Meet the ’17 Mentees: Zoë McLaughlin

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 non-language-specific prose mentee, Zoë McLaughlin:

A native of Rochester, New York, Zoë McLaughlin moved to Ohio to attend Oberlin College. There, she earned her BA in biochemistry and creative writing, happily moving between the two disciplines. After graduation, she was awarded a Shansi Fellowship and spent two years in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. There, she taught academic English and creative writing at Gadjah Mada University. Once her fellowship was complete, she remained in Indonesia for a third year, studying classical Javanese dance at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts Surakarta in Solo as a Darmasiswa scholarship recipient. It was these three years that first sparked her interest in Indonesian language and literature.

Zoë then returned to the United States to study at the University of Michigan’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies where she focused on Indonesian literature. Her MA thesis concerns “Bintang Jatuh” by M. Iksaka Banu and “Pakarena” by Khrisna Pabichara, two recent Indonesian short stories about the riots of 1998. These riots occurred at the end of a thirty-year period during which the expression of Chinese identity in Indonesia was heavily suppressed. While the causes of these riots are complex, the riots are remembered in the public imagination as anti-Chinese in nature. In analyzing these stories, Zoë was particularly interested in how Chinese Indonesian characters are portrayed by authors who are not themselves Chinese. She was also interested in how temporal displacement from the riots has changed the aspects examined in this fiction.

Zoë is currently a student in the University of Michigan’s Master’s in Information program, focusing on Library and Information Science. She is a Spectrum Diversity Scholar and intends to become a Southeast Asia subject librarian. In pursuit of this goal, she is learning other languages of the region, including Thai. She is also focusing on reading more literature in Malay.

Zoë is particularly interested in translating stories by and about Chinese Indonesians. She herself is part of the Chinese diaspora, with family in Malaysia. The Chinese diasporic communities in Southeast Asia share similar histories, particularly those of Malaysia and Indonesia. The Chinese diaspora in both countries has experienced a tumultuous history. The recent imprisonment of Jakarta’s governor, who is of Chinese descent, has brought these issues once again to the forefront of the public’s consciousness. Through this mentoring program, Zoë plans to translate the short stories of a Chinese Indonesian author. She is interested in stories about the diasporic experience, about belonging and not belonging, and about living in a society that is not entirely one’s own.

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