Wednesday, June 14, 2017

I Went to Bread Loaf, and All My Husband Got Was a Lousy Coffee Mug

Recently I had the very good fortune to spend a week at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in Ripton, Vermont, in an introductory course on literary translation.

This is a little hard for me to admit but it's kind of always been my dream to translate. I know, just start, right? I did my honor's thesis in college on translation (I translated a short story by A.S. Byatt into French, very badly) and really enjoyed it, even though it was in many ways a really miserable experience. So what did I enjoy? The work. Which I loved even when I did miserably at it, even when my advisor covered my pages in red pen, even when she told me, after reading my theoretical introduction, that was clear to her that I was more interested "in the practice of translation than the theory." Even when I got strep over spring break and barely finished on time. But not during the grueling defense. Yeah, not that part.

So anyway, I had this miserable experience, and got very discouraged. Basically any dreams about grad school or translating I might have had at the time were crushed to atoms as a result and my life took a very different course. But I'm in mid life now and thinking about chasing a dream or two and I want to give this a try.

I applied for the program at Bread Loaf and promptly got rejected. Which I expected. But then just two weeks before the start of the program I found out there would be a spot for me after all. So I printed out a bunch of stuff, read a bunch of stuff, did a bunch of exercises, bought some tickets, pulled together a capsule wardrobe to fit in my new travel bag and off to Vermont I went.

The week was marvelous. It was rainy and cold, and a whirlwind, but it was marvelous. We had several things to read, and several things to translate, and a "final project" of sorts to turn in, a translation of our choosing. I picked Niki de Saint Phalle's Mon Secret, which I talked about on this blog. I did the first six or seven pages; because of the large format of the book, that translates (no pun intended) to about two pages of typed English text. I plan to finish translating the book, for myself if not for publication, and I even have another book picked out when I'm done.

In addition to the exercises, readings and endless socializing, we got to meet some publishing executives from New Directions, Open Letter Press and New Vessel Press, all of whom I admire and read. They gave us some great tips and next steps and helped familiarize all of us with the publication process. The first step is to determine that the rights for the work are available; otherwise the project is not commercially viable. I have written to de Saint Phalle's estate and the publisher, La Différence, to see if the rights are still available but I want to finish working on it either way. I have about ten pages to go. I expect that they either won't respond or tell me the rights are not available but I want to finish anyway.

So I'll try to keep you posted. Maybe this goes nowhere, maybe it doesn't. We'll see!

1 comment:

Lisa C. Hayden said...

I'm glad to hear you had a good week at Bread Loaf, Marie! And yes, literary translation is a lot of fun. I love it. (Despite tomorrow's deadline!) Whatever you do, don't get discouraged if you don't hear from the Saint Phalle estate and/or publisher quickly: sometimes it takes time, repeat attempts, and other measures to find the right person. (I learned this quickly!) Maybe I'll see you at the American Literary Translators Association conference one of these years? I hope so! This year is Minneapolis. :-)