Translation Residency, Open Letter Books, University of Rochester, 2014, by Ekaterina Petrova
My residency at Open Letter Books at the University of Rochester took place over three weeks, between April 9 and 29, 2014.
During this period, I took part in four main types of activities, including:
1. Attending bi-weekly classes taught by Open Letter’s director Chad Post, offered as part of the Master of Arts in Literary Translation program at the University of Rochester.
In the spring semester, those classes included Translation & World Literature and Introduction to Literary Publishing.
My stay coincided with the last part of the Translation & World Literature class, in which students read five contemporary translations and talked to the translators who worked on them, after having spent the first part reading books by translators and editors about the process of translation and the second part familiarizing themselves with important works from around the world and discussing style and literary connections. At the end of the final part of the class, students were supposed to select (through a debate and by unanimous agreement) and award what they considered to be the best book and translation.
Together with the Master’s students, I read Julia Deck’s Viviane and participated in a Skype discussion with its translator Linda Coverdale (April 10); followed by Why I Killed My Best Friend (newly published by Open Letter Books) by Greek author Amanda Michalopoulou and a discussion with her and the novel’s translator Karen Emmerich (April 15), for which both of them had came to Rochester; That Smell & Notes from Prison by Egyptian writer Sonallah Ibrahim and a Skype discussion with the book’s translator Robyn Creswell (April 17); the newly published Talking to Ourselves by Andrés Neuman, who also came to Rochester for a presentation and discussion of the book (April 22); and Navidad & Matanza by Chilean writer Carlos Labbé, also recently published by Open Letter Books and translated from the Spanish by Will Vanderhyden, a recent graduate of the Literary Translation Master’s program, both of whom were also in Rochester (April 24). Since my stay in Rochester ended before the final session of the class, I was unfortunately unable to attend the final discussion about which book the class decided to give its “award.”
The sessions I attended as part of the Introduction to Literary Publishing class were extremely varied. They included: the complex and fascinating process of the plugging in and the inclusion – through references or visual shots, of books in the TV show Lost, and specifically of Flann O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman (published by Dalkey Archive, which Chad Post was working for at the time) and the effect such inclusions have on book sales; online book discovery and the discussion of various websites, approaches to it, and varying degrees of success; the presentation of students’ plans for marketing particular books, in comparison to the marketing plans Open Letter Books has actually implemented; a presentation and discussion of various chapters of The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control by Theodore Striphas, including presenting the Chapter “Literature as Life on Oprah’s Book Club.”
In addition, I was also invited by the Literary Translation Masters students to attend another one of their core component classes – the Writing and Translation Workshop, taught by writer and professor Joanna Scott, in which both original writing by creative writing students and translations by the Master’s students were read and discussed.
2. Attending readings, conversations, and discussions both on and off the University of Rochester campus.
My stay coincided with the Spring 2014 edition of the Reading the World Conversation Series, which included the following events that I attended:
Women in Translation (April 10): A conversation and reading with Bulgarian authors Albena Stambolova (Everything Happens as It Does, translated by 2012 Fellow Olga Nikolova and recently published by Open Letter) and Virginia Zaharieva (Nine Rabbits, translated by Angela Rodel and published in the US by Black Balloon Publishing), and Danish author Iben Mondrup (Justine, whose publication is forthcoming from Open Letter in 2016) and the book’s translator Kerri Pierce, in which they discussed their books, their writing, and their careers from a female perspective.
Radical Politics and BFFs (April 15): A reading, conversation, and discussion with Greek author Amanda Michalopoulou and translator Karen Emmerich of Why I Killed My Best Friend, recently published by Open Letter.
Latin American Literature Today (April 22): A conversation with two of the authors included in Granta Magazine’s “Best Young Spanish-language Novelists” issue—Andrés Neuman (Traveler of the Century, Talking to Ourselves) and Carlos Labbé (Navidad & Matanza, Loquela), and translator and University of Rochester alum Will Vanderhyden, on their latest books and current trends in Latin American Literature.
I was also able to attend a literary salon (April 11), hosted by Rochester residents Jenny and Glenn Kellogg, during which Amanda Michalopoulou also read from and discussed her book, and the process of working with Karen Emmerich on its translation ten years after it was originally written.
3. Working on my translation.
The other main activity I was involved in during my stay at Rochester was working on my own translation of Bistra Choleva-Laleva’s Katerina’s Network. The excerpt I’d initially applied with was read, discussed, and workshopped during Plüb—the weekly translation workshop organized by Chad Post and Open Letter’s Editorial Director Kaija Straumanis, which is also attended by some of the Master’s students and other people working and/or interested in translation. The discussion was very stimulating and useful, as the feedback I received not only helped me untangle some of the specific conundrums I’d faced when translating this particular text, but also helped shed light on some general considerations applicable to any translation into English—from punctuation (including serial commas and en and em dashes) to a discussion of the use of footnotes (almost never a good idea).
I have continued to refer to these discussions, as well as the practical considerations raised during classes and informal discussions in all my subsequent work since, which has definitely improved the quality of my translations.
During my stay in Rochester, I was also able to translate some additional pages from Katerina’s Network, which were later included in Bistra Choleva-Laleva’s application for the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation’s Writers’ Contest in the fall of 2014.
4. Other Activities.
My residency coincided with Open Letter’s annual visit to the OMI International Arts Center and I was fortunate enough to be invited to join Chad Post and Kaija Straumanis in their visit to the Writers Omi at Ledig House residency program (April 25-27), where they presented Open Letter Books to the writers and translators currently in residence. This was not only an invaluable opportunity to spend time in the beautiful setting of the OMI International Arts Center, but also to learn about their residency programs and meet the Writers Omi at Ledig House Director DW Gibson and the resident writers and translators, some of whom I’m still in regular touch with.
Outside of scheduled events, I also had the opportunity to spend time and have informal discussions not only with Open Letter’s Chad Post, Kaija Straumanis, and Art & Operations Director Nathan Furl, but also with the Master’s students, other people from the Rochester community, as well as the visiting writers and translators. Whether over lunch or dinner, at the Open Letter office, during a walk around Rochester or the road trip to and from Ghent, these informal interactions—besides being extremely fun and making me feel very welcome—were also very useful professionally, as they gave me a chance that I rarely have to discuss and think about translation and learn about Open Letter’s work in particular and the American publishing scene in general.