf…...read more »

Interview with the Translator: Meg Matich talks to Alison Macomber

Following the Barnard College Translation in Transition conference, Alison Macomber interviewed conference presenter Meg Matich about her translations of Icelandic poetry and translation theory that she’s found useful in practice. Can you tell me a little bit about your current translation project(s)?…...read more »

Most Recent Entry

Translator Relay: Allison Markin Powell

Image of Translator Relay: Allison Markin Powell

Our "Translator Relay" series features a new interview each month. This month's translator will choose the next interviewee, adding a different, sixth question. For July's installment, Tess Lewis passed the baton to Allison Markin Powell, a literary translator, editor, and publishing consultant in New York City.  She has worked in the editorial departments of American and Japanese book and magazine publishing, and has translated works by Osamu Dazai, Hiromi Kawakami, and Fuminori Nakamura, among others.  Her translation of Kawakami’s The Briefcase was nominated for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize, and the UK edition (Strange Weather in Tokyo) was nominated for the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.  Powell was the guest editor of WWB’s first Japan issue in May 2009 and she maintains the database http://www.japaneseliteratureinenglish.com.

What is your connection to the language(s) you translate from and/or the place(s) where the books you translate are written?

I had absolutely no connection to Japanese or to Japan itself when I began studying the language.  I had taken French in grade school, and when I got to college (university), I wanted to learn another language, one that was different from French.  Despite the seeming arbitrariness of that decision, perhaps there was something that drew me to Japan, or I may have sensed on some level the compatibility of Japanese culture with my own nature.  In particular, the attention to detail and the rituals surrounding many day-to-day activities provide a sense of comfort, as well as being an ongoing source of fascination.

Can you give us an example of an "untranslateable" word or phrase, and tell us how you brought it into English?

A novel I translated, The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami (U.K. title, Strange Weather in Tokyo), contained many scenes in an izakaya, and the characters interactions mostly took place over food and drink.  While not technically un-translateable, it was a challenge to decide whether to translate the names of the dishes or to leave them in their evocative Japanese and use contextual references to identify them.  For instance, chrysanthemum greens sounded quite appealing, so I could easily translate that into English.  But the simple sounding yudofu needs to be described as “boiled tofu eaten with soy sauce, chopped scallion, dried bonito shavings, and grated fresh ginger,” so I left that as yudofu, with the additional descriptive details appearing in surrounding sentences.  And then there were the various connotations of changing seasons—like switching from hot saké to cold beer—and regional delicacies such as sweet ayu fish that their dining choices signify.  It’s remarkable how much of our culture in tied up in food.

Do you have any translating rituals?

Having just referenced the ritualism I find in Japanese culture, it seems odd that I don’t really have any translating rituals per se.  At the moment, I am working on different books by writers whose novels I have translated previously.  While of course each book is different from the other one I worked on, there is a similarity in tone and style, and it is a pleasure to settle back into the rhythms of these writers.

Do you have a metaphor you use to explain the translation process and the role of the translator in bringing a piece from one language into another?

Unfortunately I don’t have much of an answer to this question either.  When it comes to translating metaphors or idioms, I tend to be rather literal because I think these phrases often convey quite a lot about the society or time period in which they were written.  Translators have been compared to traitors and ghosts, among other things, but in my work, I feel more like a writer who isn’t required to produce original material.

Tell us about a current, or future, translation project that you're excited about.

Recently I have been working more closely with writers whose work I now translate or hope to translate in the future.  This year I met a writer who just won a major literary prize in Japan, and none of her work has ever been translated into English.  She and I are in the process of determining which of her (many) books are the best prospects to introduce her writing here.  I have worked in publishing for many years, and it’s like putting together a puzzle to find the right book by the right writer, to go with which editor at which publisher, and so on.  That is to say, I’m very excited about the breadth of her work and about finding a readership for her in English.

Tess Lewis’s question: The Japanese have a deep and enthusiastic appreciation of translators who bring foreign works into Japanese.  Are they equally appreciative of translators who bring Japanese literature to foreign readers?  What are some of your experiences with this wonderful cultural trait?

Japanese people always seem impressed with foreigners who understand and can speak their language.  I wish I could say that I have personally benefited from this tradition, but I think it’s more that I have been warmly welcomed and encouraged to continue doing this kind of work.  Despite translators’ elevated status in Japan, I don’t know whether it’s actually any easier to make a living in the profession.  Of course, there are many more books published in translation there, so there is more work to go around.  But I can’t say if that respect translates to any more financial security.


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