We’re pleased to welcome Bruna Dantas Lobato as WWB’s digital marketing and communications coordinator. Bruna is a Brazilian writer and literary translator whose writing has appeared in A Public Space, BOMB, Ploughshares, The Common, and elsewhere, and who has been recognized with fellowships from Yaddo, A Public Space, NYU, and DISQUIET. Her translation of Caio Fernando Abreu's Moldy Strawberries (PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant 2019) is forthcoming from Archipelago Books in April 2022, and her translation of Giovana Madalosso’s Tokyo Suite is forthcoming from Europa Editions in the fall of 2022.
WWB: What drew you to Words Without Borders (and literature in translation more generally)? What is your personal relationship to language and translation?
Bruna Dantas Lobato (BDL): I came to English when I was seventeen and was preparing to come to the US for college. Translation became a huge part of my life as I mediated between my two homes, and literary translation was another way for me to bridge that distance and be in touch with Brazil while studying literature abroad. English has since become my dominant language and the language I write in and translate into, partly because it was my language of instruction for so long. There's often this assumption that our only true language is the mother tongue, but that hasn’t been my experience. I have deep personal attachments to both of my languages, my language of childhood and my language of adulthood. They’re just different, with their own histories and complications.
My relationship to Portuguese isn’t unambiguous either. I was born in Natal, in the Northeast of Brazil, an area of the country that is marginalized, partly because it doesn’t skew as white and wealthy as other parts of the country, and because it has its own dialect. So in many ways, my ties to Portuguese (which, it is worth mentioning, is a colonial language) are regional, connected to a specific people, while my ties to English (another colonial language) are more cosmopolitan.
I first came across Words Without Borders in the classroom, in my first literary translation workshop in college, right as I’d started thinking about committing to literature in translation long-term. After I graduated, WWB published my very first translation from Portuguese, of one of my favorite short stories, “Beauty, a Terrible Story” by Caio Fernando Abreu, with an accompanying craft essay. From that point on, I felt I was making a more permanent home for myself in this work, that through translation I was creating some cohesion out of my fragmented selves. Places like WWB allow me to live in multiple spaces at once, to always be engaging with multiple modes of existence, even while confined by my borders.
WWB: Could you share some of your favorite books and/or writers? What do you look for in a great book?
BDL: I normally read multiple books at the same time, usually in different genres and styles so I can pick and choose depending on my mood. Recently, I’ve enjoyed Don Mee Choi’s Translation Is a Mode=Translation Is an Anti-Neocolonial Mode; Ayşegül Savaş’s Walking on the Ceiling; Tove Ditlevsen’s The Copenhagen Trilogy, translated by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman; Hiromi Kawakami’s The Nakano Thrift Shop, translated by Allison Markin Powell; Tomás González’s Difficult Light, translated by Andrea Rosenberg; and all of Marie NDiaye’s novels translated by Jordan Stump. I’m also always coming back to a few old favorites that feel closer to my style and concerns as a writer, especially Jean Rhys’s Voyage in the Dark, Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy, Sigrid Nunez’s A Feather on the Breath of God, and Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book, translated by Thomas Teal, all of these language-driven novels about women who are alienated in some way.
WWB: As a translator, what are some of the most gratifying projects you’ve worked on? Are there particular types of work—aesthetic or otherwise—that you’re drawn to?
BDL: Translating Caio Fernando Abreu’s story collection Moldy Strawberries taught me so much about style. His prose is so controlled, so full of tension and subtext, I often felt a misplaced comma could entirely change the meaning of a story. I had to rely on my intuition and feel for the text a lot, and it was liberating to let go of craft rules and let my flawed, human side guide me through the writing. I think I came out of it a more emotionally intelligent writer, or at least one who’s more in touch with the nuances of language. As a writer, I’m also very much a minimalist, so these stories were a perfect fit for me in that way too.
WWB: Are there languages, themes, or genres that you’re eager to see more of in English translation?
BDL: More stories by working-class women, queer writers, and BIPOC writers, and more generally any book that defies the expectations for the language or country it comes from. As a reader, I’m also drawn to books that defy genre or categorization, that embrace ambiguity and complication, even though these are harder to market.
WWB: Beyond literature and translation, what are your passions and interests?
BDL: I love to try my hand at different crafts: I’ve carved woodblocks for relief printing, made paper and bound notebooks, done some needlepoint, taken traditional calligraphy classes. I’m not very good at any of these, and that’s part of the appeal. I have no ambitions here other than having a good time and making something nice for myself, and just being an amateur.
For the past few years, I’ve also been obsessed with dollhouses and miniatures in 1:12 scale. My main project right now is a three-floor colonial house complete with a library and dusty attic. I recently spent a lovely weekend finishing up the fireplace, wainscoting, and moldings for the living room, which add so much realism to this scale. I keep my favorite mini creations on a shelf in my home office. So far, I have a tiny brown teddy bear with a red bow, a functioning mini lamp I made with jewelry findings and an LED light, a lacy nightgown hanging on a paperclip hanger, and a breakfast tray with a polymer clay croissant and the cutest jar of Bonne Maman raspberry preserves.