Interview with Founding Member Alex Gross

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Translator, author and activist Alex Gross is a true polyglot, speaking French, German, Italian and Spanish fluently and translating from all of them. His language abilities were honed with twelve years of residence and study abroad in Europe. He has published a wide variety of translations, articles and computer programs, many of which can be accessed on his website which is http://language.home.sprynet.com. Now 87 years young (going on 88), he is largely retired from translation.

Alex remembers how Eva Berry, who ran a translation agency in New York, and translators including Tom Snow and Charles Stern, joined together in 1979 to form the New York Circle of Translators. The first of the Circle’s monthly dinner meetings was held at a Czech restaurant on the Upper East Side. The monthly dinner meetings were a source of enjoyable social interactions for its members as well as a forum for the exchange of professional ideas and opinions. 

Alex entered the translation profession as a theatre translator. When he was living in London, he translated a play by Swiss author Friedrich Dὒrrenmatt entitled “Hercules in the Augean Stables” which was performed by a British theatre company and attracted the attention of the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1965, while on a fellowship in Berlin, he translated a seminal work by the post-war German writer Peter Weiss called “The Investigation” which was based on the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. This play was very relevant to the period since the statute of limitations on war crimes was scheduled to expire that year and theatre companies around the world were looking for works on that subject to perform.

Alex was very involved in the radical activist movements of the 1960s and published a book called The Untold 60s: When Hope was Born based on his activist experiences in Europe and the U.S.  During this period he edited major underground newspapers in London, New York, Berlin and Amsterdam. He also founded The Art Workers Coalition, a group of radical artist activists who demonstrated in New York and elsewhere. In the 1980s, Alex studied Chinese language and culture with an emphasis on Chinese medical techniques.

Alex’s advice to new translators is to “study, study, study” and “learn, learn, learn” and, if possible, live in the culture you are translating. He also cited a book called Translation Matters by the German-American translator Jost Zetzsche as a work of particular interest to translators who wish to work with computers. The book contains stories and essays collected over a fifteen year period about  the importance of translation in our world and how translation tools and technology are the changing the craft.

Alex believes that translation is “primal” to our lives in helping to foster communication and understanding among people. Thank you, Alex, for sharing your fascinating and multi-faceted translation career with the Circle.

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