My ALTA fairytale
by Ilaria Papini
This year I attended my very first ALTA conference, and though the atmosphere was electric simply by virtue of the concentration of like-minded people and kindred spirits, there was dejection in the air, as even highly successful and well reputed translators are having trouble being published these days. There was even a panel titled “Don’t Quit Your Day Job.” But I already had.
I have been a film, theater and television translator for over 25 years, but literature is my life blood and what I really wanted to focus on. So about a year ago I gave myself permission to chase my lifelong dream of writing for a living, and applied to the MFA program at Queens College, CUNY, in Creative Writing and Literary Translation.
Roger Sedarat (who is in charge of the Translation track of the program), invited me to visit the campus, and we hit it off immediately. I believe on that very first day, even before I had formally applied, he invited me to submit a proposal for a panel at ALTA on dramatic translation with him and Yoshi Tomonaga, another student. At the time my knowledge of ALTA was very dim, but I knew it was an opportunity to meet fellow translators, at the very least.
After our proposal was accepted and we were invited to the conference, Roger told me about the various events I could take part in and said that I should try for as many as possible. Among others, he encouraged me to participate in the bilingual readings. While I was excited about the conference, I did not expect tangible or immediate results from my attendance. I thought I would have another line to add to my resume (my participation in the panel) and possibly would come away with a few useful business cards for my Rolodex. I certainly didn’t expect anything to come of the reading, except for some practice reading in public and maybe one or two of my professors attending.
Our professors had told the students who were attending to be prepared to make many new contacts: publishers, editors, other translators, writers, etc. And they were truly wonderful about introducing us to any and all people with whom we might forge professional relationships. Among others, I was introduced to Joe Bratcher of Host Publications and the journal the Dirty Goat, but of course he knew nothing about me except my name and my handshake.
On the last day of the conference in the second-to-last session I participated in a panel of four people giving bilingual readings in French and Italian. I thought no one would come because it was so late in the day and people were leaving in a hurry to get out before the pre-game traffic started (big game in Philadelphia that night). But the reading was surprisingly well attended and Joe Bratcher was there! I read a powerful monologue by a character in a play I was working on in which a mother is summoned to the hospital to identify a dead body as that of her daughter, having just been informed that her child has been found murdered in a ditch. I love this play. It’s by an Italian playwright and is inspired by Kurosawa’s classic film Rashomon as well as Pasolini and Bertolucci’s subsequent collaboration (inspired by Rashomon) called La commare secca (The Grim Reaper). This cascade of literary references and the timeless story attracted me immediately to the material, and the play is well written and quite riveting.
When the readings were over, Joe approached me and gave me his card. He said he liked the play and my translation very much and asked me to call him. At the end of November I had the great pleasure and privilege of sending my publication announcement to the ALTA newsletter: in February, issue 24 of the Dirty Goat is going to carry a 20-page excerpt of the play!