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 Patricia Oliver
By Lisa Carter, Intralingo Inc. and Patricia Oliver

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

Cover, Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, translated by Patricia OliverPO: Regarding literature, I mainly translate from English into Spanish. Since my literary translation career has not been that long, I don’t think I can say I specialize in any genre. My published work has only been one novel: Petals of Blood, by Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, which was just published last November. But I’ve also translated poetry and short stories—these are just in line waiting for publication. Now I’m thinking about translating poetry for my MA’s dissertation. A couple of years ago, I translated a children’s book from Portuguese into Spanish, although this was not for publishing but the illustrator, who didn’t know Portuguese. I also have a theater project possibly in the works, in collaboration with a Mexican actress, director and playwright. That will be a first for me! But I’m sure it will be a very interesting and enlightening process.

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

PO: I’ve always been a keen language learner: although I’m only fluent in English and know Portuguese and German, I also studied French, Chinese and Japanese (although I’m not near proficient in any of those). A few years ago, in Mexico, some friends and acquaintances started asking me to translate texts and documents for them. Initially, I did it to help them, but then I started to think that I really liked the idea of becoming a full-time translator, which I did a little over three years ago. Also, I’ve always been in touch with literature—I majored in English, I did a specialization in Creative Writing at the INBA Mexico (Fine Arts National Institute), and now I coordinate the Poetry and Microfiction sections of the creative writing magazine Nocturnario. I guess it was just a matter of time before I started translating literature: in 2012, as I was finishing my specialization, I had a lucky break: a publishing house, Elefanta Editorial, contacted me to translate Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s novel.

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

PO: I would, of course, like the profession to be taken more seriously, for the “my-cousin-knows-English-so-he-can-translate” story to be over and in the past (not for literary translation but technical). I know it is our job to educate our clients, so we’ll have to keep on spreading the word. On a personal level, having to take time from translating to do administrative tasks, I don’t like it that much, although it’s always an opportunity to get in touch with clients, which is not that bad.

I really enjoy the linguistic work (or should I say challenges?), to see all the possibilities a language has to offer and all of its working mechanisms, and then also to be able to stretch language in the search for the best word or expression. Mainly, to be able to explore languages on a daily basis. It is also rewarding to learn and discover new works and authors. Also, translation has been developing at a faster pace here in Mexico in the last couple of years, with a broader choice of translation congresses, forums and academic programs.

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

PO: My most recent published work is the translation into Spanish of Petals of Blood, a great novel by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. It brought quite a few challenges: to start with, it was over 400 pages long; and even if it was fiction, it still presented a lot of historical information and figures of 20th-century Kenya, which required a lot of research into the history of this country. Also, the novel has a lot of words, expressions and sentences in Swahili and Kikuyu—that was really interesting for, even if they remained in the original language in the Spanish translation as well, I still had to create a glossary for myself, for coherence’s sake, to make sure it would still make sense in Spanish (regarding articles and grammatical gender, for instance). So, I even learned some Swahili and Kikuyu words while translating!

Patricia Oliver grew up in Zaragoza, Spain, and has worked in England, the USA and Mexico, where she currently works as a freelance translator and proofreader, and studies an MA in Translation at El Colegio de México ( Her translation of the novel Petals of Blood, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, was published last November by Elefanta Editorial. She hopes to continue her career as a literary translator and to contribute to the development of the profession in Mexico.

Twitter: @babel11 | LinkedIn: Patricia Oliver

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