I had the pleasure of meeting Patricia Schaefer Röder at the 2016 San Jeronimo Translation and Interpretation Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, and then had the pleasure of interviewing her and learning even more about her work.

SM: How did you get started as a literary translator?

PSR: I have been writing creatively all my life; and interpreting—informally—my whole life, too. I have a passion for biology, and got my Bachelor of Science in Caracas, Venezuela. Nevertheless, the lab was not really where I wanted to be. I found a way to match my knowledge of sciences with my language and writing skills by translating scientific texts for the general public. I worked for some years, acquired experience as a translator, and got certified by the American Translators Association (ATA). Then I diversified to different scientific and technical subjects and even reached out to other fields, such as media and advertising, but I kept on writing short fiction stories. One day, a friend told me about her friend who was an editor and publisher, and who was looking for a translator who also was a writer, so I sent the editor some samples, and she gave me an excellent opportunity: I translated from English into Spanish The Reddening Path, a beautiful and powerful novel by Amanda Hale. I really loved every part of the project: the challenges, the creative process, the research, and the final rendition of the book translated into my mother tongue, under the title of El sendero encarnado. I definitely fell in love with literary translation; since then, I have kept on translating for other writers.

SM: What languages and genres do you translate?

PSR: I like to translate narrative—short and long—of all genres, but I have to admit that I enjoy translating song lyrics very much, too. Although I’ve done some literary and lyrical projects from German into Spanish, most of my translations in this field have been from English into Spanish.

SM: Do you do other creative writing? 

PSR: Oh, yes! I write short fiction, as well as poetry. I like to play with the language, that’s why in Yara y otras historias—my first collection of short stories—I included nine tautograms: stories in which each word starts with the same letter. Ironically, these stories cannot be translated.

In poetry, I created the form “siglem 575”, a type of minimalist poetry consisting of stanzas composed of three verses of five, seven and five syllables, respectively. Being so didactic in its nature, the siglem 575 is now used by people from many countries and is now taught in different schools around the Americas. I have to say that it’s really difficult to translate siglems 575.

SM: What do you love most about literary translation?

PSR: Literary translation is a way to reach out to the public and break down cultural barriers, while helping to build tolerance among different peoples. The challenge of transmitting the feelings, emotions and depictions created by the author, so that they can be enjoyed and felt by people of a different culture, motivates me to always reach for perfection. Getting into the characters and giving them life in another language lets me be creative with them, while at the same time, I learn from them. And, since I will always be a scientist, I also love doing research.

SM: What’s a recent project you’ve worked on? What was most challenging about it?

PSR: My last literary translation, published in 2016, was El mundo oculto—the Spanish translation of the novel The World Unseen, by Shamim Sarif. It’s a beautiful and important story about human and women’s rights in 1950’s South Africa. I found out that Ms. Sarif’s writing style is very similar to mine, which made this project very delightful. It felt as if I was writing the story from scratch, my hand held by the author, guiding me. The translation received wonderful comments, for which I am very grateful.

At this very moment, I am working on Mi dulce curiosidad, the Spanish translation of the novel My Sweet Curiosity, by Amanda Hale. It’s a very interesting book with two parallel stories, which include modern day Toronto and 16th century Europe. Although Ms. Hale and I share a similar writing style, the biggest challenge is the slang in the young people’s dialogue. But I’m working on that. Each project has its own character and poses its own challenges, and I love them because they make me learn and grow even more.

SM: Many thanks to you, Patricia, for your time and sharing a bit of your path to literary translation with us. I always enjoy hearing about how talented people in other fields find their way and get started. It’s also interesting to learn about translators’ other creative outlets and writing.

Fellow readers, do you do any creative writing outside of literary translation? Does it compliment or sharpen your literary translation skills? If so, please share your thoughts with us!

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Stacy McKenna received her MFA in English and Creative Writing from Mills College in Oakland, California. Her translations have appeared in The Other Poetry of Barcelona, Códols in New York, 580 Split, Cerise Press, and Río Grande Review. She has taught English and ESL throughout the Bay Area and worked at several nonprofit organizations including the Center for the Art of Translation. She has recently returned to the Bay Area after teaching literary translation and English at the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro in Querétaro, Mexico.