First-Timer Guide

by Allison M. Charette 

Never been to an ALTA conference before? Don’t be scared! This is not your typical, gigantic, stuffy conference. Literary translators are an overwhelmingly nice group of people, and the atmosphere at our annual conference reflects that. Just be yourself, be comfortable, and don’t worry.

To put you even more at ease, here are a few pointers and things to expect. (Disclaimer: This is all based on my own experiences as a 2-time conference attendee. Your mileage may vary.)

Preparation

  • There’s no professional dress code for an ALTA conference, and very rarely will you see people wandering around in suits and ties. Everyone looks polished and put together, but you can leave your cufflinks and black stilettos at home. (Unless that’s what you’re comfortable in, then by all means: show off those cufflinks!)
  • Related: Comfy shoes are a must. You’ll be on your feet a lot more than you expect, and you never know how far you’ll be walking for lunch. Better safe than sorry. Plus, your shoes don’t have to impress anyone.
  • Remember to bring business cards to the conference. If you don’t already have them, you can get 50-100 printed fairly cheaply at Vistaprint or MOO. Just do it now so you don’t have to pay rush shipping! (Related: Don’t bring resumes. No one’s going to want them. If you talk to someone who’s interested in your experience, you can email them a resume later.)
  • If you have the money and/or the funding, booking a room at the conference hotel is highly recommended. It’s wonderful to have a 60-second trip to the conference activities, as well as a place to store your things and take quick naps in, if necessary. There are also usually plenty of people looking to share a room—check out the ALTA listserve and the Facebook event.
  • If you like being super-organized, you can already download the full schedule here and start plotting out your days at the conference.

At the Conference

  • It’s really important to get sleep and take breaks to rest during the day. If you feel yourself fading, take a quick nap.
  • There are many ways to learn things, and the panels are just one part of that. Try to balance the “official learning opportunities” with just talking to people over coffee or at the receptions.
  • The beverage and lunch breaks are the best ways to get to know people. Feel free to attach yourself to a random group for lunch, or go up and introduce yourself to anyone and everyone you’d like. 99.9% of people at an ALTA conference are extremely friendly, including the people who you think are “big names”.
  • That being said, be mindful and respectful of people’s time. This counts double for editors—they’re going to have a lot of people trying pitch them, so consider just introducing yourself and making friendly conversation. Asking intelligent questions about their press is always a good way to go.

Panels/Roundtables/Workshops

  • This is not organized like a typical academic conference. Panels, roundtables, and workshops are all completely organized by the people who want to present. Individual paper submissions aren’t accepted for the ALTA conference; the organizers don’t put a bunch of strangers together based on similar topics.
  • Panelists are encouraged to give presentations and foster discussions, rather than reading a pre-determined paper. This means that all the workshops and roundtables, as well as the grand majority of panels, are designed more as a conversation between presenters and audience. Feel free to contribute and be as engaged as you’d like.
  • It’s also totally acceptable to explore a number of panels during each time slot. As long as you sit near the back and are quiet and respectful with your entrances and exits, you can sneak in and out of a few different panels each hour.
  • Three things to definitely attend: the Fellows Reading on Thursday afternoon, Declamation on Friday evening, and the keynote on Saturday morning.
  • Finally, the Bilingual Readings are highly recommended. It’s great to attend one or two (or parts of a few different ones). You can choose based on what languages you work with or someone you’ve always wanted to meet, or you can just pick at random.

And the fabled ALTA friendliness starts now! If you have more questions, or just need a little reassurance, feel free to email Allison (or, with logistical questions, email Erica Mena, ALTA Managing Director).

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ALTA NTA Shortlist Announced

Download the full ALTA NTA Shortlist 2014 Press Release.

The winner of the award will be announced at the 2014 ALTA Conference, Nov. 12-15, 2014 in Milwaukee, WI.

Here is what the three finalist judges, Barbara Epler (Publisher, New Directions), Elaine Katzenberger (Publisher, City Lights) and Jessica Cohen (renowned translator from the Hebrew), had to say about each of the five shortlist titles:

Between FriendsBetween Friends by Amos Oz, translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston. “The reader will quickly find himself or herself entranced by the personal yearnings in these characters’ small lives, which are made achingly palpable in the beautifully translated and deceptively simple prose, with the peaceful, fictional kibbutz grounds and its austere houses depicted as vividly and lovingly as the turbulent landscapes of the characters’ minds.”

An Invitation For Me To ThinkAn Invitation For Me to Think by Alexander Vvedensky, translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky & Matvei Yankelevich. “Vvedensky is a marvel: a poet too little known in Russia, and not known at all in the English-speaking world, is revealed as a major 20th-century world poet—wonderful, wonderfully strange, and haunting.  The alchemical translation, with its shifty rhymes and non-rhymes, intense images and absent logic, knits and unknits reality before the reader’s eyes, walking not a line so much as a live wire.”

Life's Good BrotherLife’s Good, Brother by Nazim Hikmet, translated from the Turkish by Mutlu Konuk Blasing. “The work is daring and experimental in style—a multidimensional kaleidoscope where the lines between fiction and memoir are intentionally blurred, as are the borders between author and protagonist(s). Past, present and future curve endlessly in on themselves, weaving in and out of first- and third-person narration to tell one man’s story, and the story of a generation of Turks who lived during Hikmet’s time. This is a landmark work for Hikmet, and a hugely impressive work of translation!”


ATreatiseonShellingBeansA Treatise on Shelling Beans
by Wieslaw Mysliwski, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston. “A masterful work of storytelling, in the most expansive and exhilarating sense of the word! The translation achieves and maintains a brilliantly seamless conversational tone, engaging and full of colloquial charm as the stories emerge from our garrulous narrator, one after another, as layer upon layer of memories coalesce into a tender, homespun, epic retelling of one man’s life spanning the horrors and tragedies of World War II and its aftermath.”

Theme of FarewellTheme of Farewell and After-Poems by Milo de Angelis, translated from the Italian by Susan Stewart and Patrizio Ceccagnoli. “A startling coexistence of vitality and death, beauty and darkness, love and anger animates these elegiac poems by one of Italy’s foremost contemporary poets, appearing for the first time in a bilingual edition. The poet’s anguish and helplessness in the face of his wife’s illness and death permeate each line as he probes the capacity of language to convey such loss, and all but brings his beloved back to life through recollected snapshots of their past. Raw emotion alongside thoughtful sobriety shine through in the musical, sensual translation.”

Books eligible for the 2014 NTA include titles published anywhere in the world in the previous calendar year (2013) that were translated by an American citizen or permanent resident. Publishers or translator are invited to submit titles for consideration at the beginning of the year, and book selection is based on the quality of the finished book in English, and the quality of the translation.

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Megan Berkobien (2014 ALTA Fellow)

Megan BerkobienMegan Berkobien is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan. She holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from the same university, where she founded the department’s undergraduate translation journal, Canon Translation Review. Her time at Michigan was and continues to be marked by a sense of exploration into the (in)felicities of translation alongside several notable professor-translators, including Christi Merrill, Anton Shammas, and Benjamin Paloff (to all of whom she is forever grateful).

As so often happens, in the beginning was the Verbo. But high school Spanish didn’t serve Megan much; she had read too much Bulgakov and watched Woody Allen’s Love & Death far too many times not to tread her toes on rockier terrain. Her freshman year at university was spent amidst awkward half-Russian conversations until she could finally complain about the cold and the government in an adequate accent. She almost bought a long fur coat that winter.

But Megan soon felt a growing restlessness to pursue other linguistic routes. After fretting over her waning love affair with the Russian language, Megan quickly enrolled in a semi-immersive Spanish program where she began to map out her interests in women’s writing in Latin America & Spain. Her fortuitous virtual encounter with esteemed author and critic Cristina Peri Rossi brought about her first major translation project, along with the not-so-trivial fringe benefit of beginning an inspired working relationship that has now spanned five years.

Megan’s scholarly interests include minor languages in Spain, media studies, museum studies, and, of course, the poetics & pragmatics of translation theory. For her, these areas coalesce in the remediated space of digital translation publishing. She had the chance to present a paper on the magazines Words without Borders and Asymptote (both of which she has had the pleasure of working for in some editorial aspect) and their theoretical implications for the discipline at the MLA annual conference in January 2014. She is also part of the Translation Networks project at Michigan, where she is working alongside a team of designers and engineers to help dream up an interactive digital interface to house the various translation-oriented objects within the diverse museum collections around campus.

Megan has also recently started working with contemporary Catalan texts as a means to better study the translational divides in contemporary Spain. She spent this previous summer researching and translating in Barcelona, where she had the chance to feel out the Catalan literary scene and drink too much coffee with some of the city’s many characters. She is currently making her way through Galician textbooks as well.

These days she finds herself haunting libraries, suitcases, and the folds of comfy armchairs (her own, most often) for new projects to populate the various intellectual & academic constellations that compose her universe. Megan’s work has been featured in Words without Borders, Palabras Errantes, and Asymptote, to name a few. Her first book-length translation—Cristina Peri Rossi’s radiant novella Strange Flying Objects—is forthcoming
from Ox and Pigeon in 2015.

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Tenzin Dickie (2014 ALTA Fellow)

Tenzin DickieTenzin Dickie is a Tibetan-English translator living in NYC. She was born in a Tibetan refugee settlement in India, to parents who had crossed over from Tibet when they were children in the ’60s. It took her a long time to understand that she was a second generation exile, not a first generation exile and that was why many things were the way they were.

Dickie attended a Tibetan boarding school in Dharamsala where almost all the students were called Tenzin and the only non-Tibetan staff were the Hindi madam and an Australian teacher who probably really enjoyed being called Sir Murray. When her family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, she had a thankfully ok time at high school even though it still took her a year to hear the difference between an American accent and an English accent.

She went on to study English and American literature at Harvard University where she slept more often than studied in Lamont Library and was President of the Harvard Students for a Free Tibet and features editor of the Harvard South Asian Journal. After graduation she worked for a few years as Special Assistant to the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Americas at the Office of Tibet, NY, which always prompted people to ask, “Did His Holiness drop by the office?” No.

Then she began her MFA in Fiction and Literary Translation at Columbia University where she studied with the amazing Susan Bernofsky and started translating contemporary Tibetan poetry into English. She focuses on a group of established and emerging writers in and around Amdo—Kyabchen Dedrol, Sakyil Tseta, Palmo, Ngarma etc—and is happy to be a conduit in making their work available to the rest of the world.

Dickie is a poet and essayist who has been published in Indian Literature, Seminar magazine, the Yellow Nib, the Huffington Post and Cultural Anthropology. Her translation has been published in The Washington Post. Her current project is a memoir in essays.

She works as editor of the Treasury of Lives, an open-access biographical encyclopedia of significant figures from Tibet, Inner Asia and the Himalayan region, which is a special project of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation and can be viewed at TreasuryofLives.org.

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Sara Novic (2014 ALTA Fellow)

Sara NovicSara Nović is a fiction writer and composition professor currently stationed in Sunnyside, Queens. Her short fiction has appeared in Electric Literature, Guernica, The Massachusetts Review, and The Minnesota Review, with essays in The LA Review of Books, Ploughshares, and Apogee. She is also the founding editor of the Deaf rights blog Redeafined, and the fiction editor at Blunderbuss. Her first novel, about the Yugoslav Civil War, will be published by Random House in 2015.

Growing up an avid reader and in-secret writer, Sara had no notion that writing could be anything more than a quiet interest to be hidden beneath one’s mattress. The first of her family to attend college, she was amazed upon her arrival at Emerson in Boston to discover creative writing as an academic discipline. Thanks to a slew of supportive faculty, she pulled the notebooks from under the bed and graduated with a BFA in Writing, Literature and Publishing in 2009.

Still, Sara had always considered translation a day-to-day necessity rather than a literary pursuit. Utilizing sign language interpreters in her classes, Sara was no stranger to real-time translation between English and American Sign Language. Further, having lived with family in Croatia and experienced the subsequent mixing of Croatian and American family members, translation in its rawest form was a normal occurrence around the dinner table, but nothing more.

Sara’s second literary epiphany—this time about translation as a kind of creative writing—came when she began the MFA program at Columbia University. There she pursued dual degrees in Fiction and Translation, and had the opportunity to work with translators Susan Bernofsky, Idra Novey, and Jeffrey Yang, all of whom she thanks heaps for their expert guidance. Through workshops with her super-smart colleagues, Sara came to appreciate and practice translation as an art form in its own right.

While at Columbia, Sara also worked to spearhead a subset of Columbia’s Word for Word Translation Exchange, organizing, along with fearless leader Susan Bernofsky, Word for Word: ASL, a program in conjunction with students at Gallaudet University in Washington DC. The exchange group translated English short stories into ASL, and short fiction recorded in American Sign Language into English, collaborating to address the complexities of translating between written and visio-spacial grammar modalities.

Recently most of Sara’s translation work has been focused on the poems of Izet Sarajlić, who is perhaps Bosnia’s most celebrated writer, but is relatively unknown in the US. Some of Sara’s translations of Sarajlić’s work have been published by Circumference; she was also a winner of the 2014 Willis Barnstone Prize for her translation of the poem “After I Was Wounded” (“Nakan Ranjavanja”).

Sara is currently working on a translation of Sarajlic’s Sarajevo War Journal (Sarajevska Ratna Zbirka), a collection of poetry he wrote during the first thirty days of the siege of Sarajevo in 1992. She hopes to continue translating his many collections for an English-speaking audience.

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Christopher Tamigi (2014 ALTA Fellow)

Christopher TamigiChris Tamigi is currently a third-year student in the University of Arkansas’ MFA program in literary translation. He primarily translates contemporary and twentieth-century Italian fiction. He was awarded the 2014 Lily Peter Creative Writing Fellowship in Translation, and his translation of a short story by contemporary Italian author Mauro Covacich (entitled “Impure Acts”) will be appearing in the forthcoming issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review.

Born in the Bronx and raised in the New York area, Chris began studying Italian in middle school inspired in part by his own Italian American heritage. Eager to experience life in another part of the country, he attended college at Tulane University which led to his life-long passion for the city of New Orleans. Chris graduated from Tulane magna cum laude with a B.A. in History and Italian. He also had the opportunity to spend his junior year living in Florence, Italy and studying at an Italian University.

His first real taste of literary translation came when he was writing his honors thesis on the Italian theatre under Fascism for which he translated a few passages from writers such as Luigi Pirandello and F.T. Marinetti.

Like many liberal arts majors who are unsure what direction to take after graduating college, Chris then went to law school. He graduated from Tulane Law School in 2003 where—among other things—he learned about intellectual property law and about Louisiana’s European-inspired civil law system which is unique among the fifty states.

In August 2005, he was among of the thousands of people swept up by the evacuation ahead of Hurricane Katrina. He ended up landing in Washington, DC where he worked for five years in the legal sector primarily on international cases. One case in particular centered around an Italian multinational corporation. Among his other responsibilities, Chris was often called upon to translate legal documents such as contracts, depositions and court transcripts from Italian to English. Thus Chris rediscovered how much he enjoyed the art of translation, and that—combined with his love of literature—led him to change paths and apply to graduate programs in literary translation. Washington is also where he began studying Spanish, attending classes after work and taking advantage of the opportunities to practice the language afforded him in the cosmopolitan city.

Chris is continuing his work with Mauro Covacich and is currently translating his novel A Nome Tuo (“In Your Name”). Among his other favorite Italian writers are Marinetti, Giacomo Leopardi and Natalia Ginzburg.

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Annie Tucker (2014 ALTA Fellow)

Annie TuckerAnnie Tucker is a native New Yorker who divided her early life between her passions of dancing and reading, using both movement and words to imagine and inhabit different ways of being in the world. The summer before her freshman year of college she took a Balinese dance class at a studio in lower Manhattan, and three years later, as an English major at Barnard College, decided to run away to Indonesia even though she did not yet speak a word of any of the country’s languages. Upon her return, she had picked up Bahasa Indonesia, fallen in with a band of local rockers in urban East Java, and travelled through the eastern islands of the archipelago on a hodgepodge caravan of rickety fishing boats, minibuses, and motorbikes, learning local dances and many colorful phrases in local dialects along the way.

More than ten years later, Annie has been repeatedly drawn back to the country for work, education, and research. She entered the PhD program at UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures in 2004 and did her doctoral fieldwork in Java and Bali, writing about the therapeutic application of traditional performing arts for children on the autism spectrum, while herself continuing to perform contemporary Indonesian choreography with the LA-based Sri Dance Company for many years. She began translating as a way to honor and share a small part of the vibrant Indonesian cultures she has been so enlivened by. Various projects over the years include portions of the Buginese epic poem I La Galigo, as research for a Robert Wilson theater production; reminiscences for the personal archive-cum-social history, Indonesia Art World by Dr. Melanie Setiawan; as well as fine art exhibit brochures, poems, essays, short stories, documentary film footage, and ethnographic material.

Annie is now finishing up her first major project in literary translation; Cantik Itu Luka, or Beauty is a Wound, the debut novel by the Sundanese writer Eka Kurniawan. Coming in just under 500 pages in the original Indonesian, this sprawling, satirical, and at times supernatural family saga tells the tragicomic story of a ravaged but vital nation. Annie is excited to be introducing a new audience to Kurniawan’s distinctive storytelling voice, which is inspired by classical drama, local legend, Indonesian horror, and masterworks of world literature. Gleefully skewering oppressive powers, Kurniawan’s work has been called “an insolence to be proud of,” standing out amidst the post-New Order blossoming of print culture and ushering in what promises to be a fertile era in the development of a national Indonesian literature.

Annie is also eagerly looking ahead to upcoming projects. These will include Kurniawan’s third novel, which explores a seamy underworld of contract killers and long-haul truckers; a historical novel by Ratih Kumala examining Indonesia’s disparate development through the fortune of a clove cigarette dynasty, and the culinary-themed short stories of Puthut EA, which evoke both intimate family ties and haunting memories of political violence via the longings and demands of the tongue.

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