Last year in June, I was in Canada for a three week residency at the Banff Literary Translation Centre (BLTC) at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity/ Centre de arts de Banff. Since 2003, BLTC has offered time for translators from around the world, ranging from students and emerging translators to professionals, to meet, work and exchange ideas. Those three weeks were one of the best experiences of my life.
My fellow translators included Edith Adams (translating the novel Los topos by Félix Bruzzone from Spanish to English), Linda Broeder (translating the novel The Old Drift by Namwali Serpel from English into Dutch), Lucia Duero (translating the novel El libro vacío by Josefina Vicens from Spanish to Slovak), Catherine Ego (translating the short stories Zolitude by Page Cooper from English to French) Laura Irene González Mendoza (translating the novel Beachmasters by Thea Astley from English to Spanish), Kristjanna Grimmelt (translating the novel Cipotes by Ramón Amaya Amador from Spanish to English), Beatriz Hausner (translating the experimental Chilean poetry group Mandrágora from Spanish to English), Kathryn Henderson (translating the novel When Fox Is a Thousand by Larissa Lai from English to French), Tiffany Higgins (translating the short stories A Oraçao do Carrasco by Itamar Vieira Junior from Portuguese to English), Reita Lounatvuori (translating the play Nyotaimori by Sarah Berthiaume from French to Finnish), Johanna Malcher (translating the poetry collection Mañuwìín – Cordel Torcido by Hubert Matiúwàa from Mè´phàà/Spanish to German), Rodolfo Mata (translating the poetry collection Baque by Fabio Weintraub), Derick Mattern (translating the poetry collection Harap by Cenk Gündoğdu from Turkish to English), Gerardo Piña (translating the essay Möchten Sie Mozart gewesen sein? by Peter Bichsel from German to Spanish), Ricardo Ruiz León, translating the novel Das kürzere Leben des Klaus Halm by Lukas Holliger from German to Spanish), Michal Sapir (translating the novel Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace from English to Hebrew), Tetiana Savchynska (translating the novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien from English to Ukrainian), Yuan Yao (translating the novel Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King from English to Chinese), Nadxeli Yrizar-Carrillo (translating the play Dans ma maison de papier, j’ai des poèmes sur le feu / En attendant le Petit Poucet by Philippe Dorin from French to Spanish), and Ezequiel Zaidenwerg (translating James Tate into Spanish).
I have been a writer and a poet for nearly forty years, but I only began translating five years ago when I fell in love with Uruguayan poetry. I have gradually come to know other Spanish language poetry translators and then, through the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA,) other translators of poetry and prose from many languages into English. But at Banff, translators can translate not just into English, but from English, French or Spanish into any language and that opened the door to an even wider world. I was in awe of the translators working on difficult authors and texts such as Michal Sapir who was translating David Foster Wallace’s vast and complex novel Infinite Jest into Hebrew. I had not had any experience of being with translators working for the theater and hearing Reita Lounatvuori talk about translating plays—serious, musical, and comic—into Finnish and Nadxeli Yrizar-Carrillo speak of her work for children’s theater as a collaborative process was eye-opening.
We were led in our work by the Mexico poet and translator Pedro Serrano, then the director of BLTC, and faculty who included well-known translators Claudia Cabrera, Daniel Hahn, Rhonda Mullins, Madeleine Stratford and Maryse Warda. Some of us, including myself, were lucky enough to have our writers invited to work with us for short periods of time. I was able to work with Uruguayan poet Silvia Guerra on her book Un mar en madrugada, a very difficult text which I have just recently finished co-translating with Jeannine Pitas. And it was amazing for all of us to hear work read by the guest authors such as the Turkish poet Cenk Gündoğdu and the indigenous Mexican poet Hubert Matiúwàa who writes in Mè´phàà. We were also privileged to have the legendary Russian translation Marian Schwartz with us as the recipient of the 2018 Linda Gaboriau Award for Translation from BLTC.
As translators, we gave an official BLTC reading, open to the public and other residents at the Banff Centre. But we also held less formal night readings that included only the translators. These gave rise to some of the most interesting and organic work. Many of the translators were also writers and spontaneous cross-translations broke out. People read a piece they had written followed by a cascade of that work translated into other languages.
We had formal afternoon sessions where translators presented their work and we met privately with the faculty to work on our translations. But just as productive were our many conversations over breakfast, lunch and dinner or while on hikes in the stunning mountains that surround Banff. This year, because of the pandemic, the Banff Centre is closed. It makes me very sad to think of the dining hall, library and meeting rooms empty and silent, though the mountains, I am sure, stand unchanged.
To capture the spirit of those three weeks and the magic of a residency at the Banff Literary Translation Centre, this feature has three sections:
Play: I wanted to bring some of that fun and translation play of our late night readings to TQ readers, so from those special nights we have a poem by BLTC director Pedro Seranno translated from Spanish to English by Beatriz Hausner, a poem of mine,“Apple,” in English translated into Spanish by Ezequiel Zaidenwerg and Slovak by Lucia Duero, and the Mexican translator Gerardo Piña’s Spanish translation of my short short story “Carpathia” with the English original. There is also an English language poem by Derrick Mattern, translated into French by Madeleine Stratford, Spanish by Gerardo Peña, both from our nights in Banff, with the additional treat of a Turkish version done later by Efe Duyan.
Work: I asked for my fellow BTLC translators to send me work that represented the translations they have been working on in this past year. Kathryn Henderson sent a part of the novel she was working on at Banff, but three other translators, Tiffany Higgins, Madeliene Stratford and Tetiana Savchynska have sent new work.
Outside the Box: As I mentioned, many translators at Banff were also writers and some have combined their time spent in a second language and their own writing this year. So this section features an essay by Slovak translator Lucia Duero written in English and a poem by Mexican translator Rodolfo Mata written in English.
Jesse Lee Kercheval
“Apple” by Jesse Lee Kercheval – translated into Spanish by Ezequiel Zaidenwerg and Slovak by Lucia Duero
“We Talk About Louis Riel” by Derick Mattern – translated into French by Madeleine Stratford, Spanish by Gerardo Peña, with an additional Turkish version by Efe Duyan
Outside the Box
Lucia Duero is a Slovak writer and literary translator residing in Mexico City. Her work has been published in numerous magazines in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Latin America, and the United States. Her translation of Luljeta Lleshanaku’s Lunes en Siete Días (Olifante, Spain, 2017) into Spanish won the II Marcelo Reyes Translation Award. She is the author of the poetic novel El Problema Principal written originally in Spanish (Amargord, Madrid, 2018).
Efe Duyan teaches architectural history and theory at Mimar Sinan Arts University. He as an International Writing Program Resident in 2019. His most recent poetry collection is Sıkça Sorulan Sorular (2016).
Karoline Georges (born 1970) is a Canadian writer from Quebec whose novel De synthèse won the Governor General’s Award for French-language fiction at the 2018 Governor General’s Awards.
Beatriz Hausner’s latest poetry collection is Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. Her translations include the work of César Moro, the poets of Mandrágora, Alvaro Mutis, and many others.
Kathryn Henderson is a translator working with Mandarin, French and English. She is currently pursuing an MA in Translation Studies at Concordia University.
Tiffany Higgins is a poet, translator, environmental journalist, and 2021 Fulbright scholar to Brazil. Her writing appears in Granta, Guernica, Mongabay, Poetry, and elsewhere.
Larissa Lai is the author of When Fox is a Thousand and six other books. She directs The Insurgent Architect’s House for Creative Writing (University of Calgary).
Kateryna Kalytko is a contemporary Ukrainian writer. She is the author of seven poetry collections and two books of short stories. In 2016, she was awarded the Vilenica Crystal Prize, and in 2017, the Joseph Conrad Award.
Márcia Kambeba, of the Omágua/ Kambeba indigenous people in Brazil, is the author of Ay kakyri Tama – Eu moro na cidade (2013) and O Lugar do Saber (2018).
Derick Mattern is a PhD student on the international writers track in comparative literature at Washington University in St Louis, where he translates contemporary Turkish poetry.
Gerardo Piña is a Mexican author and translator. His most recent book is Donde el silencio se bifurca (Periférica: 2018). He is currently translating Kindergeschichten, a book of short stories for children by Peter Bichsel.
Tetiana Savchynska holds an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Dartmouth College, where she studied on a Fulbright Scholarship. Her writing and translations into English have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books and Asymptote.
Pedro Serrano (Montreal, 1957) teaches at UNAM. From 2016 to 2019, he was Director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre. He was Editor of Periódico de Poesía (www.periodicodepoesia.unam.mx ) for 10 years at UNAM.
Madeleine Stratford is a professor at Université du Québec en Outaouais. Two of her translations were shortlisted for a Governor General’s Award (2016 and 2019).