Collective Conversations: An Interview with Plüb

Our final collectives questionnaire brings us to the site of this year’s ALTA conference, beautiful Rochester in upstate New Yorkthe home of Plüb, a workshopping group that sprang from the MALTS program at the University of Rochester. Thanks to all the brilliant collectives who took part in this series, and hope to see some of you at the “Collective of Collectives” panel this year!

This month’s questions by Strong Women Soft Power.


First, how did Plüb come to be? And what about the name?

The beginnings of Plüb can be traced back to the fall of 2010, with the inaugural year of the MA in Literary Translation Studies (MALTS) program at the University of Rochester. The first cohort—Andrew Barrett, Emily Davis, Acacia O’Connor, and Kaija Straumanis—wanted to be able to workshop their translations outside the university setting, and to devote more time to one person’s piece. And so Plüb was born. They met weekly at a local restaurant or bar, and over drinks, jokes, and literary innuendos, would workshop the night away. Open Letter’s publisher, Chad W. Post, was an integral part to the workshop group, both in terms of knowledge and experience with translated literature, and in terms of being able to bring in more bodies to the workshopping group. Over the years, the group has come to include current MALTS students, recent MALTS graduates, local (non-student) translators and authors, local literature buffs/scholars, reading enthusiasts, and even visiting authors, translators, etc.

The name “Plüb” was an invention of Emily Davis. It’s a mashup of the words “pub” and “club,” and topped with a pretentious umlaut/dieresis—because why not.

What format do your meetings usually take? How many members or participants?  (It looks like there might be a lot if you’re catering to grad students and people in the MA in Literary Translation Studies at the University of Rochester, as well as other translation-related people in the local community.)  Can you talk a little about your activities?

The workshops are as informal as we can make them be! Meaning, fries and drinks. The MALTS students all have to take a fiction or poetry workshop as part of their degree, and the majority of students in those workshops are not translators. And while the input of creative writing or English/literature majors is helpful and valuable, it was important for us to also have a space where we could talk to other people who were working with a similar set of translation-specific issues or demons. 

We try to meet once a week, and still at some local restaurant or bar. Alcohol is not a necessity, but we always joke to the newcomers that the beauty of doing a workshop over a glass of wine or a beer is that, at the end of the night, if you hated the experience or are upset at the reactions to your piece, you can always tell yourself “Well, they were drinking…” The main goal is to keep it laid back. We have someone other than the translator read the sample out loud, and everyone else is encouraged to chime in as the spirit moves them. Be it with regard to word choice, punctuation choice, awkward structure—we welcome an open format. We think it’s important for translators to not only hear the sample read by someone else, so they get some space, but to also see where and why people are tripping up in the text—and then it’s up to the translator to take or toss the suggestions and comments. To decide whether one person’s hangup is worth rewriting a sentence, and so on. More often than not, there are also plenty of digressive discussions that spin off from the reading of the sample. This is something that may seem rude or indicative of the sample being boring, but in actuality, we believe it’s a good sign because it shows that the text is keeping your readers’ minds moving and churning, if a scene in your sample reminds them of some insane hashtag they saw on Twitter the other day, it means they’re engaged. The worst Plübs (and there have thankfully been only a few) are the ones where the sample is read and met with silence—and not because there’s nothing to be discussed… 

The samples are normally around 3-7 pages long, since we usually don’t make it through everything in the 3ish hours we end up workshopping. We also don’t normally read the samples before Plüb—the sample will be sent out a few hours before we meet, and then read cold at the workshop. It’s a really fun and informative format (if you can even call it a “format”)!

The number of members/participants is different from the number of people who are able to show up any given week. There are probably around 20 people on the email list, but workshops usually get around 6 people on average. We’re not an exclusive group, and always encourage people who are interested to join us.

Can you talk about the relationship between the workshop model and building community?

Keeping the workshop format so informal is key in terms of building community. We don’t want Plüb to be a stodgy, scary thing that people are terrified of coming to, fearing a gauntlet of criticism. The workshop is, as mentioned, a space where you can be with your own kind, as it were, where you can discuss your concerns about a translation as a whole, an idiom, or express your pride in tackling a particularly sticky sentence. We also want the translation students to find value in feedback from non-translators, and want local translators who are not students to share their experiences as published translators, or to join in the experience if they are emerging translators themselves. There’s another level in community-building if you look at how we frequent the same string of places for our workshops. It adds to the sense of ease and togetherness, of family and community. At the very beginning, the first pub we used to always go to grew so accustomed to us reserving the largest table every week that soon enough there was always a “RESERVED FOR THE BOOK PEOPLE” card waiting on it for us when we’d arrive.

More than anything, we want to foster a sense of “we’re all in this together, we’re all on the same side.” Since our regular crowd includes publishers, editors, marketing directors, PhDs, bookstore staff, foreign-language professors, etc., it feels like we’ve achieved that fairly well.

It seems as though the social, educational, and pedagogical purpose of the group is quite strong. Is it mainly an educational, academic type group, part of the MA literary program? What kinds of issues are uppermost in your mind? 

See above. Our purpose is to have a few drinks over snacks and translation samples, and to help our fellow translators with everything and everyone we have at our disposal. Plüb is such a combination of so many different facets—social, educational, pedagogical—and it feels important to emphasize that literary translation itself is equally multifaceted. We don’t focus on any specific issues at large, but take things one sample at a time. We are a living, breathing resource, a wealth of experiences and interpretations, a walking sand-trap of some of the best double-entendres you’ll ever hear. We love to find the humor in translation (where appropriate), and to diffuse any myths about this having to be a purely deadpan and tight-fisted, no-funny-business line of work. It is enjoyable and rewarding!

How do you interact with your community otherwise? Who are you interested in reaching?

We make sure to let anyone who may seem interested about the email list so they can find out about upcoming Plüb meet-ups or local readings or literary events. There’s a lot of cross-pollination between the universities and colleges in the area among our members, and there’s always someone we meet somewhere who is interested in joining in when they can. Sometimes members even bring their relatives who happen to be visiting Rochester at the time.

Do you have plans to hold any public events? Or do you envisage any other activities for the group?

No current plans for public events, though as mentioned Plüb is open to the community. As for activities… It could be interesting to set up readings at one of the local reading-friendly coffee shops or bars, to feature the works-in-progress of our members. It could also be interesting to get more outreach in the area colleges and universities—less to spread the word about Plüb and more to spread the word about literary translation as a profession.

Considering your relationship with UofR, the connection with Open Letter Books seems obvious, but do you also develop relationships with other publishers?

There are no strict connections or relationships between Plüb as a group and other publishers besides Open Letter, but a lot of our members have interned with Open Letter or other local publishers (like BOA Editions), or have interned with publishers outside of Rochester (like New Directions or Coffee House Press). Though the members of Plüb are great resources for connections in the translation and publishing worlds, our workshops are more workshop and less networking.

How do you see Plüb’s mission in the future?

More life, less gloss.*


*A line from a sample translation of Serzh Brusov’s Give Me Back My 2007, translated from the Russian by current MALTS student Polina Korytina

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