A Whole Different Animal: Report from ALTA 2014 Fellow Christopher Tamigi

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.


Christopher Tamigi received the ALTA Travel Fellowship to attend the 2014 ALTA conference in Milwaukee.

Christopher Tamigi received the ALTA Travel Fellowship to attend the 2014 ALTA conference in Milwaukee.

I remember having a conversation with some other young translators in the hotel lobby on the last night of the 2014 ALTA Conference. At one point the ergative case came up, and I learned that there’s an international network of Esperanto enthusiasts who are happy to let fellow speakers crash on their couch. I also remember ALTA fellow Sara Novic giving us an impromptu demonstration on how to talk smack in ASL. This is the sort of thing that can happen when you bring a couple hundred translators—people from across the country and beyond, working on all kinds of different projects in a myriad of languages—together for a long weekend.

This is actually my second time at ALTA. I had an opportunity to attend the 2013 conference in Bloomington, and since then I’ve been recommending the experience to other translators back at the University of Arkansas. I often compare it to the other writerly conference I’ve been to (AWP), which boasts thousands of attendees and features evening readings by celebrity authors. While it has its good points, I found the atmosphere there somewhat disheartening: just look at all these aspiring writers and poets; what makes me think I’ll be one of the select few who ever get published? And, given the size of the conference, it almost goes without saying that I never got a chance to shake hands with any of the celebrity authors.

My experience at ALTA was a whole different animal. I remember attending a panel of editors from different journals that publish literature in translation: my take-away from that was, basically, “We’re always on the lookout for new stuff; keep sending us your translations!” I actually left feeling inspired. And there are no velvet cordons at ALTA: members of the “old guard” of well-established literary translators are happy to talk to newbies: sharing anecdotes and seasoned advice, discussing your current project or future career plans. It’s a welcoming atmosphere, and ALTA members did make me feel as though we’re all colleagues in this “thankless” field.

I was so honored to be awarded a 2014 ALTA fellowship for emerging translators. The other five fellows are among the friends I made at ALTA who I plan to keep in touch with and see again inside and outside the context of future conferences. Compared to 2013, this time around there were more readings and events organized in the evening (many of which had buffets). This included the closing event where we had the honor of hearing a bilingual reading of poetry (not to mention a rendition of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”) in the languages spoken by Wisconsin’s indigenous peoples and a vibrant performance by a local “Spanglish” poet. For me these events were all the more welcome because, after exploring the city some on my first day there, the frigid Milwaukee weather dissuaded me from wandering too far from the hotel. Just looking at the list of future locations I get the sense that ALTA conferences are only getting better, and I look forward to seeing everyone next year in Tucson.

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