Meet the ’18 Travel Fellows: Maggie Zebracka

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, Maggie Zebracka:

Maggie Zebracka PhotoOriginally from a small town in the Polish Carpathian Mountains, Maggie Zebracka immigrated to Chicago at the age of five. Soon after, her parents enrolled her in after-school Polish classes (popular in Chicago among its sizeable Polish-American population). Despite doing her best to resist attending—perhaps out of a desire to call herself American as quickly as possible—she’s grateful for all those Friday evenings spent in the company of Polish literature, history, and grammar.

Those early experiences informed not only her sense of identity but her creative work as well. Her MFA thesis at Vanderbilt—a novel still in progress—explored how first-generation communities reconciled their newly hyphenated identities. The novel was, in many ways, a bilingual one. Much of the dialogue in Polish was left untranslated, and the characters often talked past one another, in Polish and in English. Maggie tried to examine how the worlds that characters construct out of language allow them to create space for themselves in their new homes, their new countries.

Maggie has since been drawn to translation. She finds it a dynamic place where two languages can meet, interact, and, ultimately, transform one another, creating a shared history that enriches both cultures through the text. But it also exposes the differences between those cultures—the ways in which they signal agency or handle miscommunication. Joanna Bator, whose novels Maggie is currently translating, is interested in situating her novels within the tension between two languages and histories. Many of them are set near the Polish-German border, where decades-old rifts persist and linger, manifesting anew in each generation.

She was introduced to Bator through her novel, Dark, Almost Night, which won Poland’s prestigious Nike Literary Award in 2014. However, she was surprised to learn that none of Bator’s books had yet been translated into English. Dark, Almost Night follows Alicja Tabor, a journalist who has returned to her childhood home in a small Silesian mining town to report on the disappearance of three local children. When the investigation leads her into the darkness that lurks beneath Wałbrzych’s surface, Alicja must confront not only the town’s traumas and secrets but those of her own past as well. Maggie’s excerpted translations of the book appear in Asymptote, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Drunken Boat.

While working on Dark, Almost Night, she completed a graduate certificate in Linguistics, which helped to illuminate the logical relationships of sentence structure and sound between and within languages. The study of extracting meaning from decisions about tense or aspect, for example, has helped her to consider interpretations with more nuance.

She is very excited to study literary translation as an MFA student at the University of Iowa this fall, and she is grateful to ALTA for the opportunity to attend the conference and to meet all the translators whose work she has long admired.

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