I’m often contacted by
people who are interested in doing a PhD in translation, but they want help
coming up with ideas for topics. This is a bit odd, I suppose, because if
you’re going to do research, you should have enthusiasm for your topic, which
generally means there’s something that intrigues you that you want to devote
three or more years of your life to.
Nonetheless, here are
some general, broad suggestions for topics/approaches for a PhD dissertation:
(you do a translation and then write a critical commentary on it)
--the translation of a
--interpretation in specific
--subtitling of a
--translation as an
strategies for particular types of texts or specific challenges in translation
--an analysis of the
translation of a text/author to one or more languages
--translation and ethics
--translation as a
I’m sure you can think
of some more. Are there any additional suggestions?
English-to-Hebrew translator Gili Bar Hillel recently asked other translators, including me, for tips for new translators, which she then posted on her blog. Her original post was in Hebrew, but due to popular demand, she’s now put an English version up.
It’s time for another round-up of interesting articles and other links.
I love Oliver Burkeman’s weekly column in the Guardian (and his two books based on the column). A recent column was on writing. He notes: “It’s the writer and reader, side by side, scanning the landscape. The reader wants to see; your job is to do the pointing.”
The New Yorker questions whether literature should be useful.
The BBC notes that young people are lacking language skills. “The UK’s education system is failing to produce enough people with foreign-language skills to meet a growing need from business, the CBI has said. Nearly two-thirds of about 300 UK firms surveyed by the business lobby group said they preferred staff with these skills. French, German and Spanish were highly prized but Arabic and Mandarin were growing in importance, it said.”
Here is some
information about a new translation prize you might be interested in submitting
work for. Also see https://gulfcoastmag.org/contests/prize-in-translation for more details.
We Are Now Accepting Entries
For the Inaugural Gulf Coast
Deadline: August 31, 2014
Gulf Coast is now accepting entries for
the inaugural Gulf Coast Translation Prize. In 2014, the contest is open to
poetry in translation. The winner receives $1,000 and publication in the
journal. Two honorable mentions will also appear in issue 27.2, due out in
April 2015. All entries will be considered for paid publication on our website
as Online Exclusives.
This year’s contest will be judged by Jen Hofer, a Los
Angeles-based poet, translator, social justice interpreter, teacher, knitter,
book-maker, public letter-writer, urban cyclist, and co-founder with John
Pluecker of the language justice and literary experimentation collaborative
Antena. Her recent translations include the homemade chapbook En
las maravillas/In Wonder (Libros Antena/Antena Books, 2012); Ivory
Black, a translation of Myriam Moscona’s Negro marfil (Les
Figues Press, 2011, winner of translation prizes from the Academy of American
Poets and PEN); and two books from Dolores Dorantes by Dolores
Dorantes (Counterpath Press and Kenning Editions, 2008). Her
essays, translations and poetry are available or forthcoming from numerous
small presses, including Action Books, Atelos, Counterpath Press, Kenning
Editions, Insert Press, Les Figues Press, Litmus Press, LRL Textile Editions,
Palm Press, Subpress, Ugly Duckling Presse, and in various DIY/DIT
incarnations. She teaches bookmaking, poetics, and translation at CalArts
and at Otis College.
Poetry: Send up to 5 pages of poetry translated into English.
Preference will be given to contemporary work published within the last fifty
As part of your submission, include the text in its original
language, provide a brief synopsis (no more than 200 words) of the author you
are translating, and indicate whether you have, and can grant us, permission to
publish the original work and the translation. If you have rights to reprint
the original text in the U.S., please let us know that as well.
Demonstrations of Permission
We will not consider submissions without permissions. In your
submission, please provide one of the following:
--A document stating that the original text is in the public domain.
--From the copyright holder: Written
permission granting you right to translate the work in your contest submission.
Permission should name the work being translated, date consent was given, and
identify the copyright holder.
--Please let us know if you have rights to
reprint the original text in the U.S.
- Submit up to five translated
poems, including the original text, single .doc, .docx,
.rtf, or .pdf file.
- Only previously unpublished
work will be considered.
- The contest will be judged
blindly, so please do not include your cover letter, your name, or any contact
information in the uploaded document. This information should only be pasted in
the “Comments” field.
Contest Guidelines for Postal Mail Submissions
- Only previously unpublished
work will be considered.
- Please address postal mail
ATTN: Translation Prize
Department of English
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204-3013
- The contest will be judged blindly, so your contact information
should appear only on your cover letter.
- Please include your $17 reading fee, payable in U.S. dollars to
This review was originally
published in Wales Arts Review. It’s worth republishing here not just because
it’s about an interesting book in translation but also because the story of the
book’s translation is intriguing in and of itself!
by Anne Ch. Ostby
278 pp., Victoria, Australia: Spinifex, 2013.
translation by Marie Ostby
of Love by Anne Ostby tells a story that arguably
has not previously been discussed quite so openly, beautifully, and sorrowfully
in literature before. It is a depressing read, yes, but it also has a welcome
aura of hope, and belief in the human spirit. Human trafficking and
prostitution are issues that must get more attention; while this novel is set
in India, this is not just an Indian tale. Early on, the narrator notes,
“Principles were a luxury that no one in Prem Nagar could afford.” (p. 23)
Again, this could apply to many other locales around the world.
This is Ostby’s description of the women
principles in Prem Nagar who are unable to afford: “Girls sitting on chairs in
doorways, on covered wooden platforms, or on benches under the thatched roof,
in the semi-dark entrance to what they called home. Dressed in dazzling,
sequined saris, tight blouses in feisty red or elegant peacock blue, with their
shining hair oiled and newly combed. Heavily made-up eyes fixed in a distant
gaze, long earrings gleaming in the afternoon sun, aggressive, pink lipstick.
Slouching shoulders over small, pointy breasts. The workforce of the Town of
Love.” (p. 7)
If that doesn’t both break a reader’s heart
and draw a reader in, it’s hard to know what would.
Norwegian novelist Anne Ostby became
engaged in this topic by chance. As she wrote to me by email, “I lived in Iran
at the time [in 2007], and my husband had an Indian colleague. I knew he was
married, but his wife was not there, and I had heard something about her
running an NGO back home in India. But she visited Tehran now and then, and
during one of those visits I met her: Ruchira Gupta, founder and President of
the anti-trafficking NGO Apne Aap, which has helped thousands of women get out
of a life of prostitution and violence. She has received all sort of
international honours for her work, the UK Abolitionist Award and the Clinton
Global Citizen Award among them. Ruchira is an incredibly brave and inspiring
woman, and I am honoured that she has written an afterword to the book. But
back to Tehran: at our very first meeting, I asked Ruchira about her work. The
more I listened to her, the more I wanted to know, and when all of a sudden she
said, ”Why don’t you come visit me in India and see what we’re doing?”, I
immediately thought, ”Yes, I want to do that.””
Anne did go visit Ruchira in India. She
ended up making multiple trips, meeting women, seeing the work Apne Aap carried
out, doing research, and, eventually, writing the novel. Anne notes that she
was especially touched by the situation of Nat women in India; their families
often had multiple generations of prostitutes, and Ostby, as the mother to
three daughters, thought, “How it must be, how it must feel, to give birth to a
baby daughter, and know, holding that tiny body in your arms, that this is
going to be her future?”
That concern for the women (and even a
concern for the men who pimp them out and live off them) comes through clearly
in the novel. “Something had been shattered forever. All she could do now, all
anyone could do, was to wrap gentle arms around what was left. Cradling,
rocking, softly kissing the wound.” (p. 117) These women have a very hard life,
but some of the do finally find a way forward.
A reader can sense the research that has
gone into this book, but that doesn’t mean that Ostby is showing off, the way
some writers do. Her novel feels authentic, and not as though she is simply
cramming as many facts and details as she can into it. “The first puri
halwa-vendor wheeled in and parked his cart, the aroma of deep-fried bread and
coconut-sprinkled sweets drew in a breakfast-hungry crowd around him. Smells
and sounds coloured the morning…” (p. 255) Such sentences set the scene and
bring the story alive, serving as a vibrant backdrop to this sad tale of
For me, one of the most interesting aspects
of the production of this book, besides the research, is the translation. The
translator is one of the novelist’s daughters, Marie Ostby. Anne told me by
email that Marie is a PhD student in English at the University of Virginia in
the US and is fully bilingual. Anne wrote me, “I knew she would "get"
the book, and my language, down to the slightest nuance and detail. ..I knew no
one could do it better. She has an extremely fine-tuned ear for both Norwegian
and English language, and she was touched by the story and wanted to convey the
exact sentiments that she felt were present in the Norwegian ms. Additionally,
I wouldn't have been able to cooperate as closely with any other translator as
I did with Marie. During the process, which took months, we were in touch over
every chapter and every paragraph, at times down to detailed discussions over a
word. I think she felt no pressure to consult me like this, it was more a
matter of really wishing to convey the exact same sentiment in the English text
that she felt in the original Norwegian one. It was a slow and at times
painstaking exercise, but I couldn't have wished for a better translation of my
text.” It isn’t often that one hears about a child translating her mother’s
literary work, and judging by the excellent English version here (I’ve also
looked at the original Norwegian text), Marie Ostby is a skilled translator,
and we will hopefully be seeing more of her translation work (perhaps she’ll
translate more of her mother’s books).
In an afterword by Ruchira Gupta, she notes
that this book “is an important voice in the history of slave resistance…The
women of Apne Aap want a world in
which it is unacceptable to buy or sell another human being, and they want to
imagine an economy in which one is not forced to sell oneself. This book is
about such women, and also shows that any one of us could be a Rukmini or
Darya.” (p. 278). And as Anne Ostby has pointed out, “we are talking not only
about a gender issue, but also about a social issue, and a poverty issue. Human
trafficking is complex in its cruelty, with so many players involved, and yet
it is so alarmingly simple: it’s a violation of human dignity, an unacceptable
trade with human beings as merchandise.”
This is indeed an unacceptable violation of
human dignity. We must bear witness to it, by reading works such as Town of Love, and we must help
organisations such as Apne Aap as they attempt to ameliorate the situation for
Originally from Chicago, I lived in southern Sweden for nearly 5.5 years, and moved to southern Wales in September 2006. I completed a Ph.D. translation studies in June 2009 at Swansea University, with a dissertation on the translation of children's literature.
Now I live in Norwich, England, where I am a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and I also work as a translator, writer, and editor.
Contact me at bravenewwords (AT) gmail (DOT) com.