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A Spotlight on Translators from Around the World

By Oisin Harris, Toby Smollett and Kate Williams

Translation gives us an opportunity to read books that we would not otherwise be able to experience. Despite this, the people that make these translated books happen, the translators themselves, are not always remembered for the role they play in bringing these stories to life. In this issue, we put the spotlight on some of our favourite translators from our diverse yet shared world, to highlight their achievements and the incredible work that they do.

North America: Katia Grubisic, Canada

Katia Grubisic is a Canadian writer, editor and translator from Toronto. She studied French and English literature at the University of New Brunswick, before pursuing a master’s degree at Concordia University. She is best known for her translation of David Clerson’s Frères, published in 2016 under the title Brothers. The adaptation was shortlisted for the 2017 Canadian Governor General’s Award for French to English Translation. She has translated at least five other texts from French to English, including A Cemetery for Bees (Le cimetière des abeilles) by Alina Dumitrescu, and White Out (Blanc dehors) by Martine Delvaux. She is also the author of her own poetry collection, What if red ran out, which won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for the best debut poetry collection by a Canadian writer.

South America: Débora Landsberg, Brazil

The Brazilian translator Débora Landsberg translated her first book at the age of twenty-three and her portfolio now includes over thirty-five translations from English to Portuguese. Her extensive body of work includes Michelle Obama’s Becoming (Minha história), Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (Um Conto de Duas Cidades) and Toni Morrison’s Sula. She graduated from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro with a master’s degree in translation in 2016, and from 2016–2017 she was the translator in residence at Trinity College Dublin’s Centre for Literary and Cultural Translation. Following this experience, Landsberg went on to translate Sally Rooney’s beloved novels into Portuguese, including her latest novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You published by Companhia das Letras as Belo mundo, onde você está this month.

Asia: Professor Ruth Mabanglo, Philippines and Jeremy Tiang, Singapore

Ruth Mabanglo has held many roles but has come to be more widely known as one of the strongest advocates for the Filipino language Tagalog. Currently an acclaimed professor at the University of Hawaii, Professor Mabanglo was born in Manila in 1949. She has since gone on to receive many prestigious awards for her own literary works, which are often touching portrayals of the Filipino immigrant experience. In this regard, her books echo those of Antiguan author Jamaica Kincaid. Her organisation, the Global Consortium for the Advancement of Filipino Language and Culture, arranges the biennial Conference on Filipino as a Global Language at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Her key translation is a Anyaya ng Imperyalista, a poetry collection originally written in Tagalog.

Jeremy Tiang is a prominent Singaporean author and translator who has translated widely from Chinese to English. Jeremy has translated more than ten books from Chinese, including novels by Zhang Yueran, Yeng Pway Ngon and Chan Ho-Kei. Jeremy is also the recipient of a PEN/Heim Grant, an NEA Literary Translation Fellowship and a People's Literature Prize Mao-Tai Cup for Translation. Not limiting himself to novels, he has also translated plays by Wei Yu-Chia, Zhan Jie and Xu Nuo. In addition to this, Jeremy is also a prolific novelist and playwright. I wanted to shine a spotlight on Jeremy as his name is one of the most lauded as an acclaimed and active translator from Chinese into English. Jeremy’s role and work in promoting Asian fiction in translation cannot be understated and this is reflected in him recently being honoured as the London Book Fair’s inaugural Translator in Residence. His key translation is Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge.

Africa: Wole Soyinka, Nigeria

Born in Abeokuta in 1934, Wole Soyinka studied in both Nigeria and the United Kingdom before receiving worldwide critical acclaim as one of the most significant novelists and playwrights of his generation, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. However, like many other writers known primarily for their own work, he has also translated the works of other authors. Or, more accurately, another author. Daniel O. Fagunwa was a Nigerian author who wrote his novels in Yoruba and in 1968 Wole Soyinka translated The Forest of a Thousand Daemons (Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmọlẹ̀) into English for the first time, thirty years after it had first been published. His choice to translate this novel into English demonstrates the importance he places on African people embracing African culture, which is similarly present in much of his own work.

Europe: Jakuta Alikavazovic, France

Another translator who also writes outside of translation, Jakuta Alikavazovic is a French author who has translated some of the most important voices in 21st Century Anglophone fiction. After having studied at the École normale supérieure Paris-Saclay, she has explored the world of literature through many avenues. She wrote her first book for children in 2004, before receiving the Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman for her first novel in 2008. Alikavazovic also regularly contributes to literary magazines. As a translator, she has translated works by David Foster Wallace and Anna Burns and is currently the French-language translator of Ben Lerner, having translated all three of his novels.


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