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 Pat Dubrava

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

PD: Spanish to English. Although I started with poetry, I’ve mainly translated short fiction.

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

PD: I wrote poetry and learned Spanish in bits and pieces. Fascinated by bilingual editions of Spanish poetry, I wondered at translators’ choices and thought I could manage it also. With that dangerous thing – a little knowledge – I decided to translate.

I’d learned Mexican Spanish, visited and had an affinity for Mexico, so decided on Elsa Cross, a Mexican poet. Ms. Cross was patient and kind with my early efforts, which were at first communicated via snailmail and took weeks each way before technology updated us both. In the end, some of those translations were passable and published.

I learned two things: the translation of poetry is a formidable task and I loved translation. Soon I tried a short story and that’s basically what I’ve been translating since.

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

PD: I love the sense of being of use, of providing a service, as much as anything else. In the world view, promoting international understanding. In the local view, individual writers are warmly appreciative.

But I also love the process, the problem-solving, feeling, when I succeed, that I’ve created an English language version of the writer’s voice. What I like least is the same thing I like least about writing in general: the tedious, time-sucking detailing that must be done if the end product is to be worthwhile.

I also don’t like marketing.

Rejections are no fun and you suffer any number of them to get published. I’ve been aiming for publication in journals and anthologies, don’t have a book project at the moment. The good news: there are more and more journals dedicated to translation. The bad news: you’ll have lots of competition and payment is in copies.

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

PD: For the last two years, I’ve been translating short stories by the Mexican writers Mónica Lavín, and Agustín Cadena. They are different writers, and I feel distinct gear-shifting in going from one to the other.

Translating the fourth or fifth story by a writer, you begin to experience an intimacy with style, vocabulary, themes, a familiarity that lends confidence to the work. That’s the cozy room I’m moving into now with both writers and it’s a comfortable feeling.

For new translators: journals are a fine place to begin. Intralingo is a wonderful source of information, as is ALTA, or half a dozen other literary translation sites and groups. You can also Google “literary translation journals” and a bunch of them appear. One link leads to another. Follow submission guidelines with care. Expect rejections. I’ve had translated stories accepted after being rejected four or five times.

LC: Pat, persistence truly is key, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing your experience, as well as truly practical and encouraging tips!

Dear readers: Please leave any questions or comments for Pat Dubrava in a comment!

SAM_0316Patricia Dubrava retired from chairing the Creative Writing program at Denver School of the Arts and is now pursuing writing and translation as a kind of spiritual practice and because it’s not over until it’s over. Recent translations have appeared in Metamorphoses, The Dallas Review and are forthcoming in NewBorder, Ephemera and Aldus. Dubrava blogs at


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