Meet the ’18 Fellows: Elina Alter

ALTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2018 ALTA Travel Fellowships, including the third annual Peter K. Jansen Memorial Travel Fellowship! 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 Marguerite Feitlowitz, Margarit T. Ordukhanyan, Emma Ramadan, and Haider Shahbaz. Congratulations to this year’s Travel Fellow, Elina Alter:

Elina Mishuris PicA few years ago, while living in Abu Dhabi, Elina decided to translate a story. She wanted to practice Spanish, and also to find a way to link her writing and the daily practice of life in the UAE, where the national language is Arabic, the lingua franca is English, and the population speaks dozens of other languages, from Albanian to Urdu. Conversations can be full of confusion and infelicities of language, as well as new coinages, nonce-words, and, if you’re lucky and paying attention, poetry.

Aptly, a friend recommended that Elina’s adventures in literary translation start with Borges’ “La forma de la espada,” a story in which an Irishman called The Englishman gives an account of his failure as a revolutionary, from the perspective of the man he betrayed. The story is narrated by a character called Borges. The surreal experience of reading, translating, and “being” Borges felt appropriate to the strangeness of living in the UAE, and translation itself proved to be a deeply necessary corollary to Elina’s writing. If the work of the writer can seem solitary, the work of the translator is a collaboration among many; the translator listens not just to the voice of one particular writer, but to the voices around that writer, everything that informs the text. She must also know intuitively the rhythms of her own time and place, in order to offer a translation that’s both intelligible and inventive; that despite being incommensurate to the original, is original in its new language.

To continue developing as a writer and a translator, Elina enrolled in the MFA Writing Program at Columbia, where she studied with Susan Bernofsky, Natasha Wimmer, Mónica de la Torre, and Rowan Ricardo Phillips. While a student, she was an Emerging Writer at the Festival des ecrivains du monde, traveling to Paris to meet with young writers from India and discuss writing, translation, and the politics of writing in English. Her translation thesis was a collection of the young Chekhov’s vibrant early humor pieces, originally published in St. Petersburg and Moscow magazines. Supported by a Katharine Bakeless Nason scholarship, she revised the thesis with Idra Novey at the Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference, and published selections in The Paris Review Daily. She is currently translating the St. Petersburg poet Alla Gorbunova’s acclaimed 2017 collection of short fiction, Ings & Oughts, described by critics as “visionary, thrilling, and smart.” Selections appear in the summer 2018 issue of the New England Review. She writes about work in translation for Publishers Weekly, BOMB, and other publications.

Elina was born in St. Petersburg. She earned her B.A. at the Gallatin School at New York University and earned an MFA in fiction and translation at the School of the Arts at Columbia University, where she was a Teaching Fellow. She is the incoming editor of Circumference: Poetry in Translation. Circumference was founded in 2003 by Jennifer Kronovet and Stefania Heim; it has published new translations from Basque, Galician, Estonian, Milanese, K’iche, and Telugu, as well as translations and poems by Paul Celan, Charles Simic, Jennifer Grotz, Maureen N. McLane, Li Po, Kim Hyesoon, and Roberto Bolaño. New issues of Circumference will include poetry in translation, as well as journalism, art, and thoughtful, in-depth criticism. Excited and grateful to be an ALTA Fellow, in the meantime Elina is studying German and continuing to work on her Spanish.

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