Meet the ’17 Fellows: Aaron Coleman

Each year, ALTA provides four to six $1,000 fellowships to emerging translators to attend the annual ALTA conference. This year’s winners were selected by Dick Cluster, Sara Novic, and Sebastian Schulman. We are excited to feature this year’s Philip K. Jansen Memorial Fellow, Aaron Coleman:

Aaron_ColemanAaron Coleman comes to literary translation with the sensibilities of a poet and educator. His overarching interest in international Blacknesses – how ethnic identities subvert, coerce, live inside, or move beyond national identities – has been a driving force in his writing, long before he began to develop the creative and critical terms to explore it.

After years as an educator in bilingual classrooms and community spaces in Madrid, Spain, Chicago, United States, and Durban, South Africa, Aaron is now turning toward literary translation because of its distinctive capacity to engage both the emotional work and philosophical ideas of intimacy, empathy, historical memory, identity, and critical analysis.

Aaron is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis, where the recently developed International Writers Track has established a hybrid critical and creative community for international writers and translators of all genres. In his second year of this program, Aaron is working on a book-length translation project of the late-career poetry of Nicolás Guillén. While the Afro-Cuban’s earlier work, Los motivos de son (The Motives of Son) is often understood in relation to Langston Hughes’ contemporaneous The Weary Blues, Guillén’s later work provides an intriguing framework for a Black Atlantic transnational perspective – in Paul Gilroy’s sense of the term – and has been largely underexplored.

Aaron’s chapbook, St. Trigger, which won the 2015 Button Poetry Prize, and his first full-length poetry collection, Threat Come Close, forthcoming from Four Way Books in Spring 2018, include poems that interweave English and Spanish. His first translations of Guillén’s work are forthcoming from The Arkansas International and, as a translator and poet, Aaron’s work respects the unique clusters of associations and systems of sound that a word produces as a thing itself, irrespective of the boundaries of any individual language. Aware of the colonial histories of English and Spanish, his translations and poems aim to destabilize and reimagine the possibilities of these languages by crafting new spaces of interrelation, collision, and reflection between them, without being entirely allied to either of them.

Even as a burgeoning translator, Aaron is already captivated by the instinctive curiosity, attention to nuance, and aesthetic deftness that are as essential to literary translation as they are to the crafting of one’s own poetry. Raised in an English-speaking home in Metro-Detroit before living and working in Spain, South Africa, and bilingual communities within the United States has fundamentally shaped his relationship to language and identity. His studies with poets and translators including Mary Jo Bang, Susan Bernofsky, Ignacio Infante, Jennifer Kronovet, and Carl Phillips during his MFA and PhD at Washington University in St. Louis have distinguished literary translation as a creative, scholarly, and culturally-necessary practice: translating writers of the African Diaspora to give voice to their vast complexity and underexplored connections has, Aaron hopes, the potential to expand our view of the broader role of the translator as both an artist in her own right and a cultural ambassador attentive to her positionality in the world.

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