Meet the ’18 Mentees: Fiona Bell

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 prose mentee, Fiona Bell, who will be mentored by Marian Schwartz:

Fional Bell PhotoFiona Bell grew up in the United States, South Korea, and France. After reading Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons in high school, she became intensely curious about Russian culture and began learning the language in university. Fiona spent one summer in St. Petersburg, Russia at the Derzhavin Institute. In 2017 she received a Critical Language Scholarship to study Russian in Nizhni Novgorod, where she learned, among other things, to garnish all food with a generous amount of sour cream.

In 2017 Fiona received a grant to visit the apartment-museums of two female, Russian poets: Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaeva. The poets wrote letters to each other for years, diverging on most issues of poetry and politics, but ultimately forming a friendship. In 2017 Fiona wrote Letters and Dreams, a play that imagines the only meeting between these two poets, which occured in 1941 but had no witnesses. Fiona translated the poets’ work and incorporated it into the script, attempting to adapt the Russian tradition of poetry recitation for the American stage. The play was staged at Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts in 2018. Fiona is eager to continue exploring the possibilities of poetry on stage at this year’s performance-themed ALTA conference.

Fiona took two translation courses during her junior year, translating excerpts of Tolstoy, Lermontov, Bulgakov, and others. For her thesis in translation, she translated a collection of poems by Elena Isaeva, a contemporary Moscow poet. In her poems, Isaeva resurrects people through memory, making her former schoolmates, family members, and lovers as present as those who are physically near. By conjuring figures from her past, Isaeva revives her own past selves: child, student, lover. One of the joys of translating her poetry was discovering the many experiences and identities of a contemporary Russian woman. The American understanding of Russia is so heavily based on male figures, whether Putin on the news or Tolstoy in literature classes. These pictures are incongruous with Fiona’s own experiences in Russia, which have been quite female-centered. As a scholar and translator, she is wholeheartedly devoted to translating female voices from Russia.

Fiona is pursuing an MPhil degree in Modern Languages at Oxford University, where she continues to study Russian drama, poetry, and translation. She is currently writing a play that adapts Valentin Rasputin’s 1976 novel Farewell to Matyora into a dramatic exploration of family, grief, and and climate change in contemporary Florida. In general, Fiona is interested in the exchanges between Russian and other cultures. She has written about how seventeenth-century French dramas were “translated” on stage for nineteenth-century Russian audiences. She researched the hybrid architecture of Japanese Russian Orthodox churches, focusing on Tokyo’s Nikolai-do cathedral. She also studied “Journey Beyond Three Seas,” a 1957 film in Hindi and Russian that celebrates the friendship between the Indian and Soviet governments. Fiona is excited to learn more about various languages and cultures by connecting with other translators at this year’s ALTA conference.

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