American Literary Translators Association Newsletter
Special Election issue July 2010

BackToTopVoting will be taking place this summer to elect

 a Secretary-Treasurer of the Association as
well as two members at large of the Board.
Ballots will be sent out on July 15.
The deadline for returning the ballots
is September 17.

Thanks to Ellen Watson (Chair), Barbara Paschke
and Gary Racz for putting together this outstanding
slate of nominees. 

You may have to click in your browser to view the photos

The slate of nominees is as follows (click to view candidate's statements):

For Secretary-Treasurer

James Hoggard

Russell Scott Valentino

At-large Board members

Anna Guercio

Stephen Kessler

Richard Newman

Sergio Waisman

Also in this issue

News from the Translation Field


On the Lighter Side

Slate of Nominees

Secretary-Treasurer (Elect one for two-year term):

JamesHoggardJames Hoggard    

Having been a teacher and writer for decades, I would like tJames Hoggardo say that ALTA is one of the two organizations that have been passionate and deep points of reference for me. My involvement with ALTA has been a family affair, my wife Lynn and I having been loyalists to the cause since the mid-1980s when I gave my first bilingual reading at an ALTA conference. That first meeting excited me, and my commitment to the organization has intensified through the years, so much so that I have to say that, in many different ways, ALTA has given me much by way of cultural and intellectual development, and I respect these gifts tremendously. An active translator as well as poet, essayist, writer of fiction and playwright, I am the Perkins-Prothro Distinguished Professor of English at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. Named Poet Laureate of Texas for 2000, I am a former NEA Fellow and past two-term president of The Texas Institute of Letters. I have served ALTA in several ways, including as an ongoing member of the Investment Committee and as a board member this past year (to fill a slot that vacated mid-term). I see my involvement with translation in general and ALTA in particular as a lifetime commitment.

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RussellScottValentinoRussell Scott Valentino  

I a
m the editor of The Iowa Review and Russell Valentinofounder and publisher of the non-profit independent press Autumn Hill Books, which publishes only literary translations. I'm also a professor of Slavic and comparative literature at the University of Iowa, where I've done lots of administrative work (as a department chair, on advisory boards, selection committees, and task forces) that has provided invaluable experience in how large organizations work. At Iowa, I teach in the Translation Workshop, which offers an MFA in Literary Translation, and many of my students and former students are ALTA members and frequent conference attendees. I think it's very important to get as many young translators involved with ALTA as possible in order to keep the organization developing and improving. My translations (from Italian, Croatian, and Russian) of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have been published in a variety of venues, from trade and university presses to specialty journals and micro-lit magazines. Increasing the presence of publishers at ALTA events and activities is another important way of keeping the organization relevant to its members, and I would hope to see that as a priority of the ALTA board in the coming years. I've received two NEA literature grants for translation (2002, 2010), one from the Howard Foundation (2005), and another approximately $500,000 in research and institutional grants in the past ten years, which has given me some solid accounting experience (at the very least, I know when to let the accountants take the lead). Finally, I've been an ALTA member since approximately 2004, a frequent contributor to ALTAlk since its inception, and a regular attendee of the annual national conference since 2005.  
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At-large Board Members: (Elect two for three-year terms):
AnnaGuercioAnna Guercio   

I beAnna Gueciogan my ALTA experience as a Fellow, and have since had the privilege of being a reader for both the Fellows competition and the National Translation Award, as well as a conference reader and panelist. Though still a recent member of the organization, I've always identified foremost as a literary translator in both my critical and creative endeavors. After majoring in literary translation at Brown, I had the privilege to take part in the Iowa Translation MFA as an Arts Fellow and an avid supporter of the International Writing Program.

I'm now in the final stages of a PhD at the University of California, Irvine, where I hold the International Center for Writing and Translation's Schaeffer Fellowship. My dissertation argues for the figure of the translator (and widespread study of translation practice and theory) as key to the theoretical and pedagogical problems posed by "world literature."

As for my creative work, I'm writing this from at the Banff
International Literary Translation Centre, where I'm polishing a collection by Mexican poet and "underclown" José Eugenio Sánchez. A sample can be found at the ever-wonderful Words Without Borders.

For me, the most valuable aspect of ALTA is the sense of community and support it provides those of us who so often feel far-flung and ill-understood. The unabashed excitement of ALTA conferences, ALTAlk, and the broader network is truly remarkable, and I'd love the opportunity to shoulder some responsibility for sustaining and nurturing it as a member of the board.

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StephenKesslerStephen Kessler  
I firStephen Kesslerst joined ALTA in the early 1980s but let my membership lapse for several years before Carolyn Tipton cajoled me to join up again in the late 1990s.  Since attending the conference in New York City in 1999, I have been a regular at ALTA conferences, especially valuing the collegial friendships it inspires.  (I also met my wife at an ALTA conference.)  Translation has been an integral part of my literary practice -- as a poet, essayist, journalist, editor, publisher, and novelist -- since the early 1970s.  My versions of Spanish and Latin American writers such as Vicente Aleixandre, Pablo Neruda, Julio Cortázar, Luis Cernuda, Jorge Luis Borges, Fernando Alegría, Ariel Dorfman, César Vallejo and others have appeared steadily over the last 35 years in periodicals, anthologies, and more than a dozen books.  (A more comprehensive account of my publishing history can be found at  What I love and admire about ALTA and its members is their devotion to literature and their mutual respect for and encouragement of one another.  As a graduate school dropout and someone who has worked for my entire adult life with small independent presses and alternative newspapers, I lean more toward alliances with PEN and AWP than with ATA or MLA.  I am most interested in encouraging younger writers and translators to engage in the intrinsic pleasures and rewards of immersion in other languages and literatures, as well as in the professional service of making such works available in English.
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RichardNewmanRichard Newman
I Richard Newmanbecame a translator of classical Iranian poetry by chance, when a friend recommended me as a native-English- speaking poet with some command of Persian to the International Society for Iranian Culture (ISIC), a non-profit organization looking to produce and publish literary retranslations of some of the masterpieces of classical Iranian literature, a body of work to which very few contemporary translators are paying attention. ISIC commissioned me to do five books, three of which I have completed: Selections from Saadi's Gulistan and Selections from Saadi's Bustan (Global Scholarly Publications, 2004 and 2006 respectively), as well as The Teller of Tales: Stories from Shahnameh (forthcoming from Junction Press). I also co-translated with Professor John Moyne all of the poetry in his A Bird in the Garden of Angels: On the Life and Times and An Anthology of Rumi (Mazda Publishers 2007). ALTA, mostly through its annual conference, has been central to my development as a translator. As a forum for presenting my work and hearing the work of others, it has provided me with a marvelous education in a field to which I was entirely new. Equally importantly, however, despite my initial sense of myself as an "accidental translator" -- not to mention an ignorant one, since I knew next to nothing about the work I was translating before I was commissioned -- the warm and collegial atmosphere of the conference made me feel immediately welcome among peers, which helped to build my confidence.

I would welcome the chance to give back to the organization, and when I think of what new and useful perspective I could bring to the board, I think of the fact that I teach at a community college. Two-year schools have become sites of real growth in higher education and a lot of talented writers and translators are taking jobs in such schools. In my department alone, there are four translators besides myself, and I know of at least one more in the Department of Foreign Languages. As far as I know, none of is a member of ALTA. I am active in AWP's Two Year College Caucus, and my experience there demonstrates that two-year college faculty can be an energized and enthusiastic constituency. It would be good to bring that kind of energy to ALTA.

I am a Professor in the English Department of Nassau Community College, where I coordinate the Creative Writing Project, which will soon be offering an AA in Creative Writing. (One further note: as Coordinator, I participate in AWP as a Program Director -- which might be useful in finding ways for ALTA and AWP to connect.)
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SergioWaismanSergio Waisman   
ISergio Waismann 1995, I was an ALTA Travel Fellowship Winner and was able to attend my first ALTA conference in Austin, Texas; I have been an enthusiastic ALTA member ever since. I have translated two books by the Argentine Ricardo Piglia; three books for Oxford University Press' Library of Latin America; and a new version of The Underdogs: A Novel of the Mexican Revolution for Penguin Classics. I am a contributing translator in the MLA's An Anthology of Spanish-American Modernismo and have published other Latin American writers in translation in various U.S. journals and anthologies. In 2000, I received an NEA Translation Fellowship Award for my work with The Absent City by Ricardo Piglia. In 2005, I published the book of criticism Borges and Translation: The Irreverence of the Periphery, which was also published in Spanish that same year. In 2004, I published my first novel, Leaving, which I myself translated into Spanish and published in 2010 in Argentina as Irse. I am currently Chair of the Department of Romance, German & Slavic Languages & Literatures and Associate Professor of Spanish & International Affairs at The George Washington University.
I believe ALTA should be actively addressing the divide between theory and practice. In my opinion, ALTA's strengths reside in the collegiality and linguistic and cultural diversity of its members. Some see literary translation as an art; others as scholarly research and investigation; in most cases it is surely a combination of the two. I would like to find ways for these two approaches to speak to each other, a conversation certain to be rich and productive. Such dialogues would allow ALTA to further increase its academic and intellectual rigor without losing any of its creativity and relaxed nature. As a board member I would seek to reach out to graduate students, junior faculty, and young translators or scholars of translation studies, even as we maintain and continue to learn from the legacy of our more established literary translators.

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NewsFromTheTranslationFieldNEWS  FROM


New York is the most linguistically diverse city in the world, with a remarkable trove of endangered tongues that have taken root there - languages born in every corner of the globe and now more commonly heard in various corners of New York than anywhere else. "It is the capital of language density in the world," said Prof. Daniel Kaufman, an  adjunct professor of linguistics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. "We're sitting in an endangerment hot spot where we are surrounded by languages that are not going to be around even in 20 or 30 years."  In an effort to keep those voices alive, Professor Kaufmanan has helped start a project, the Endangered Language Alliance, to identify and record dying languages, many of which have no written alphabet, and encourage native speakers to teach them to compatriots. Read the entire article in the New York Times of April 28.
On the same topic, the website of WNYC points out that there are over 140 languages spoken in New York City. Over 46% of New York residents speak a language other than English at home. More than 25% of residents have limited English proficiency and say they cannot adequately communicate with their health care providers.  The website offers four maps of languages spoken in New York, and an additional bonus - links to the live audio streaming of stations WNYC and WQXR. Read it (and hear it) at the WNYC website.
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  Vantar þýðendur úr íslensku á ensku-næg vinna!
If you know what that means, then Iceland has a job for you. Iceland's banking system has collapsed, its economy is in turmoil and its volcano has blotted the sky with ash. As a result, things have never looked better for the small cadre of Icelandic translators who render the North Germanic tongue of 320,000 island-dwellers into something the rest of the world can understand. The remnants of Iceland's three major banks conduct creditors' meetings in Icelandic. Many of the creditors are foreign. Interpreters are needed. Read the article in the Wall Street Journal of April 30.


No, that's not the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court of Canada, where judges may have to become fully bilingual if a bill brought before the Senate passes into law. Bill C-232 would require all judges in the highest court of the land to be able to read, speak and understand both French and English without the use of an interpreter.

The bill is meant to champion "justice and equality for all citizens in our country," according to Liberal Senator Claudette Tardif. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Official Languages Act say there should be equal access to both languages.
"Its purpose is to correct an injustice and that Canadians should not only have the right to be heard in the official language of their choice, but should also have the right to be understood." Read the entire article in the Toronto Globe and Mail of April 20.
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From the moment people are born, they learn to make associations and to understand words depending on the context of a sentence. This learning continues throughout life, so teaching machines to make common sense assumptions about language is a mammoth task. Over the years, researchers have been making inroads into improving voice recognition and speech-to-text software, but being able to recognize words is still a long way from machines that actually understand what people are saying.

Now the Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) in California is working on an ambitious project with the aim of taking computers' language skills to the next level. To read the rest of this interesting article, go to BBC online. In an accompanying video, Danny Bobrow, a research fellow at PARC, explains how models of the world help machines begin to understand context.
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NPR has recommendations for summer reading on its website. A number of lists can be found under headings such as Best Of The Bestsellers: Wisdom Of The Crowds, Summer Books That Make The Critics' Cut, Top Reads: Summer Heat Sparks Rise In Crime Novels, and Fiction, Long And Short, For Summertime Escapes. For all the details, go to the NPR website.


Creole is the only language spoken and understood by all Haitians, and the majority speak Creole only. Yet, the language of instruction in schools is French. The use of French as the language of instruction excludes around 90 percent of Haitians for whom French is an inaccessible foreign tongue. In an article in the Boston Globe, MIT associate professor of linguistics Michel DeGraff,himself a native speaker of Creole born and raised in Haiti, proposes that Spanish or English, not French, be promoted as a link between Haiti and its neighbors. Read the article and join the discussion at this link to the Boston Globe dated June 16.
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The collection Best European Fiction 2010, published by Dalkey Archive Press and edited by Aleksandar Hemon is available $15.95 (paper) from the website. The book is also available on Amazon's Kindle reader. The site features a review by Publisher's Weekly and Booklist, and sample pages are available to read on the site. You may find it at Best European Fiction 2010.
Linguists are trying to harness the wisdom of crowds to do what machines can't. It's known as crowd-sourcing, and researchers think it could help them get closer to something they've been pursuing for decades: the perfect translation machine.

According to Philip Resnik, who teaches linguistics at the University of Maryland, computer translators like Babelfish and Google Translate work best when they have lots of translation data to learn from. "It's possible that crowd-sourcing will not get us all the way to fully automatic, high-quality translation," Resnik says. "But it can get us a lot closer, by bringing humans and machines closer together in a way that hasn't happened before. See the entire article on the NPR website.

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As reported on Southern California Public Radio, language professors at Cal State rallied to support the foreign language curriculum as the university sought to close a nearly $39 million funding gap. The university plans to drop the bachelors and masters degrees in German as well as the masters degree in French. Professors argued that cutting the majors would disrupt business school programs that train students to conduct business in European countries. Public schools would suffer, instructors said, because some students who earn those foreign language degrees plan to teach in public schools. Read the entire article online here.

In a similar story, Southeastern Louisiana University (SLU) may bid French studies adieu due to budget cuts. From a numerical standpoint, there aren't many people to harm. According to a university spokesperson, people majoring in these subjects make up the smallest group of SLU students -- 20 in French and five in French education. The resulting saving, which also will mean one less department head and the loss of 3 faculty members, should amount to about $400,000 a year. You may read the story in the Times-Picayune of June 21.
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Surely none of us would have a problem designating the following statements as false but they are neatly and systematically refuted in the latest Estrin Report
  • You just "run the document through your computer" and then print out the translation
  • Anyone who took a foreign language in high school or college can translate
  • All you need is a dictionary to translate
  • Any bilingual person can translate
Read the complete article on The Estrin Report.


Spurred by the popularity of Swedish writer Stieg Larsson's trilogy, which has sold more than 40 million copies world-wide, U.S. publishers are combing the globe for the next big foreign crime novel. While major publishing houses have long avoided works in translation, many are now courting international literary agents, commissioning sample translations, tracking best-seller lists overseas and pouncing on writers who win literary prizes in Europe and Asia. The result is a new wave of detective fiction that's broadening and redefining the classic genre. Read the rest of the article in the Wall Street Journal of July 2.

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In attempting to adapt to the Internet age, several public libraries, including Boston's, plan to launch a novel approach to loaning books: letting patrons check-out digital scans over the Internet of books still protected by copyright. About 2/3 of libraries now permit downloading of books. The advantage of this arrangement is that libraries are thus no longer limited by the number of books on their shelves and at the same time can make their own collections more accessible. You may see the entire interview in a Wall Street Journal video dated June 28.


A British-born interpreter, Amanda Galsworthy, chief translator to French presidents, gives her insights into the pitfalls of her profession in an article in the online BBC News. One of her favorites stories was how a Japanese translator was struggling to translate a joke that was really not funny, and not translatable. He told his waiting listeners "the speaker was telling a joke which was unfunny and impossible to translate but it would give him great pleasure if you would all laugh". That brought down the house. See the whole article in the BBC News article of May 29.
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The September issue will include a section entitled "Members in the News" listing personal and professional achievements of ALTA members. Sections will include Book Translations, Articles in Anthologies and Journals, Critical Articles about Translation, Readings, Presentations, Awards and Grants. Please share your news with your fellow members! Information should be provided using our questionnaire and following our format. Please try to follow this format, as without some order of presentation, the time required is just too great. Please use the Submission Form which is online at Submission Form for ALTA Members. (A reminder will follow in late August).


The summer issue of Cerise Press, an international online journal founded in 2009 and based in the United States and France, is now available. The emagazine sets as its goal "building cross-cultural bridges by featuring artists and writers in English and translations, with an emphasis on French and Francophone works." 


INTERNATIONAL TRANSLATORS CONFERENCE, the translation workplace holds its 7th international event from October 1-3 in Prague, Czech Republic, where translators worldwide will meet to network, expand their business and learn about the new trends of the language and translation industry. Join this celebration of the languages and translation profession! Enquiries: Web address:

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World's Longest Name

kakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu is the Maori name for a hill, 305 m high, in New Zealand. The name on the sign that marks this hill translates roughly as "The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who traveled about, played his nose flute to his loved one." At 85 letters, it is one of the longest words used in English.


This is a short, hilarious Scottish video about the perils of voice recognition technology on the Singularity weblog. While it is dangerously funny it does raise some good questions about the cultural biases of voice recognition in particular and technology in general. You may view it at the Singularity weblog.


A new application, Google Translate for Animals, translates animal speech into human vernacular. A handset records the animal sounds and transmits them to the Google server, where the speech recognition and translation software analyzes the neurological and biological acoustics... To see more of this nonsense, click here.

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ALTA News is a monthly publication of the American Literary Translators Association. Please send all news items to


The next newsletter will be published in September. The deadline for submissions is September 6.

Contact information:
ALTA Newsletter
Editor: Lee Chadeayne

Tel. 978-263-0613

The University of Texas at Dallas
800 West Campbell Road - JO 51
Richardson, TX  75080-3021
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