In this episode, we look at divergent forms of storytelling in translation—from the fact-centered world of literary reportage to the poetic proclamations of a third-millennium heart. Beatrice Smigasiewicz brings us coverage from Krakow’s Conrad Festival, where she caught up with one of Poland’s most prominent writers of literary nonfiction, Mariusz Szczygieł, and his award-winning translator, Antonia Lloyd-Jones. They discuss the legacy of 20th century reportage in Polish literature and the power of storytelling in dealing with the country’s wartime experience and postwar Communist era. Katrine Øgaard Jensen presents new translations of poems from Ursula Andkjær Olsen’s Third-Millennium Heart, an explosive collection that pushes story to the limit—breaking every rule of storytelling and yet bringing us a character who feels real. Olsen won the prestigious literary award Montanaprisen in 2013 for the book, excerpted here in its original Danish along with English translations.
In this month’s podcast, storytelling—from the factual to the fractured
Portions of assistant editor Alexis Almeida’s translation of Florencia Walfisch’s Sopa de Ajo y Mezcal were published at the Fanzine. She also had the poems “Study of My Body the Pantomime” and “17 Sounds for Saint Cecilia” published in Matter Monthly, and she contributed to an Insect Poetics feature in the Volta. Futhermore, Alexis recently had both translations and poems published in issue two of Divine Magnet.
Slovakia editor-at-large Julia Sherwood’s translation of the short story “The Wall” by Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki—translated from the Polish jointly with Peter Sherwood—appeared in the September issue of the Missing Slate. READ MORE…
The October issue is live—and with so much good content, you might be overwhelmed. Take a deep breath, and dive in:
Hot off the digital presses! Asymptote‘s new October issue is live—and completely, utterly alive and alight with literary voices from around the world. This season’s issue is especially star-studded—featuring star writers like Yves Bonnefoy, Sjón, and Thomas Stangl—but it’s equally stuffed with brilliant, lucid literary voices you simply haven’t heard of . . . yet. That’s where translation (and Asymptote) comes in.
But with so many gems of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, we get it—you might be overwhelmed at the prospect of so. much. reading. So if you’re sneaking a read at work (psst—we won’t tell), here are five quick reads sure to make the time pass more quickly:
1. Roland Glasser on translating Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83, by Roland Glasser
The difficulty of translating is something not only every budding translator but every writer can relate to all too well. The struggle of finding the right word, regardless of the language, is something that Robert Glasser iterates very clearly in the essay. Whether it’s a thin, overworked, minor-miner (known as a biscotte in French slang) or a slim-jim, as Glasser translates it—the right word at the right time can mean a world of difference.
Glasser understands this endeavor, and succeeds at illuminating the translation quagmires in Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83. The scenes of “melting-pot” Parisian people, food, and culture flow throughout the piece, juxtaposing the worlds people have left behind with the world of the novel being translated. Reading this piece is a surefire way to get excited, not only about Glasser’s writing, but also his translation of Tram 83, released on September 8th, 2015, by Deep Vellum. —Allegra Rosenbaum, asssistant blog editor READ MORE…
Contributing editor Adrian West’s translation of Marianne Fritz’s The Weight of Things, which you might remember from the January 2014 issue of Asymptote, is now out from Dorothy. Adrian also recently wrote an essay about Marianne Fritz for the Paris Review blog, and a review of Michel Houellebecq’s Submission for the Quarterly Conversation. Furthermore, he had a story of his own published in gorse.
Drama editor Caridad Svich’s new play, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, has been featured in Broadway World. The play is based on the novel by Mario Vargas Llosa and directed by Jose Zayas. It premieres on October 10.
Contributing editor Ellen Elias-Bursac has been awarded The Mary Zirin Prize by the Association for Women in Slavic Studies. According to the judges’ citation, Ellen “serves a model for the important work, scholarly and socially, that committed independent scholars can achieve.” READ MORE…
Q&A with Roberto Bolaño-translator Natasha Wimmer.
Natasha Wimmer‘s translations include The Savage Detectives and 2666, by Roberto Bolaño. She lives in New York City.
Who are you? What do you translate?
In an attempt to avoid the obvious, I’ll borrow the 25-things-people-don’t-know-about-you meme from years ago. Except let’s make it five, and keep it translation-specific.
1) The first word I ever spoke in Spanish was ”hola”—except that I pronounced it ”olé.” 2) I learned lots of Spanish from watching dubbed versions of Highway to Heaven (Autopista hacia el cielo) and Murder She Wrote (Asesinato Escribió). 3) My first translation project was Pedro Juan Gutiérrez’s Dirty Havana Trilogy, which stretched my skills to the breaking point with its Bukowskian cool and scatological sex scenes. 4) I was once given the wrong draft of a novel and had to go back over every word of the translation to make sure it matched the proper version. 5) My working title for the translation of The Savage Detectives was The Wild Detectives. 6) (bonus point) I was convinced that American readers would respond better to The Savage Detectives than to 2666—the popular success of 2666 in the U.S. was a total surprise (to me, at least).
An excerpt from poetry editor Aditi Machado‘s translation of Farid Tali’s Prosopopoeia recently appeared in World Literature Today. The entire work is forthcoming from Action Books in 2016.
Over at his blog, contributing editor Adrian West joins Michael Orthofer in bemoaning the relative obscurity into which German writer Peter Weiss has fallen and argues that Weiss’s Aesthetics of Resistance might be the most radical novel of the twentieth century.
Drama editor Caridad Svich will be giving a talk entitled “Staging Place: Theatrical Crossings in Translation and Adaptation” at Mary Baldwin College’s Francis Auditorium at 7 PM on Sep 21.
Commissioning editor J.S. Tennant translated Enrique Vila-Matas’s “Writers from the Old Days” for The White Review recently.
Assistant editor Kara Billey Thordarson (K.T. Billey) had poems appear in Cosmonauts Avenue and Prelude. In August, she was named a finalist for the 2015 Pamet Prize from YesYes Books. Kara also read for Columbia University’s Studio A Arts radio show recently, sharing poems and talking philosophy of language, logic, and gender. READ MORE…
After announcing Close Approximations, our $4,500 translation contest, we're thrilled to share more exciting news!
As you might remember, we recently announced Close Approximations, our $4,500 translation contest judged by Michael Hofmann, Ottilie Mulzet, and Margaret Jull Costa. But we have more exciting news for you: Our podcast and annual reader survey are back! And to prepare for new ventures, we’re hoping to enlist new team members via our final recruitment drive of the year (deadline: 1 September 2015). Check out the details here: READ MORE…
"I think of the book as an archive of human knowledge filtered through branches of thought."
Katie Holten is an Irish artist. She represented Ireland at the 50th Venice Biennale. Solo museum exhibitions include New Orleans Museum of Art (2012); Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane (2010); The Bronx Museum, New York (2009); Nevada Museum of Art, Reno (2008), and Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2007). Committed to social causes, especially as they pertain to environmental issues, Katie is fascinated with the inextricable relationship between man and the natural world in the age of the Anthropocene. She is the artist behind About Trees, the first book in Broken Dimanche Press’s new series Parapoetics: A Literature Beyond the Human. Her artwork can be found at katieholten.com.
Asymptote: How would you describe About Trees to someone who hasn’t heard of the project?
Katie Holten: About Trees is a book about trees written in trees. It’s a collection of texts about trees, about the notion of trees, and a constellation of tangential tree-related things. Everything is translated into Trees, a new typeface that I made especially for the project. At the core of the book is a Tree Alphabet with trees replacing each of the 26 letters of the standard English/Latin alphabet. These characters were transformed into a font, the typeface called Trees. READ MORE…
Q&A with K. E. Semmel, translator from the Danish and 2016 NEA Literary Translation Fellow.
K. E. Semmel is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in Ontario Review, Washington Post, World Literature Today, Southern Review, Subtropics, and elsewhere. His translations include books by Naja Marie Aidt, Karin Fossum, Erik Valeur, Jussi Adler Olsen, Simon Fruelund and, forthcoming in winter 2016, Jesper Bugge Kold. He is a recipient of numerous grants from the Danish Arts Foundation and is a 2016 NEA Literary Translation Fellow.
Who are you? What do you translate?
First, thank you for asking me to do this interview. I’ve started an interview series with the Santa Fe Writers Project (SFWP) called “Translator’s Cut,” in which I travel the globe, so to speak, interviewing translators about their work. So I’m more used to being on the opposite side of an interview.
Who am I? I’m a literary translator and writer, working from Danish to English (though I’ve translated some Norwegian and would do it again if the right opportunity presented itself). My educational background is in History and Literature, and my professional background is in the nonprofit world. For the past couple years, however, I’ve been translating full time. Like with any translator, I suspect, my primary reason for translating is that I love books and literature and want everyone to experience some really fantastic books that I happen to be able to render in English. READ MORE…
Q&A with Susan Bernofsky, translator from the German and Director of Literary Translation at Columbia University.
Susan Bernofsky directs the literary translation program in the School of the Arts MFA Program in Writing at Columbia University. She has translated over twenty books, including seven by the great Swiss-German modernist author Robert Walser, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Hesse’s Siddhartha and, most recently, The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck. Her many prizes and awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship this year, as well as the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize and the Hermann Hesse Translation Prize. She blogs about translation at www.translationista.net.
Asymptote: Describe your current/most recent project. Why is it cool? What should we know about it?
Susan Bernofsky: I’m working on a gorgeous and bizarre novel about polar bears by Yoko Tawada called ETUDES IN SNOW. It’s a three-generation story inspired by the short, tragic life of Knut, the baby polar bear born in the Berlin zoo in 2006, but that’s just the jumping-off point for her novel. It’s really a book about identity (national, species, etc.) All the main characters in the book are polar bears, and are described in their physicality as polar bears, but at the same time they move in human society, without any acknowledgment that there might be a contradiction here. The grandmother character, born in the Soviet Union, becomes a writer. As an author of polar bear extraction, she’s an ethnic minority. She later emigrates to Canada, from where her daughter returns to Europe, landing in East Germany, where she takes a job at a circus and experiences the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s a funny, sad, moving book.
Contributing editor Aamer Hussein was interviewed by Kindle Magazine about his latest short story collection, 37 Bridges.
Poetry editor Aditi Machado‘s translation of Farid Tali’s Prosopopoeia has been accepted by Action Books for publication in Fall 2016.
Contributing editor Antony Shugaar has not one but two translations scheduled for publication in August: Nobel laureate Dario Fo’s The Pope’s Daughter (Europa Editions) and Fausto Brizzi’s 100 Days of Happiness: A Novel (Penguin Random House).
Over at his blog, contributing editor Adrian West weighs in on Rainald Goetz winning the Büchner Prize 2015—a controversial choice—and makes a case for Goetz’s relevance.
Q&A with Alyson Waters, translator from the French and managing editor of Yale French Studies.
Alyson Waters’s translations from the French include works by Louis Aragon, René Belletto, Eric Chevillard, and Albert Cossery. She is the 2012 winner of the French-American Translation Award for her translation of Chevillard’s Prehistoric Times. Waters has received a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship, a PEN Translation Fund grant, and residency grants from the Centre National du Livre, the Villa Gillet, and the Banff International Literary Translation Centre. She teaches literary translation at New York University and Columbia University and is the managing editor of Yale French Studies. She lives in Brooklyn.
Asymptote: Describe your current/most recent project. Why is it cool? What should we know about it?
Alyson Waters: My current project is a translation of Jean Giono’s Un roi sans divertissement for New York Review Books. The title comes from one of Pascal’s Pensées: “A king without diversion is miserable; and therefore we see a great number of people constantly about the king whose sole task it is to amuse and avert the thought of the king from himself.” It’s an amazing book, a kind of existential mystery/roman noir. It has a very complicated structure, moving back and forth from the time of the telling of the story to the time of the events, and told in several narrative voices in an almost oral style. There’s a great passage in the book (among many) where the main narrator (or Giono?) inserts in the middle of his story the following:
“Obviously there exists a system of references comparable, for example, to the economic understanding of the world and in which Langlois’ blood and Bergues’ blood have the same value as the blood of Marie Chazottes, Ravanel, and Delphin-Jules. But there exists, encasing the first, another system of references in which Abraham and Isaac move logically, one following the other, toward Mount Moriah; in which the obsidian knives of the priests of Quetzalcoatl logically drive deep into selected hearts. And we are informed of this by beauty. One cannot live in a world where one believes that the exquisite elegance of the guinea fowl’s plumage is pointless. This is just an aside. I wanted to say it, and I did.” READ MORE…
Blog editor Katrine Øgaard Jensen recommends one of her favorite reads from our brand new issue
In case you’re hungry for more recommendations after reading the blog’s 5 Must-Read Pieces from our New July Issue, here’s a write-up about something that’s stuck with me since its publication last Wednesday.
In our latest issue of Asymptote, I was particularly excited to discover three poems by Turkish Gökçenur Ç, author of six poetry collections and Turkish translator of Wallace Stevens, Paul Auster, and Ursula K. Le Guin. I was drawn in by Gökçenur Ç’s first poem, “We’re in the World, So Are Words, How Nice that We’re All Here,” in which intriguingly short, self-contained thoughts such as “Morning is hissing like an empty tap” and “The shadow of a hawk strikes your shadow, / neither you nor the hawk is aware of this” make up the entire piece. This is also the format of the third poem, “I Watch with Love Like a Stupid Student,” which wraps up the three poems nicely.
We've got a (new) issue. Here's where to start.
Hot off the digital presses!
Asymptote‘s July Issue is now totally, utterly live! This one’s a good one, and highlights are almost too many to mention—almost. We’ve got your usual lot of literary celebs in the mix, including French Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano, Chinese Nobel Prize-worthy writer Can Xue, and an interview with longtime friend of the blog Valeria Luiselli in the mix—among so. many. others. Here are five must-reads to get you going, but this list’s by no means conclusive—and is presented in no particular order: READ MORE…