Meet the ’17 Mentees: Reilly Costigan-Humes and Issac Stackhouse Wheeler

The ALTA Emerging Translator Mentorship Program is designed to facilitate and establish a close working relationship between an experienced translator and an emerging translator on a project selected by the emerging translator. The mentorship duration is approximately one year. The emerging translator is expected to choose a project that can be completed in a year’s time, and they will only be advised on that particular project. Congratulations to this year’s Russian mentees, Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler:

Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler

Reilly Costigan-Humes

Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler are a team of literary translators who met as undergraduates at Haverford College, where they studied Russian language and literature. After studying abroad in Saint Petersburg through the Flagship program, they held various language teaching and commercial translation positions in both Russia and the United States but aspired to one day pursue careers in literary translation.

Their big break came thanks to great contemporary Ukrainian author, poet, and activist Serhiy Zhadan, who is best known to western audiences for his brave participation in the Maidan protests, during which he suffered a violent assault. After establishing a relationship through meetings in Kharkiv and New York, he invited them to translate his novel Voroshilovgrad. This intricate, energetic, and darkly funny magical realist novel tells the story of Herman, a young city-dwelling executive who is drawn back into the local corruption and violence of his hometown in eastern Ukraine. Over the course of his adventures with smugglers, gangsters, and ghosts, he learns that the memories associated with this vast, empty landscape have genuine spiritual value, which enables him to reclaim his identity. In addition to being the story of one man, it is also the story of a newly independent country, and an eerily prescient study of a region that has since become a warzone. Voroshilovgrad enabled the young translators to develop their skills. It was later published by Texas-based non-profit press Deep Vellum and went on to receive positive reviews from journals including the Los Angeles Review of Books, the New Yorker, and the Times Literary Supplement, as well as the translated book of the year prize from the American Association for Ukrainian Studies. The translators were actively involved in Zhadan’s tours to the United States and helped to present his work to distinguished audiences at venues including Columbia University, Yale University, the Bowery Poetry Club, and the Joseph Brodsky Foundation.

Since then, they have continued to pursue literary translation in both Russian and Ukrainian, leading to publications in journals including Coldnoon, the Missing Slate, Trafika Europe, and Two Lines. Wheeler is also a published poet, with work appearing in (or forthcoming from) print and online venues including Post(blank), the Minute Magazine, and the Peacock Journal.

Their most recent project is Literature in Translation LTD, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds to produce more high-quality literary translations. By covering translation and printing costs, this organization will serve to remove the commercial risks that often deter publishers from pursuing translation projects and help them make a wider variety of books available to English-language audiences.
Costigan-Humes and Wheeler are honored and delighted to participate in the ALTA mentorship program, which will enable them to produce an English version of contemporary Russian author Lena Eltang’s breathtakingly beautiful novel Cartagena. They look forward to learning from veteran translator Marian Schwartz and deepening their mastery of their beloved profession.

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