I’m heading out later this morning to drive to Toronto for the Canadian Writers’ Summit. It kicks off tomorrow with a Book Summit, followed by two more days of talks, and a Book Hub that is open to the public.
In conjunction with the Summit, The Writers’ Union of Canada has launched a worldwide campaign called #WhyWritersMatter. I’ve been following along on Twitter and pondering my own answer to this question/comment.
I have been stumped, though, feel almost speechless, because there is no one answer. Writers and books and words are my world. I read and write for a living, and I read and write in my leisure time. I cannot imagine my life without writers and words. Writers matter. They just do. Writers matter because they enrich our lives. Writers matter because they share knowledge and ideas. Writers matter because they make us think and reflect. Writers matter because they open up the world to us.
That last statement is also true of literary translators. Indeed, all of the above statements apply to literary translators. Because literary translators are writers and they literally (sorry!) bring us the world.
These thoughts feel even more profound to me today, having learned that Gregory Rabassa has died. I feel a particular sense of loss, one accompanied by a slight sense of guilt. How can I grieve a man I never met? What right do I have? Colleagues of mine knew Mr. Rabassa, met him, interviewed him. I only ever read him, and admired him. But that’s the thing, you see, I read him and he profoundly affected my life.
Rabassa brought Latin American literature to me, and, well, really, to all of us. The first book from the Latin American Boom that I read was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, translated by Gregory Rabassa.
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
It is considered one of the “100 Best First Lines from Novels.” It is certainly one that has stayed in my memory.
Rabassa’s own book, If This Be Treason: Translation and its Dyscontents. A Memoir, is one I have read over and over again. Nearly every page has at least one line highlighted. (My sincere apologies to those of you for whom this is blasphemy!)
These are a few of my favorites:
The translator, we should know, is a writer too. As a matter of fact, he could be called the ideal writer because all he has to do is write; plot, theme, characters, and all the other essentials have already been provided, so he can just sit down and write his ass off.
I translated [Hopscotch, by Julio Cortázar] as I read it for the first time. Even though it might have been a matter of that casual laziness, with time I have managed to convince my own Pyrrhonian self that it was precisely the way Julio meant it to be done.
It is my notion, loose as it might be, that when I’m translating a book I’m simply reading it in English.
Rabassa matters. As a translator and a writer. Every word we read matters. Every word we write matters. Every word we have the privilege to translate matters. And so we must thank writers and translators for the richness they bring to our lives.
I’ll be doing just that over the next few days at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. If you’re anywhere in the neighborhood, please come to the Book Hub on Friday and Saturday, where Intralingo will have a table. Pilar and I can’t wait to talk to you about words and writers and translators, and their importance in our lives, about #WhyWritersMatter and #WhyTranslatorsMatter too.
We’ll also be watching the Twittersphere to hear your thoughts, from wherever you are in the world, about what writers and translators mean to you.
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