The Gotham is pleased to introduce to the Circle one of our new members, Professor Ronald Meyer of Columbia University and the Harriman Institute. Ron is a teacher, editor and translator, specializing in Russian and Polish literature.
Ron’s interest in Russian began with a Russian course in high school, continued into his undergraduate and graduate years and culminated in his receiving a Ph.D. from Indiana University in Bloomington. His major field of study was Russian literature with minors in English and Polish literature.
In 1995, Ron joined the Department of Slavic Languages at Columbia, where he has taught required survey courses on nineteenth and twentieth century Russian literature in English Translation. He serves as Director of the M.A. Program in Russian Literary Translation. In addition, he is the Communications Manager of Columbia’s Harriman Institute, the umbrella group for all the university’s programs on Russia, Eurasia and East Central Europe. The Institute produces an alumni magazine, organizes conferences and cultural exchanges and offers events of interest to specialists in the region including book presentations, art exhibitions and film screenings.
Before joining Columbia, Ron was Senior Editor at Ardis Publishers in Ann Arbor Michigan, which at the time was the largest publisher outside of the USSR of Russian literature in translation as well as in original Russian. While at Ardis, he had the opportunity to travel to Russia every year where he developed close contacts with prominent poets and writers in Leningrad and Moscow. One of those writers was the poet Inna Lisnyanskaya, whose work at the time was censored in the USSR. Ron was able to send two of her unpublished books in the original Russian out of Moscow using the diplomatic pouch. Her book On the Verge of Sleep was subsequently published by Ardis and her Rains and Mirrors by a press in Paris. The attached article which Ron wrote for PEN AMERICA describes his close relationship with the poet and how she was ultimately recognized as one of Russia’s major poets.
Ron’s edited and translated works are numerous. They include works by Dostoevsky, Gogol and Chekov, an anthology of Russian Literature of the 1920’s, and Anna Akhmatova’s volume My Half-Century: Selected Prose, which was selected as an “Outstanding Academic Book” by the American Library Association in 1993. Anna Akhmatova, considered one of the greatest Russian poets of the twentieth century, was shortlisted for the Nobel prize in 1966. His shorter translated works include scripts/texts for subtitles for several documentary films as well as a translation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard which was commissioned by the Atlantic Theatre Company.
Ron is currently looking forward to the a collection of articles in The Polish Revew that he edited about the work of Polish poet Anna Frajlich. The issue will be published in March of 2022 to coincide with Ms. Frajlich’s eightieth birthday. He is also working on a book about translating and adapting the works of Dostoevsky for the theatre, opera and the visual arts.
Given his impressive career, I asked Ron if he could provide some advice to less experienced literary translators. He stated that it is important to remember that translation is a form of writing, not just a mechanical process. He also advises translators into English to read widely, not only in the source language but also in English. He believes it is important for translators to act professionally, i.e., to require payment if the circumstances warrant it and a contract or at least a letter of understanding before starting the work (even if the work is to be unpaid). And, of course, when hired, adhere to the established timeline.
Fledgling literary translators might consider submitting a short piece or a chapter of a work that they translated to a journal but should make sure that it represents the best work of which they are capable. Sample translations shouldn’t be too long; probably somewhere between fifteen and thirty pages. It should ideally include both descriptive passages and dialogue, if dialogue is part of the book. Also, before embarking on a project, find out if the translation rights are available. (The ALTA website has a guide on preparing a book proposal.)
It is important to increase one’s name recognition within the profession. Facebook groups and participation in professional organizations can be useful in that regard. Networking with established translators can also be a good source of work for new translators.
Thank you, Ron, for sharing your advice and your impressive career with us. We hope to see you at future Circle events.