Each year 4-6 emerging translators are awarded $1000 each to travel to the ALTA conference, where they participate in panels, workshops, and readings. Applications to be an ALTA fellow are open until May 1. More information here.
For me, being a 2014 ALTA Fellow led to professional development, new social connections, and a huge surge in energy and appreciation for the field that borders on the hysterical. The first two elements are covered in the first two paragraphs of this little reflection, and then the last one sort of takes over the entire rest of it. If you are in an expansive mood and ready for the zeal of a convert, read on!
I am very new to the world of literary translating—really about as emerging as emerging can be—so the panels focusing in professional development were incredibly useful for me. I got all sorts of great tips about what kinds different magazines and journals are out there and what they might be looking for, heard inspiring ideas about marketing and promotion that had me furiously taking notes, noted all the presses selling books, and just learned a lot about the publishing industry in general.
The best part was that I didn’t just listen to professionals from afar, but got the chance to enjoy friendly introductions afterwards, share my enthusiasms with editors and others, and discuss possibilities for future submissions. Throughout conference events, my appointed mentor ushered me about and I got to talk to lots of people; this was wonderful for me, as I tend to be a bit shy.
As the conference went on, and I met more conference attendees, this peculiar but pleasant feeling of recognition and identification kept emerging. These people had lives that looked like mine, and cared about the same things I cared about! Where else could I ever find such a bunch of world travellers with autodidactic tendencies and esoteric hobbies? Where else could I ever find people as devoted to human rights as they are to their crushes on Zadie Smith?
On that note of connection and identification, one thing I was struck by, and continue to be struck by as I learn more about the ALTA community and all their different organizations and ventures, is generosity—the willingness people have to give their time and share information and the feeling of genuine support and camaraderie. There seems to be a collective investment in the growth of literary translation and a sense that a victory for one is a victory for all. I have experience in other similarly underdog (or at least, underfunded) fields and have been frustrated by their territorial and competitive nature, an urgent hoarding of precious slim pickings taking place under a veneer of community. Not so at ALTA, apparently, where warm welcomes were immediately followed up by enthusiastic suggestions and shared ideas for funding, residencies, publication, etc.
During the opening reception, one of the elder members told the group of fellows that part of what makes the ALTA conference such a friendly place is that translators, by the very nature of their work, care about what other people have to say. Throughout the conference—and perhaps it was because of this year’s theme about politics—I got the sense that we all understand that we are part of a larger mission, and this mission is as much about outrage as it is about artistry, as much about building mutual understanding and hearing one another grieve as it is about wanting to share a great story. Before coming to ALTA I had certainly thought about that in regards to my own translation projects but I don’t think it had hit me how in so many ways so many of us are doing the same thing.
But alongside all of this—perhaps because I am a nerd—my favorite part of the conference was simply hearing all the literature in translation, at Declamacion and the bilingual readings. I have been left with so many exquisite sounds and images that, rather than fading into the haze of an amazing weekend, have stayed with me. I find myself thinking again and again of a line of blue yaks on a mountain ridge in Tibet; or a Persian emigree on a train in Europe, perfumed and naked lying under the sheets in her sleeper car; or the couple in an old Polish nursery rhyme, arguing over who should go and greet Death, who is knocking at the door…. And I could go on like this steadily until the next conference!
ALTA 2014 was an immersive and joyful experience, a true embarrassment of riches. It was an honor and pleasure to be part of it all and I want to take this opportunity to once again thank the organizers, my fellow fellows, and all the participants.