Q: How did you get into translation?
A: I was initiated into the world of translation by my mentor, Professor Gregory Rabassa, who established the Ph.D. program in translation (Comparative Literature with a specialization in literary translation) at The City University of New York in the late 1970s. Rabassa was a hands-on teacher and he encouraged me and my fellow students to immediately begin to translate and publish our work. Since my area of focus is Brazilian literature, I was able to make connections with writers in Brazil who at the time were not internationally known, including Clarice Lispector, Rubem Fonseca, Nélida Piñon and others. I traveled to Brazil many times during my graduate studies and did my dissertation research there with the assistance of a grant from the Organization of American States. The authors I worked with also became the subjects of my dissertation, which I published under the title “The City in Brazilian Literature” (1982). The rest is history, and I continue to translate the authors from that period as well as rising authors, the grand children of the generation I started with, who represent new trends in Brazilian literature. I also spent many years living and teaching in Colombia and I have translated Spanish language authors, as well as Lusophone writers from Portugal and Africa.
Q: What was the journey of discovering your most recent work, The Last Twist of the Knife by João Almino? What were the next steps into its translation and publication?
A: I first met João Almino when I was Director of the Center for Translation Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2008-2015). At the time he was Consul General of Brazil in Chicago. (Today he serves as Brazilian Ambassador to Ecuador). We interacted on a number of occasions, including collaboration on arranging for Brazilian authors to visit the University. In those years, some of his earlier work was published by Dalkey Archive Press, an independent literary press associated with the UIUC program in Translation Studies. The publisher of the Press, the late John O’Brien, invited me to translate Almino’s latest novel, The Last Twist of the Knife (Entre facas, algodão). I started the project in 2019 and worked closely with the author on the translation. The English title, suggested by the author, comes from the T.S. Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” which ends with these lines:
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.
The last twist of the knife.
Q: Between teaching and working, what does a regular day look like for you?
A: I am a morning person, so I get right to work at around 8 am. My routine is to attend to teaching matters first. After I have finished lesson preparation, grading, answering student questions, and correspondence with colleagues, I move on to my translation projects. I am presently working on a trio of novels by the Portuguese writer, António Lobo Antunes, who writes about his experiences as a medic in Angola during the war of independence, and the country’s subsequent struggles in a civil war among former anti-colonial guerrilla movements. I plan time each day to walk, practice yoga, and work in my garden. I am an avid reader and I enjoy reading in my leisure time.
Q: Do you have any advice for MSTI grads?
A: I recommend finding a niche within the field of translation that matches your interests and skills. It takes time to do this and to become really good at it. Persist and pursue excellence, build professional and personal networks, and most importantly, enjoy what you do. Translation can be a lifelong profession; if you love what you do, it won’t seem like work!
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: This has been a challenging time for the world. I commend all of our students for pursuing their studies under difficult circumstances while managing work and family obligations. Pursuing a graduate degree in even the best of times requires hard work and sacrifice, and much more so during this pandemic. It also brings great rewards, and I trust that the MSTI education will bring our graduates many dividends in the future.