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 Jamie Searle Romanelli
By Lisa Carter, Intralingo Inc.

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

Jamie Searle Romanelli: I translate from German into English and the majority of my commissions are novels, as well as some historical and academic texts. Over the past few years I’ve worked on several crime titles, by German and Austrian authors, and have developed an increasing admiration for the intricacies of the genre in the process. In the future I hope to begin translating Brazilian Portuguese literature as well, as I am now based in Brazil and learning the language at a rapid rate. First though, I’d like to enrol in a literature course at the local university and explore the nation’s literary history. After all, an in-depth knowledge of the language isn’t enough to be a good literary translator, you also need to feel at home in the culture and be sensitive to intertextuality.

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

JSR: Looking back now, it seems inevitable that I would move into this profession, but at the time I was still exploring different avenues. I worked for Reuters for a couple of years, translating news releases from the German-language stock exchanges. Longing for something more literary, I then went on to do an MA in Anglo German Cultural Relations whilst working part-time at the German-speaking German Welfare Council in London. I completed several internships alongside this and was contemplating various careers, from cultural diplomacy to in-house editorial work within the publishing industry, but all connected to literature. Around the same time, I discovered the publication New Books in German and wrote to its then editor. She asked if I would like to do a reader’s report for the next issue, and went on to pass several short translation commissions my way. Before long, I had an increasing number of translation projects and was realising how much I loved the work, and in early 2010 I took on my first novel and dedicated myself full-time to the profession. I have been supported along the way by many of the excellent initiatives now available, such as the TA/BCLT mentorship scheme, summer schools at the Literarisches Colloquium in Berlin, as well as sponsored trips to book fairs in Germany organised by the Goethe Institute. For any emerging translators, I would also highly recommend embarking upon a co-translation with a more experienced translator, and joining the Emerging Translators Network, or ELTNA, the equivalent US initiative.

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

JSR: I’ve been a full-time literary translator for five years now, and can’t imagine my life without it. I’m hooked on the variety and consistent challenge which translation offers; I get to discover worlds I never knew existed (or, in some cases, worlds I knew existed but wouldn’t have thought of exploring without that particular impetus). My translations have led me to research such diverse, fascinating topics; the terrain of Mount Aconcagua, the science of sleepwalking, geo-caching, Guatemalan fauna and flora, the specific goal sequences of games in the European (football) Cup of 1979-80, Jewish prayer rituals and much, much more.

I love grappling with wordplay and cultural references and rhythm, and that eventual rush of elation when the right solution comes to mind, the feeling of ‘clicking’ with the author’s voice, when you feel the English text start to flow. The author of a book I recently translated wrote to say he felt I had captured the style of his writing admirably – for me there is no greater feeling of achievement than an author saying that.

A difficult aspect can be when you fall head over heels for a book but it doesn’t work out — perhaps because another translator has the gig or it’s not right for the target market. This can be heart-breaking when you really connect with a novel; it’s a very emotional profession in this sense. But following one particularly intense episode of unrequited literary love a year or so ago, I came to realise that there is a silver lining even in this. If I can care that much about a project, then I’m definitely in the right job, and nothing makes me happier than that certainty.

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

JSR: There are two I would like to mention. The first is a new translation of the Franz Kafka short story “The Hunter Gracchus,” which I did for Deep Wood Press in the US. It will be a fine letterpress edition with intaglio prints, and should be released in time for exhibition at the FPBA in Oxford this year. It was a fascinating project to work on, not just because it was Kafka, but also because there was an added intensity to the translation process in knowing that the words I chose would not just shape the images within the reader’s mind, but also actual pictures on the page.

The second project is the Translators Association Diaspora, which I set up in early 2015. It’s a digital network for literary translators working into English who are based outside Anglophone countries. Our aim is to create an online hub, a place to share and seek advice relating to the specific challenges and opportunities which arise when you are a literary translator working abroad. The network is already thriving with nearly 100 members, and there are a number of exciting ideas in the pipeline following discussions I had at the London Book Fair recently. For more information, visit our site, where features include regular Q&A’s with our diaspora translators, as well as a virtual events page of collated links to audio and video files. We also have a members-only Facebook group and tweet from the handle @TA_Diaspora.

Jamie Searle Romanelli is a literary translator from German, whose previous and forthcoming publications include Jonathan Crowne’s Sirius (Head of Zeus), Ursula Poznanski’s Five (Harvill Secker), Andreas Maier’s The Room (Frisch & Co.) and co-translations, with Shaun Whiteside, of Frank Schätzing’s Limit and Florian Illies’ 1913, which was a Radio 4 Book of the Week. Together with fellow translators Rosalind Harvey and Anna Holmwood, she co-founded the Emerging Translators Network in late 2010. She is now based in Brazil, and is currently setting up the TA Diaspora, for which she is an ex-officio member of the UK Translators Association committee. See for further information.

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