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 Sandra Kingery
LC: What language(s) and genres do you translate?
SK: I translate from Spanish to English. My first love is prose translation, but more recently, I’ve expanded into poetry and also into non-fiction (political philosophy and law).
LC: How did you get started as a literary translator?
SK: It’s a strangely convoluted story. I wrote my dissertation on Ana Maria Moix, and my favorite text by her is a novel entitled Walter, ¿por qué te fuiste? [Walter, Why Did You Go Away?]. For some reason that I can’t really explain, I decided I wanted to see if I could bring the novel over into English—maybe it’s because I was always trying to explain what it is that I love about this book to friends and family members who don’t speak Spanish. But while my goal was to translate Walter, I was smart enough to realize that this novel wasn’t a good choice as a first translation—it’s a beautiful and compelling piece and the plot is, in some ways, relatively simple, but it’s also very complex, with multiple narrators, shifting time-lines, a mixture of surrealism (e.g., a half-woman/half-horse character) and political realism (e.g., student protests and police violence during the final years of the Franco regime), etc. So I decided that I should translate Julia, Moix’s first and more straightforward novel, before I dove into the more complex second novel. Ironically enough, while I published my translation of Julia in the University of Nebraska Press European Women Writers Series, and I even published a much more recent book of Moix short stories, Of My Real Life I Know Nothing, I still haven’t found a publisher for my translation of Walter, which is sitting in a filing cabinet awaiting its rightful home.
LC: What do you love most and least about this work?
SK: I guess I should just admit it: My name is Sandy and I’m a translation-aholic. Not to minimize the seriousness of true and harmful addictions, but translation almost feels like a physical addiction to me. It’s the first thing I do almost every day (I try to set up my schedule so that I can translate in the morning before I teach my classes). On weekends or vacation days, I get to translate longer, which is the best kind of “vacation” I can imagine. Translation really feels like the embodiment of joy or spirituality or transcendence to me. It means playing with words, with sound, with meaning, with cultural manifestations. I can’t imagine any better way to spend my time.
What do I love least about this work? Well, not finding a publisher for a novel like Walter, ¿por qué te fuiste? is disappointing. Not only because of the time I spent translating something that hasn’t gone anywhere, but because the translation isn’t doing anyone any good sitting in a desk drawer. Ana María Moix (whom I first met over 20 years ago and with whom I shared many an afternoon/evening in Barcelona), died much too soon this past February at 66 years of age. If my translation of what I believe to be her greatest work could help her receive any more of the recognition that I believe she so richly deserves, that would be the fairy tale ending to this story, a culmination of sorts to my translation journey.
LC: Can you tell us a little about a recent project?
SK: Sometimes talking about just one project feels a little like trying to choose your favorite child. So how about if I tell you something about my most recent project in each of my genres: my most recent book-length translation is Xánath Caraza’s poetry collection Syllables of Wind/Sílabas de viento. What I really loved about working on this project was the challenge of attempting to approximate the beauty and strength and lyricism of Xanath’s poetry within the sound systems of another language. There are poems where Xanath’s rhythms and alliterations feel nearly as important as the meaning of the words, and I tried to reproduce those elements in English. For example:
La casa de los pájaros
Aleteos ligeros de aves de marfil
Árboles amarillos en el centro
Lluvia musical los agita
Aves de coral, de lapislázuli y jade
Aves ciegas de aletear incesante
De plumaje de palabras
De plumaje de humo
Aves de andar vacilante
Aves en el texto silencioso
Con frondas colmadas de viento
Esa casa me recibe
Música escurriendo de las hojas
Aves de alas extendidas
Con el alma transparente
(Ciudad de Oaxaca, México, enero de 2013)
The House of Birds
Fleeting fluttering of ivory birds
Yellow leaves in the center
Rhythmic rain rocks them
Birds of coral, of lapis lazuli and jade
Blind birds of incessant flapping
Of feathers of phrases
Of feathers of fire
Birds of faltering steps
Birds in the silent script
With wind-filled foliage
The house receives me
Rhythm dripping from the leaves
Birds with wide-spread wings
With transparent souls
(Oaxaca City, Mexico, January 2013)
Moving to non-fiction, my most recent translation is “Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the Daimler AG v. Bauman et al Case: Closing the Golden Door” by F. J. Zamora Cabot. In general, I must say that I am really fascinated by a series of texts I’ve been asked to translate that consider how legal decisions in the United States affect human rights issues on an international scale. I also love the serendipity of the fact that I am able to make use of my undergraduate majors (Philosophy and Government at Lawrence University), which I abandoned after I fell so head over heels with the Spanish language that, on the very day I was planning on submitting my law school application, I decided to apply to grad school in Spanish instead. I am now able to combine my background in all of those subjects to share the thoughts of Spanish political philosophers and human rights advocates with an international audience.
My most recent short story translation is Liliana Colanzi’s “1997,” which I published in the most recent edition of Two Lines. I love this story and the other Colanzi short story I translated (“Family Portrait”) so much that I’ve been dreaming about translating the rest of the book.
I can’t tell you which of my translations I am most proud of because each seems to become my favorite as I am working on it. But the beauty of the translator’s task is that we are always being introduced to something new, something different and unexpected and awe-inspiring. And we get to dive into it, pull it apart, get our hands dirty, and put it back together again in another language. What a fascinating job!
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