He is a writer, translator, interpreter, voice talent and cartoonist. He has lived all over the Spanish speaking world and has translated works by Uruguayan writer Virginia Brown, Panamanian writer Mirie Mouynés, Cuban poet Miguel Miranda as well as medieval songs from Spain, newsreels from Castro's Cuba and television scripts for Telemundo. .
- How did you become a literary translator?
I grew up in a multicultural environment where I spoke English and Spanish, sometimes both at the same time. So I’ve always been a translator. But in the mid-1970s, when I was living in San Miguel Allende, Mexico, I joined a literary group that was translating Latin American poetry into English. I discovered how much I enjoyed that process and, technically, that is when I became a literary translator. But it was just the first step on a road I’m still traveling. Shortly after that I moved to the States and settled in Austin, Texas, where I still live. I joined the local and national translation associations, attended conferences, took workshops, read books about literary translation, and spent many pleasant hours meeting with fellow literary translators to share, compare, and critique our work. And all the time I was accepting assignments that challenged me and took me deeper into the field: film scripts, historical essays, short stories, and art catalogues. Lots of art catalogues. Now, after all these years, I consider myself a literary translator but, of course, I learn something from every translation. Antonio Machado said “se hace camino al andar.” Applying his observation to your question, I could say that I became a literary translator by translating literary texts.
- Is it necessary for a literary translator to also be a writer?
A literary translator is a writer. When you transfer meaning from one language to another, you first disengage that meaning from the words and syntax it inhabited in the source document. You then absorb that meaning and express it in the other language. At that point, the translator is a writer who is crafting an original work. The translator will also absorb the author’s voice, tone, style, rhythm, and lexical predilections and decide how to convey those aspects of the text in such a way that they season the translation with a flavor of the original. As he or she does that, the translator is a writer. How could it be otherwise?
- Is there fair recognition of literary translators?
Perhaps the question should be: Do literary translators get the same recognition that authors enjoy? The answer to that is no, and though it can be irksome if one is the translator, there are logical reasons for this situation. The dynamic between an author and a translator is similar in some ways to the one between a composer and a musician. But music is a public affair, which can be enjoyed by large crowds, and the musician is usually the star of the event, or at least the co-star. Reading, on the other hand, is a private experience; the reader does not need the translator to “perform” the words. So the writer is the star, having produced a work that generated a certain level of acclaim in what we might call the source culture. The publishers of the translation promote the author in order to capitalize on that acclaim, and the translator tends to be a faceless facilitator in the process, an anonymous filter of some kind that makes it possible to sell the work in the target culture. It is also probably true that the reading public is not terribly aware of what the translator actually does, and therefore has no “language” with which to acknowledge the latter’s contribution. I would say that literary translators get their true recognition from their peers.
- How do you deal with a Spanish word that has several meanings?
Literary translators must understand exactly what the author is trying to say. Should there be any doubt, the author can be consulted if he or she is alive. If not, translators must work it out for themselves. To this end, they must have a broad and nuanced grasp of both languages, especially the target language, and be skilled at following threads in dictionaries and other resources. This will help them to understand every shade of a particular word’s meanings and connotations. Armed with that palette, the translator must probe the context, which will usually provide the key.
- Are all books translatable?
Yes, I think so. Some are harder than others, of course. Some can only be translated by very skilled literary translators. The same is probably true of music; all music can be played, but not by all musicians. There are levels of communication that can only be interpreted by those with finely tuned sensitivities.
- What is the state of translation in the US?
The US is a large country, with only two neighbors (one of which speaks English), bordered on the other two sides by vast oceans. Compared to European countries, for example, it is virtually an island. As the dominant culture of our time, it inevitably suffers from the same self-absorption that has afflicted all great cultures in their own particular way. Statistics suggest that publication of works in translation in the US lags behind other countries. Perhaps globalization and the Internet will gradually have an impact on this situation. I hope so.
New Spanish Books is an online guide of titles from Spanish publishers and literary agents with rights for translation in the US. New Spanish Books is a joint project of the Spanish Association of Publishers Guilds (FGEE), The Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport and ICEX, Spain, Exports, Investments, with the assistance of the Trade Commission of the Embassy of Spain in Miami.
In the New Spanish Books Website you'll find a guide to current Spanish titles with rights available for translation in the US, complete with reviews of titles selected by a panel of experts from the US and up to date information about the Spanish publishing scene, translation grants, Spanish literary prizes, recent translations, news and events in the US and more.
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