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 Travel Fellow Ellen Jones:
Ellen studied English and Spanish literature at the University of Oxford, during which time she spent a year abroad in Santiago de Chile. It was there that she got her first taste of literary translation, while she pieced together a living by writing and serving French crepes from a van. After returning to finish her degree, she moved to London to start a job at a literary agency, where she finally got round to reading all the books she hadn’t had time for at university.
After returning to Oxford for an M.St. in English Language, she started her PhD at Queen Mary University of London, researching English-Spanish bilingualism in contemporary literature, and the particular challenges associated with reading, publishing, and translating that kind of writing. She looks, for example, at Tess O’Dwyer’s translation of Giannina Braschi’s bilingual novel Yo-Yo Boing! into just English, and at Achy Obejas’s translation of Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao into just Spanish, asking what it means to translate something that depends on its particular mix of languages in order to signify. She has also taught undergraduate students of English and Comparative Literature on modules ranging from literary theory to postcolonial writing and world literature.
During her three years as a PhD student Ellen has volunteered for Asymptote, an international journal of literary translation. Her main job is Criticism Editor, but she has also edited two special features on multilingual writing, contributed short translations, reviews, and blog posts, and has organised literary panel events around London. Working for Asymptote is always a pleasure and never a chore – the organisation boasts scores of talented and interesting staff members, from whom she has learned an enormous amount.
Ellen has concentrated on translating literature from Chile, where her Spanish really took root. In particular she has worked on two novels as yet unpublished in English. These are Las bolsas de basura, the first novel by poet Enrique Winter, an existentialist investigation on love and desire that locates beauty in the dead and decaying, and Nona Fernández’s Mapocho, a powerful, ghostly novel in which characters wander between life and death, and which rewrites periods of Chilean history from the perspectives of the marginalised.
Ellen’s short translations have appeared or are forthcoming in the Guardian, Hotel, Asymptote, Palabras errantes, and Columbia Journal, and in the new Bogotá39 anthology. Some of her translations of poems by Enrique Winter have recently appeared in a chapbook called Suns from Cardboard House Press. In addition, she has reviewed translated fiction for the Glasgow Review of Books and MAKE: A Literary Magazine, has an essay on literary translation online forthcoming in The Digital Critic: Literary Culture Online, and a journal article on Junot Díaz forthcoming from Hispanic Research Journal. In honour of her half-Cypriot mother, her latest project is to teach herself Greek.