We’re pleased to welcome Nina Perrotta as WWB’s assistant editor and development associate. Nina is a writer, editor, and translator from Spanish and Portuguese. Prior to joining WWB, she taught English as a Fulbright grantee at the Universidade Tecnológica Federal do Paraná in Curitiba, Brazil. Her translation work has appeared in Words Without Borders, the Iowa Review, and the Nashville Review.
WWB: What drew you to Words Without Borders (and literature in translation more generally)? What is your personal relationship to language and translation?
Nina Perrotta (NP): I fell into literature in translation by chance. At eighteen, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I was lucky enough to attend a university that offered a major in literary translation. I realized that all my interests—foreign languages, literature, and creative writing—could be subsumed under this one discipline that had never even been on my radar. And it was through one of my literary translation professors that I first learned about WWB.
Since then, I’ve been increasingly impressed by the breadth of WWB’s vision. On the one hand, it invites Anglophone readers to engage with writing from countries, cultures, and languages they might be unfamiliar with, as in recent issues featuring Urdu feminist writing and Guaraní poetry, respectively. At the same time, it seeks to draw connections between languages and across borders, bringing together writing from around the world on themes such as the climate crisis and queer identity. In the last few years, especially, I’ve often thought of WWB as an antidote to the xenophobia and isolationism that have gained ground both here in the US and abroad.
As for my relationship to language, it’s mostly a positive one, though I’m a painfully slow and nitpicky writer and translator. I grew up in a monolingual family and started learning Spanish in middle school. I continued to study it through college, where I also started learning Portuguese, and then taught English for a year each in Spain and Brazil. I loved living and working in those bi- (and sometimes multi-)lingual environments, and even now I’m excited when I get to read a submission or send a WWB email in another language. I’ll also say that studying and translating Romance languages has actually given me a greater appreciation for English and its many quirks, especially its Germanic and Latinate equivalents, though they can of course be a headache for language learners.
WWB: Could you share some of your favorite books and/or writers? What do you look for in a great book?
NP: I often find that the books I most want to talk about are the ones I've read most recently (especially now, when I can barely remember what I was reading pre-pandemic). I will say, though, that I love long, plot- and character-driven novels that draw you into their world, books like Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels, Junichiro Tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters, or Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall series.
I've read a few wonderful books in translation recently, including Marieke Lucas Rijneveld's The Discomfort of Evening in Michele Hutchison's translation, the most disturbing—but luminous—novel I’ve read all year; Ananda Devi’s haunting The Living Days, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman; Ann Goldstein's rendering of Primo Levi's classic The Periodic Table; and Jokha Alharthi's award-winning Celestial Bodies, translated by Marilyn Booth.
I've also enjoyed several English-language titles during the pandemic, among them Megha Majumdar's A Burning, Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, Akwaeke Emezi's Freshwater, and Hernan Diaz's In the Distance. And I have to mention the book I’m finishing now, Claire Tomalin's biography of the seventeenth-century English diarist Samuel Pepys. In a strange way, I’ve found it reassuring to read about someone who survived an era even more tumultuous than our own, a time marked by continuous upheaval in the form of regicide, bubonic plague, foreign and domestic wars, the Great Fire of London, and much more. At the same time, for me at least, there’s a real line-level pleasure in Pepys’s English (quoted at length in the biography), a charm and whimsy that one also finds in his near-contemporary Thomas Browne.
WWB: Are there languages, themes, or genres that you’re eager to see more of in English translation?
NP: I’m always excited to see translations from Indigenous languages and languages that have historically been or are currently being suppressed (I’m thinking of Kurdish, for example, or Basque). I'm also eager to see more translations of books by women, people of color, and queer writers, and more books from sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, which can be hard to come by in English translation.
As a translator myself, I've recently become interested in work by twentieth-century Latin American women writers who may have been overlooked during their own lifetimes. I love the idea of giving Anglophone readers access to an author like Armonía Somers, for instance, whose 1950 feminist classic The Naked Woman didn't appear in English until 2018 (in Kit Maude's translation).
WWB: You’ve traveled quite a bit. What are some of the places you’ve visited that have inspired you?
NP: I’ve been lucky enough to have lived in both Europe and South America and to have traveled a fair amount on both continents. One of the places I still think about often is Punta Arenas, a city at the southernmost tip of Chile, which I visited in 2018. The summer solstice was approaching, and my friend and I spent the long days visiting museums and biking along the water, one day stumbling across the enormous, rusty shell of an abandoned British ship from 1899. There was an emptiness and an openness about the city that I’ve never encountered anywhere else, though it occurs to me now that it has something in common with another city I love, A Coruña, on the northern coast of Spain. Though Coruña is much more populous, it has the same remote feeling, the same constant pull toward the water, that I found so striking about Punta Arenas.
WWB: Beyond literature and translation, what are your passions and interests?
NP: For most of my life, I’ve practiced martial arts, from karate as a child to Brazilian jiu-jitsu, MMA, and a bit of capoeira as an adult. In 2020, though, I’ve shifted my focus to two of my favorite pandemic-friendly activities: running and yoga. I also enjoy learning languages and have spent the past few months of quarantine struggling through German.