Collective Conversations: An Interview with the Third Coast Translators Collective


Most of the US-based collectives in this series are on the east or west coast; this month we hear from a group in the geographic middle. The Third Coast Translators Collective (TCTC) is an international community of literary translators in Chicago working from over a dozen different languages. TCTC’s members are deeply rooted in the city’s literary community through readings, workshops, and mentorship.

This month’s interview was conducted by DC-ALT.

TCTC Group shot 2

TCTC’s 2018 WiT event at Women & Children First Bookstore (from left: Alta Price, Amaia Gabantxo, Aviya Kushner, and Kay Heikkinen)

What brought you all together?

The TCTC started informally when Lucina Schell and Jason Grunebaum met at the 2013 ALTA conference in Bloomington, Indiana, realized they were neighbors in Chicago’s South Loop, and started talking about other translators they knew in the area. The group started meeting the following year in members’ homes to workshop projects in progress, network, and create a community for translators in what can otherwise be a solitary profession.

Are you open to new members and what would be the criteria for acceptance?

We’ve always been open to new members, on a by-invitation basis. We are a somewhat large and fluid collective, with members cycling in and out as life events bring them into and out of Chicago. Essentially, the only criterion is that you are a literary translator. We’re also open to student members. As we’ve started to have a more public presence through our readings and events, we’ve had the opportunity to meet and invite more translators in our community, and we’re now working on a more formalized membership process. As a collective, we translate from over a dozen different languages, so we have ambitious goals, and need a large and diverse group of members to achieve them.

Do you have a feminist aesthetic?

Our feminist aesthetic emerged organically. The majority of our members are women, which is probably due to the uneven representation of translators in general. There are simply many, many more women doing this. But what is also true is that while there are many more women translators, there are far fewer works by women being translated. So that is something we are absolutely working on addressing, first by taking on more women-authored projects and also by organizing women in translation programming. For instance, our member Alta Price is one of the founders of the Women in Translation tumblr. We recently had an event at Women and Children First Bookstore in Chicago titled “Where Are the Women in Translation?” in which members Aviya Kushner, Kay Heikkinen, and Amaia Gabantxo spoke about their experience translating women. Plus, the diversity of all our members—in age, gender, ethnicity, language, and provenance—is truly inspiring.

What about Chicago makes a collective particularly viable there?

There is just a lot going on in Chicago! There’s a rich literary culture here, a deep culture of collaboration, and a ton of writers. Chicago is a thriving, artistically diverse and multicultural city to begin with, so it makes it ideal for translation. And we are so lucky to have educational institutions and bookstores of incredible caliber. For instance, Pilsen Community Books, Unabridged, City Lit, Seminary Co-op, and Women & Children First are just some of the bookstores who have supported our projects. Plus, artists can still afford to live and create here, so they come out for our events, and not only because we have great wine.

Do you have regular meetings as a group and/or events for the public?

We have regular bimonthly membership meetings to workshop projects in progress. Going forward, we plan to open two workshops a year to the public to recruit and welcome new members. We also have a regular reading series called Words Ajar at local bookstores, and our members participate in literary events throughout Chicago and beyond.

Do members share their work by reading each others’ problem texts and sharing the challenges?

Yes, this is the core of our current membership programming. We always have fascinating discussions during our workshops. Many projects that were brought to workshop have since been published and certainly benefitted from the collective intelligence in overcoming translation challenges. We have all learned so much from each other at TCTC, and our workshops have pushed us all to be more creative translators and to take more risks in our work.

What is your outward interaction with bookstores, publishers, etc.? You mentioned at ALTA getting a Chicago Tribune article—how did that come about? Has it changed your collective?

Being profiled in the Chicago Tribune was great for us in getting our name and visual identity out there. It was also completely thanks to Facebook, in that it wasn’t us pitching to them: the Trib found our Pilsen Community Books event through our page and thought what we were doing was worth writing about, so they reached out to us. Whether it has changed us . . . we’re not sure about that, but we can say that it gave us amazing publicity and a sense that we’re doing something important—that international literature was something people in Chicago are hungry for.

What is your division of labor? Who keeps up the website, does publicity, organizes events, etc.?  How do you encourage participation by members? How are responsibilities delegated? Do you fundraise and/or pay for any services?

We’re all writers, but we’re not all marketing people or designers or CFOs, so the division of labor takes form naturally, according to skills and interests. New this year, we’re introducing membership fees so that we can cover of the costs of website hosting and marketing our projects and events. We’re also launching a newsletter, which we’re really excited about sharing with the world. And yes, we have started taking donations through our site. Wink, wink.

Where do you see this collective 5 years from now?

We’re at a really exciting time. Since we officially founded the Third Coast Translators

TCTC 2019

TCTC members at the April meeting, clockwise from top: Lucina Schell, Matthew Smith, Denise Kripper, Susanna Lang, Izidora Angel, Amaia Gabantxo, Jason Grunebaum, Kay Heikkinen

Collective in 2017 we’ve added eleven new members, bringing the total to 31. We have published a dozen book translations in the last year, and hosted easily fifteen readings. We’re feeling some great momentum. And with that, we’ve had to organize our operations and define our ambitions. As we grow, our plan is to continue to publish great work and create a real cultural contribution to translation in Chicago through larger events, scholarships, and stipends for emerging translators.

In the meantime, we invite you all to join us for our next event—a presentation of Amaia Gabantxo’s translation of Miren Agur Meabe’s A Glass Eye at City Lit Books on May 3. The novel is the first from one of the most highly regarded—and awarded—Basque poets, translated by the most prolific translator working from Basque. Amaia will be in conversation with fellow TCTC writer and translator Izidora Angel. With additional poetry readings by Lucina Schell, Aviya Kushner, and Susanna Lang.

More information about TCTC can be found on their website, and you can connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.

Questions by DC-ALT, a network for literary translators in the Washington, D.C., area.

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