BY: PATRICIA STUMPP
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.