Spotlight on Literary Translators is a regular feature here at Intralingo. The aim of these interviews is to get the word out about our profession and the works we bring into other languages. The insight the interviewees provide is also sure to help all of us who are aspiring or established literary translators. Enjoy!

Spotlight on Literary Translator Anne Milano Appel

LC: What language(s) and genres do you translate?

AMA: I translate exclusively from the Italian into English. I think of Italian as my “nonna tongue” (as opposed to a “mother tongue”) because I originally learned it from my grandmother who emigrated from Sicily and spoke no English. My work has mainly focused on fiction of various types (novels, novellas, short stories), though I have also translated non-fiction, drama and even some poetry.

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

AMA: It was a second career for me, after my years as a public library director. One of the threads throughout my life has always been books, and like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs they led me from library land into the world of translation. I attribute my start (getting my first book contract) to serendipity: looking for one thing, I found something else. That is to say, I submitted a proposal for a novel to City Lights Press in San Francisco and was offered another book instead. Along the way serendipity has been bolstered by Fortuna, as Machiavelli understood it: Fortuna as a creator of opportunity, not simply the ruler of our actions. In the case of a later book, for example, I had the good fortune to come upon the author’s work while in a bookshop in Rome. I seized the occasion to propose the book to a well-known U.S. publisher, and since the publisher’s usual translator was unavailable (more good fortune), I was given the opportunity to translate it.

LC: What do you love most and least about this work?

 AMA: I’d have to say that playing with words, tinkering if you will, ranks high on the list of what I love most about translating. Getting it just right, finding the very word I need, makes me feel like Pangur Bán’s master in the anonymous, 9th century Gaelic poem about hunting mice and words: “I and Pangur Bán, my cat/…/ Hunting mice is his delight/Hunting words I sit all night/…/In our arts we find our bliss,/I have mine and he has his.” (Robin Flower, tr.) But, of course, there are many things to love about this work: meeting my authors, working with and learning from good editors, and on a more practical note, the flexibility of being able to work any place, any time.

As for what I love least about it: the constant vigilance (battle?) to ensure proper attribution. Getting one’s name on the cover of the book is still almost as rare as a unicorn and there are well-known publishers who continue to neglect crediting the translator in their catalog.

LC: Can you tell us a little about a recent project?

blindlyAMA: Claudio Magris’ novel Blindly (Alla cieca) is a book I am very proud to be associated with. Not just because of the linguistic and stylistic challenges the text itself posed, but because of the very rewarding experience of working with a truly magnanimous author, always supportive and willing to give of his time.

Originally published by Penguin Canada (2010), it was a finalist for the 2011 Northern California Book Award for Translation. Subsequently published by Yale University Press (2012), it has received excellent reviews, among them:

— Thea Lenarduzzi, “Borderline disorder”, Times Literary Supplement, March 1, 2013

— Wayne Gooderham, “Blindly by Claudio Magris – review”, The Guardian, February 1, 2013

— Tom Deveson, The Sunday Times (UK), January 20, 2013

— M.A.Orthofer’s, The Complete Review, September 2, 2012

The New Yorker, Books Briefly Noted, October 22, 2012

My favorite quote is from Mr. Gooderham: “It is heady, disorientating stuff. Thankfully, you are always left with the language to cling to. And herein lies the novel’s real strength: the translation by Anne Milano Appel is sublime, the prose rich and lyrical, creating a dreamlike intensity that makes even the more impenetrable passages a joy to wade through.”

Read my interview with the author, “A conversation with Claudio Magris…”, available here or on Yale Press Log. 

LC: Anne , it was very enjoyable and inspiring reading about your translation experience. Thanks for sharing!

Dear readers: Please leave any questions or comments for Anne Milano Appel in a comment!

DSC_0089REV2Anne Milano Appel, Ph.D., a former library director and language teacher, has been translating professionally for nearly twenty years, and is a member of ALTA, ATA, NCTA and PEN. Many of her book-length translations have been published, most recently Blindly by Claudio Magris (Yale University Press, 2012, and Penguin Canada, 2010). Also published in 2012 were P.O. Box Love by Paola Calvetti (St. Martin’s Press) and Maurizio de Giovanni’s I Will Have Vengeance (Hersilia Press and Europa Editions). This year her translation of Giovanni Arpino’s Scent of a Woman was named the winner of The John Florio Prize for Italian Translation. Shorter works that she has authored or translated have appeared in various professional and literary venues. Her website: