2016 ALTA Travel Fellow: Kelsi Vanada

Kelsi Vanada, 2016 ALTA Travel Fellow (Spanish)kelsi-vanada-headshot

Kelsi Vanada is studying Literary Translation in the MFA program at the University of Iowa, and will graduate in the spring. She came to translation by way of her involvement with the International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa, while she was studying poetry in the Writers’ Workshop (MFA, 2016). This means that her first experiences with translation were in the context of working closely with visiting writers-in-residency to bring their poems into English. Collaboration is still an important part of any translation project for Kelsi.

Kelsi grew up outside of Denver, Colorado, where she studied English and Spanish at the University of Denver. An important part of her undergraduate career was the semester she spent studying in Copenhagen through DIS, the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. While there, Kelsi lived with her Danish family members, learned Danish, and learned as much as possible about the Scandinavian cultures. Following graduation, Kelsi lived another semester abroad while teaching English as a foreign language in Calama, Chile, through the program Inglés Abre Puertas (English Opens Doors).

After teaching Spanish, writing, and poetry in Denver for four years in a K-8 school, Kelsi was accepted to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and felt that for the first time she could call herself a poet and focus fully on her love of creative writing. With her interest in languages, translating the poetry of other language writers seems like a natural next step for Kelsi after studying poetry. She is grateful to have worked under the direction of Nataša Ďurovičová, editor for the IWP (where Kelsi now works as a research assistant), and Aron Aji, head of the MFA in Literary Translation.

Kelsi’s translations of poems by Venezuela poet Natasha Tinacos (IWP, 2014) can be found in Berfrois. Kelsi is currently translating the book La edad de merecer [The Eligible Age] (La Bella Varsovia, 2015) by Spanish poet Berta García Faet; the translation will be published by Song Bridge Press in spring 2017. Faet’s work is feminist, formally innovative, and tradition-breaking—a new kind of confessional poetry that makes poignant the poet’s experience as a female writer.

Kelsi’s other project is a continuation of a translation project started last fall with IWP visiting writer Marie Silkeberg from Sweden. Together they translated a series of poems, “The Cities,” from Silkeberg’s book Till Damaskus [To Damascus] (Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2014). These translations won the Asymptote “Close Approximations” contest, judged by Michael Hofmann, in April. It was a great honor, and inspired Kelsi to continue translating the rest of the book with Silkeberg. Till Damaskus was written with Silkeberg’s collaborator, the Syrian-born Palestinian poet Ghayath Almadhoun, as a way of processing the events of the Arab Spring. Hybrid in form and dense in sound, the poems take on questions of immigrant identity, memory, and loss.  

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2016 ALTA Travel Fellow: Haider Shahbaz

Haider Shahbaz, 2016 ALTA Travel Fellow (Urdu)haider-shahbaz

Being from Pakistan – a country where both English and Urdu are official languages, and where a host of regional languages are commonly spoken – Haider learned the importance of translation early in his life. His childhood memories include his grandmother reciting Punjabi verses from the popular romance, Heer Ranjha, his father telling stories of Amir Hamza in Urdu, and his uncle mesmerizing him with Grimms’ fairy tales, reading out loud from a colorfully illustrated English version. As a result, he never saw translation as a skill to be acquired, but rather as a reality to be lived every day.

When he left Pakistan at the age of sixteen to finish high school in Britain, his ability to translate became even more pertinent, allowing him to move across geographic boundaries in addition to linguistic ones. He continued to read in multiple languages, discovering Orwell at the same time as Manto, Toni Morrison along with Bano Qudsia. Literature became, for him, a way of living between languages, and with them, identities.

Later, he came to America to study at Yale University. Seeing the misinformed and irresponsible way in which Islam was often translated for an American audience, he found it increasingly necessary to pay attention to the ethical questions that informed the role of translation, not simply the aesthetic questions. He began to understand how the task of translation – the task, in other words, of negotiating difference – was central to the way cultures imagined gender, race, and nationality.

His general interest in the way societies and individuals engaged translation turned into a more concrete interest in literary translation, specifically the translation of Urdu prose and poetry into English, when he joined the MFA program at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Guided by generous teachers and encouraged by a MFA program that prioritized translation, he focused on the work of contemporary Urdu writers who are often ignored unlike English-language writers from the region.

His first translated novel, Hassan’s State of Affairs by Mirza Athar Baig, will be published next year. The experimental novel follows a group of surrealist filmmakers in their effort to capture Pakistan. The opening chapter of the novel was published in Brooklyn Rail, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Other translations have appeared in Portland Review, Aldus, and 3quarksdaily. His critical work has appeared in Los Angeles Review of Books, Jadaliyya, Himal SouthAsian, The Believer Logger, and Tanqeed. Starting in October, he will be the Charles Pick Fellow at University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK.

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2016 ALTA Travel Fellow: Nicholas Glastonbury

Nicholas Glastonbury, 2016 ALTA Travel Fellow (Turkish)nicholas_glastonbury

Nicholas Glastonbury is a translator and writer based in Brooklyn. He is a PhD student in cultural anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He received his BA from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.

Following a serendipitous trip to Turkey during his freshman year at NYU, he began learning the Turkish language concurrent to his coursework in creative writing. Turkish was thus formative to Nicholas’ creative work from very early on. In the subsequent years, Nicholas spent a significant amount of time in Turkey: in addition to the time he spent in the Department of Turkish Language and Literature at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, he received a Critical Language Scholarship in Advanced Turkish to study in Izmir, worked as a literary archivist’s assistant, and became involved in social and political movements and advocacy. He began working in earnest as a translator in 2012, during his time as a researcher for the Center for Truth, Justice, and Memory (Hafıza Merkezi) in Istanbul, and never turned back.

After several years working as a (primarily academic) translator, Nicholas began graduate studies in comparative literature with a focus on nationalism, gender, political ecology, and translations of Kurdish literature into Turkish. This work parlayed into his current doctoral work in the field of anthropology, which focuses on radio broadcasting, environmental struggles, intellectual production, and women’s political praxis within the Kurdish movement in Turkey.

Nicholas previously attended the ALTA annual conference in 2014, where he organized a panel titled “Engineering Intention: Translating Turkish Literature” and presented a paper on the work of writer Yusuf Atılgan and his experimentation with the structural limits and possibilities of the Turkish language. Thanks to connections made at the conference, he recently became involved as a translator and editor for a new initiative called KurdîLit, a Turkey-based project funded by Literary Live Europe that intends to promote Kurdish literature to international audiences.

Currently, Nicholas is working on a translation of the novel A Place upon Your Face (Yüzünde Bir Yer) by Sema Kaygusuz. Narrated in the second person, the novel tells the story of a granddaughter’s reckoning with the suppressed and traumatic memories of her grandmother, who survived a genocidal massacre in the Dersim region of southeast Turkey in 1938. Based on Kaygusuz’s relationship to her own grandmother, the novel embeds the turmoil of contemporary mass violence within mythic and deep historical timescapes, cracking open the modern history of Turkey to ask greater questions about good and evil, about exile and survival, about resilience in an age of everyday horror. The work, described by the author herself as an ecofeminist undertaking, stands at the juncture of Nicholas’ academic, creative, and translation work to date.

Apart from his doctoral studies and his translation and writing work, Nicholas is also a co-editor of and contributor to the Turkey Page of the e-zine Jadaliyya, which publishes critical perspectives and analyses of historical and contemporary issues across the Middle East.

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2016 ALTA Travel Fellow: Monika Cassel

Monika Cassel, 2016 ALTA Travel Fellow (German)monika-cassell

Monika Cassel was raised bilingual in English and German in upstate New York and Germany. She formed a deep interest to German culture, history and literature early on; she also became fascinated with learning languages, studying French and Italian at Princeton University. In college, Monika also fell in love with poetry and studied translation with the novelist Paul Auster, translating Paul Celan, but although she worked part-time as a freelance translator during the 1990s, her interests at the time (and her sense of career possibilities) centered more on literary criticism than on her translation practice.

After receiving a PhD in comparative literature at the University of Michigan with a dissertation on 19th century women poets and translators in England, Germany and America, Monika moved to Santa Fe, NM with her husband to teach at St. John’s College. The college’s practice of having faculty teach across the curriculum gave her the chance to deepen her reading and teach mathematics, history of science, music, French, and ancient Greek, often while learning alongside her students. However, Monika missed literature and poetry and left St. John’s in 2008 to try her hand at teaching high school English. She ended up falling in love with the excitement and challenges of teaching teens.

In 2010 Monika became a founding faculty member at New Mexico School for the Arts, a statewide public high school, designing the school’s English curriculum. A partnership with the Lannan Foundation’s outreach program, which brings visiting authors into local classrooms, led to a grant to support her development of a creative writing program at the school. Monika’s return to creative work came out of her teaching; inspired by the work of her students, she began carving out time to write. She re-entered translating after reading Durs Grünbein’s book-length poem, Porcelain: Poem on the Downfall of My City, a work that resonated strongly with her own questions about her family’s WWII history and demanded to be translated. Monika’s work as a translator and as a poet now inform each other as two sides of her creative practice. A desire to address the dearth of women in translation led her to two authors whose  work she loves to champion: Dana Ranga, a Romanian documentary filmmaker and poet who writes in German, and poet and novelist Daniela Danz, whose books Pontus and V both explore regional and national identity and history.

Over the past years Monika has published translations of poetry and prose from Durs Grünbein, Dana Ranga, and Daniela Danz in journals such as POETRY Magazine, Michigan Quarterly Review, Guernica, and Asymptote; she has translations forthcoming in Asymptote and the Harvard Review Online “Omniglots” feature. Her poetry chapbook, Grammar of Passage, which is inspired by her German family’s films, letters, and stories, won the 2015 Venture Poetry Award and is forthcoming from flipped eye publishing in the UK. Monika left New Mexico School for the Arts in 2016 to move to Portland, OR with her family and now teaches German online for Oregon State University.

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2016 ALTA Travel Fellow: Bruna Dantas Lobato, Winner of the 2016 Peter K. Jansen Memorial Travel Fellowship

Bruna Dantas Lobato, 2016 Peter K. Jansen Memorial Travel Fellow (Brazilian bruna-dantas-lobato_photoPortuguese)

Originally from Natal, Brazil, Bruna Dantas Lobato began to teach herself her first sentences in English at the age of seventeen. Learning English changed her life: it made her aware of the failings and strangeness of language, which is to say, it made her become a writer.

She first began translating from English into her native Portuguese at Bennington College, where she earned a BA in literature and Latin American Studies. She tried her hand at excerpts from Annie Dillard’s book of narrative nonfiction Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in a literary translation class taught by translator and mentor Marguerite Feitlowitz. Soon after, she translated Tracy K. Smith’s Pulitzer-winning poems into Portuguese for Brazil’s Jornal Rascunho and committed herself to translating Brazilian literature into English.

It was also at Bennington where she first began writing her own fiction, mostly short stories centering on displaced characters. Before her senior year at the College, she was awarded the Undergraduate Writing Fellowship in Fiction and had the opportunity to study with writers Jill McCorkle and Amy Hempel during the summer residency of Bennington’s MFA program.

After graduation, she returned to her hometown in Brazil and began translating into English Caio Fernando Abreu’s 1989 collection of short stories set during the height of the AIDS epidemic, The Dragons Haven’t Been to Paradisea book she’d first encountered in a high school classroom. As a translator of Brazilian literature, Bruna hopes to traverse the works of writers who report from the margins, essential works that question boundaries and invite her to re-imagine what centering the margins truly means. Most recently, she translated Caio Fernando Abreu’s minimalist short story “Beauty, a Terrible Story” for the Brazil issue of Words without Borders.

Bruna is currently an MFA candidate in Fiction at New York University, where she has studied under Joyce Carol Oates, Hannah Tinti, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Anne Enright. At NYU, she also teaches the undergraduate creative-writing course Introduction to Fiction & Poetry, and serves as the Fiction Editor of Washington Square Review. In the past, she’s served as the Assistant International Editor of Washington Square and the Editor-at-Large for Brazil of Asymptote Journal.

In addition to her work as a translator of poetry and prose, Bruna contributes monthly essays to the Ploughshares blog and has written about literature in translation for BOMB, The Millions, The Christian Science Monitor, Asymptote, Music & Literature, and elsewhere. She is currently at work on a collection of linked stories about culture and family in Brazil and the United States.

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