Happy 2021 to one and all! I hope you enjoy the new issue of the Gotham.

If you’ve ever wondered where your translation career might eventually lead you, make sure to check out the article by our newly elected Vice President, Marcel Votlucka. In it he describes how his Japanese language skills led him to the study of Buddhism, to the editing of Chinese Buddhist texts translated into English and eventually to a new language pairing of Chinese and English. It is a truly colorful and inspiring story. In addition, you will find my write-ups of the Circle’s very enjoyable virtual holiday party in December 2020 and an interesting Literary Translation event I attended in January sponsored by the Center of Fiction.

Remember that the Gotham is always looking for original content so feel free to send me any ideas you might have about future articles, even if English is not your native tongue. It’s a chance to showcase  the incredible diversity and expertise of our membership.

With best regards,

Patricia Stumpp



Days in Tainan, a city in southern Taiwan, are like living in an eternal spring and summer, and the people are as warm and sunny as the weather. Ancient shrines jostle for space alongside modern malls, and elderly locals practice tai chi in the parks while their grandchildren play around them. Nights are abuzz with motorbikes zipping past night market vendors and bubble tea shops, and some of their drivers pause their homebound commutes to say a brief prayer at one of the many colorful shrines in the city.

In the middle of it all is a small converted garage serving as a makeshift classroom. There’s about seven of us tonight, staring at a Word file projected onto a large screen, pondering how best to translate the words on it. Master Benkong, our teacher, starts to read the next line of the text, but is interrupted by the crashing sound of gongs and bells outside. There’s a festival this week honoring the patron spirit of a neighborhood temple, and people outside are parading around a statue depicting said spirit. Benkong smiles and jokes, “Oops, gotta pause for a sec – we’ve got God coming down the street now.”

Life can take us on many wonderful and fulfilling paths, if only we say “yes”. That’s how I, a white guy in a Protestant family from Queens, ended up connecting with a Chinese Buddhist translation group in Taiwan.

As a legal and medical translator, I work from Spanish and Japanese into English. Japanese language and cultural studies were my introduction to Buddhism, and embracing Buddhism was my bridge to a local Buddhist Meetup group here in New York, and the meetup group was how I met Master Benkong. Our Meetup group leader took us on a walking tour of temples in Chinatown on a cold winter day several years ago. At one of them, Grace Gratitude Temple on East Broadway, we were greeted and given a brief introduction to the temple by Benkong, who was its vice abbot. The temple was home to a couple dozen monks and nuns, mostly from Fujian province in China, but Benkong was a tall white man with a wry sense of humor to match his New Jersey accent. He had come to Taiwan fifty years ago to study Chinese in college (one of the first American students to do so), then  worked and translated for various NGOs around the world for many years, and eventually joined the monkhood in Taiwan later in life.

After he gave us a tour of the temple, Benkong mentioned that he was a translator before donning his monk’s robes, that he translated Buddhist texts with a group of friends and colleagues, and that we were welcome to join his group if we were interested. Intrigued, I immediately introduced myself to him, and passed him my business card. That was the start of a years-long collaboration and friendship. He and his team would translate a wide variety of Chinese Buddhist lectures and sutras and commentaries into English, send them out to the rest of us on their mailing list, and I would read through the translation and make suggestions and comments for the team. They are all native Chinese speakers who are practicing Buddhists and/or interested in learning English. Meanwhile, with my Japanese abilities I could sometimes read and understand bits and pieces of the original Chinese.

Those who are native English speakers and aren’t translators or language teachers may find it hard to appreciate just how difficult English is, what with its crazy spelling, grammatical complexities, and slang. So when I edited the team’s work I would do my best to explain things clearly and offer helpful suggestions so they could learn and improve upon their good work, even as I deepened my knowledge of Buddhist concepts by reading their translations. After two or three years of doing this editing, at Benkong’s suggestion (“three years of indoctrination”, as he jokingly calls it) I decided to formally study Chinese through a combination of in-person and remote classes and self-study using textbooks, podcasts and videos. I’m now studying to eventually take the HSK qualification exam and add Chinese as a working language pair.

This has culminated in two long-term visits to Taiwan, where I got the chance to meet his translation team in person and get to know them, explore their charming home city of Tainan with them, and actually put my budding Chinese skills to use in daily travel throughout the rest of the country. I still have a ways to go before achieving fluency and the ability to translate proficiently, but the more I learn, the better and more useful my editing collaboration becomes for the team. Besides sessions with his team in Tainan City, Benkong also leads discussion groups about their translated texts with friends of his in New York and Taiwan via Skype, connecting us with the Buddha Dharma over time zones and space. Here too, we can all offer our own translation suggestions to each other in English and Chinese on the spot, as we ponder the ideas in the materials we study.

There’s a saying in Chinese: 教学相长 (jiào xué xiāng zhǎng), which means “when you teach someone, both teacher and student will benefit”. I’ve been helped by many people and had many teachers in my life and career, and I enjoy taking chances to give back to others and mentor up-and-coming translators, whether it’s through Master Benkong’s Buddha Dharma translation team or NYCT’s or the ATA’s Mentorship Program. No one is an island onto themselves, so saying “yes” to such opportunities lets us all learn from each other, make connections we never expected before – such an important thing in a world of increasing tension and strife.



On December 17, 2020, the Circle celebrated its annual holiday get together which this year was held virtually. Hosted by Serene Su, Program Director, the event gathered together about 35 members of the Circle. Despite the limitations of the online format, the event was extremely enjoyable and collegial.

The event began with the announcement of the results of the recently held elections.  Milena Savova, our current president, was reelected and will continue to serve for an additional two years. Milena mentioned how much she has enjoyed working with the current board members Matt Goldstein, Sepideh Moussavi and Natalia Postrigan as well as yours truly, the Gotham Translator editor. Milena also acknowledged with thanks the major contribution made by outgoing vice president Kate Deimling,  one of the most proactive and successful VP’s in the history of the Circle.

Marcel Votlucka, the newly elected Vice President, then gave the members an overview of his very strong and diversified background which includes working as a project manager for LSP’s for 10 years before transitioning to full time translator. Marcel translates from both Japanese and Spanish into English and soon hopes to add Chinese as a third working language pairing. He is a past participant in the Circle’s mentoring program which was spearheaded by Kate Deimling. Marcel looks forward to developing new initiatives in 2021.

Milena announced that 2021 will see the introduction of the Circle’s re-designed website which is about one to two months away. The new website will include an integrated payment function, something that the current website lacks. In 2021 the Circle will move to a calendar year membership formula which will begin on January 1, 2021. The new website will have the membership renewal functionality built into it.

Serene then led a very enjoyable networking event which gave the attendees the opportunity to introduce themselves to the group.  Serene suggested that the members give the attendees clues about their language pairings or their cultural backgrounds as a means of introduction. Some of the members did provide clues but others found different ways of introducing themselves, such as Maria Teresa Acosta Jacobs who sang a beautiful Venezuelan song while playing a traditional Venezuelan instrument.

The general introductory session was followed by three breakout sessions led by Milena, Marcel and Serene. The breakout sessions provided the members with the opportunity to get to know each other better and to share the challenges and achievements of  2020. It was very encouraging to hear that the general consensus was that our members continued to work and develop their careers in 2020 and that they maintain a generally positive outlook about the future.

Serene is to be congratulated on her mastery of the webex funtionalities which enabled her to provide our members with such an enjoyable and upbeat start to 2021.



The Center for Fiction is a not for profit organization founded in 1820 that is devoted to celebrating the art of fiction. The Center recently announced a monthly series of Literary Translation Clinics for literary translators of all experience levels and others who are interested in translated works. The clinics are being held on the third Thursday of each month at 7pm and are co-sponsored by Cedilla & Co., a translator collective which provides literary translations and market intelligence in support of literary works from around the globe.

The first online clinic was held on January 21, 2021 and featured Thierry Kehou, writing programs manager at the Center. Mr. Kehou is a writer and translator with roots in Cameroon, the US and France. A lifelong reader of translated works, he taught in the New York City public school system where he realized the importance of giving the City’s diverse student body access to books which reflect their own lives and experiences. His other teaching experience includes teaching high school in Cameroon and teaching English in France as a Fulbright scholar.  The moderator of the event was Allison Markin Powell, a member of Cedilla and the 2020 recipient of the PEN America Translation Prize for The Ten Loves of Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami.

The event took the form of a question and answer session. The first question directed to Mr. Kehou was about how he got started in literary translation. He explained that one day when he was leaving the Cameroonian school where he was teaching,  he happened to stop at a vendor’s stall that sold school supplies outside the school. There he came upon a first edition copy of the Cameroonian writer and acclaimed composer Francis Bebey’s short novel Trois petit cireurs (translated in English as Three Little Shoeshiners). He immediately fell in love with the book and was inspired to start translating it into English. Fortuitously, several years later he was introduced to Mr. Bebey’s daughter and learned that the family owned the translation rights to the book. He is currently seeking a publisher for the eventual publication of his translation.

When asked about the relationship between translation and the writer’s craft, Mr. Kehou mentioned that translating has slowed down his own approach to writing fiction. It has helped him to recognize the benefit of taking more time with word choices and other editing requirements. He believes that by doing translations writers can see the process of writing more clearly and may better understand how a writer builds a story.

Mr. Kehou’s advice to budding literary translators includes the following:

-find a text that you love and just start translating it, although it is preferable to find out whether the translation rights for the work are available before devoting a lot of time to a project.

-consider starting small with a short story or poem and submitting your work to magazines and journals specializing in translated works.

-college students can seek out professors who translate and try to do an independent study with them.

-attend translation-related events such as the Center’s upcoming April 20th panel on Izumi Suzuki and the widening body of Japanese-to-English translations (see Center for Fiction.org website for registration information).

-check out organizations such as the British Center for Literary Translation and ALTA which can be of  great help to new literary translators.

-keep in mind that fluency in the source language is not a requirement for literary translation and a lack of fluency should not deter native English speakers from pursuing this discipline.

Based on the enthusiasm of the online attendees, the future of literary translation looks bright.   Members of the Circle may want to check out the Center’s next three literary clinics which are scheduled for February 18, March 18 and April 15th. The Center’s Brooklyn headquarters also houses an independent bookstore and an extensive library with many translated works. Other Center offerings include author panels, lectures and conversations on the craft of writing, reading groups, and grants and workshops to support emerging writers.