Collective Conversations: An Interview with the Emerging Translators Collective

This month takes us to Michigan, where the Emerging Translators Collective (ETC) is enacting a vision of the future of translation as it might bewere it not constrained by capitalism. Comprising a workshop and micro-press, ETC seeks to, in the words of their manifesto, “open up the space of translation,” through a practice rooted in collaboration and the recognition of literary translation as labor.

Questions by Plüb.

ETC

Megan Berkobien (L) and María Cristina Hall (R)

How would you define the purpose or goal of your collective?

The ETC provides a flexible, working model for collective production, with translators collaborating on every aspect of the publication process (editing, design, and, eventually, the pamphlet-making part!). Careful collaboration, then, is both a means and an end, although it’s much easier said than done. The goal isn’t just producing texts, but about changing the ways we relate to one another as translators and as people: about insisting on mutually supportive practice over competition. 

In a way, we’re building toward a practice that isn’t limited by market-driven logic, which asks publishers to constantly go after an ever-increasing number of readers. Obviously, it’s a prefigurative model in that we’re trying to enact processes that don’t quite fit in our capitalist reality, but we have to start somewhere. And I think translators are some of the best people to take up that work. 

What do you do if you’re unable to meet up for a period of time?

Our local base is still in Ann Arbor, because it grew out of the graduate workshop in literary translation at the University of Michigan. If we can’t meet up for a time, we don’t let it bother us! Really, that’s just part of being a literary translator at this point, since many can’t make a living being a literary translator full-time. And we’re also constantly in touch with one another via email.

You’ve taken the really encouraging stance that paying translators is non-negotiable. What kinds of challenges has that posed for you?

If we, as an industry, are going to get serious about literary translation, then we’ve got to get serious about understanding it as labor. We don’t pay all that much for a chapbook ($50), but for many translators, especially those who are in the earlier stages of their careers, $50 can mean groceries for a week. 

Paying contributors isn’t really a challenge, because we’re not going to create the change we want and need to see unless we start enacting the change ourselves. In fact, I think framing it as a challenge shows just how much we take the translator’s labor for granted. Labor is entitled to all it creates, after all. 

This seems like it has to be a local operation, because of the micro-press side. Do you envision ever being able to expand geographically?

Yes! Not all of our members are in one place at this point, so we’ve had to get creative with how we work online (since it’s not always easy to build relationships through email). In fact, we’ve been trying to get digital workshops going for a while now, but it’s definitely more difficult to coordinate schedules than we anticipated. Let us know if you want to be a guinea pig!

What are your goals for the next year? Ten years?

Oof, ten years! Well, the more immediate goal is to get our digital workshops running and to have a more regular publishing schedule. 

What projects are the ETC members currently working on that they’re particularly excited about? Perhaps a sneak-peek of the ETC’s forthcoming print publication?

We have a few broadsides lined up (featuring work by Maggie Nelson and Anne Carson, who’ve given us the thumbs up!) and an upcoming chapbook by member María Cristina Hall called Malaria Dreams. It’s mind-bending in the best possible way.

How do you feel the close ties to the university help the collective—or will help it in the future?

It’s a mixed bag, for sure. The ETC wouldn’t exist if not for the graduate workshop in literary translation at the University of Michigan. That being said, we haven’t had a formal relationship with the University for two years now, because it meant that we couldn’t pay translators. (I suppose that goes back to your question above!) Now we use Patreon to fund our projects. 

Favorite literary-themed cocktail/mocktail?

Whiskey sour! It was Dorothy Parker’s preferred drink.

You can find the ETC at https://translatorscollective.org/ on Twitter as @ETC_Press.

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