Tuesday, November 12, 2019

After the translation conference

I study the program, zeroing in on the participants' bios. The section where the gold is hidden.

That's what I do after the conference.

This is especially so of the American Literary Translators Association conference, which concluded in Rochester on Sunday. I still have the program from the 2016 edition, and until a few months ago, I would occasionally pore over the bios on nights when I desperately needed a distraction (and a dream), nights when I would climb into bed with a piece of chocolate.

I read the section with the participant bios like you might the box scores or the obits. They brim with details of a particular kind, details that are literary catnip.

Oh she published a translation there?

Oh he won that award?

Oooh, she studied there?

Like take this one above -- of Chad Post (I know Chad won't mind).

Doesn't he sound fancy?! Interesting? The cool thing is the ego factor is at a minimum at ALTA. People are truly nice and helpful -- even some of the ones who have accomplished the most.

Maybe it's because we all know we're beholden to a mission that is pretty difficult -- making Americans/Anglophone readers care about books written far away and in some cases long ago, in a different language.

Monday, November 04, 2019

The Map of Jeanne's places

May 2019
I was out for a walk the other day before an early editing shift and I strolled over to the old cemetery -- the small one, the one I love, the one no one notices, the one with very old tombstones. And I thought, this is one of my places here in Connecticut. I don’t have many – I haven’t had time or the inclination to build up walking routes in my “new” town. And I thought, I need a Map of Jeanne's Places.
It would be an unassuming map, for sure. The small pocket park you dead-end into if you make the left after Cosmos on Farmington. The UCONN Law School campus, a lovely Anglican-style (or so it seems) place buried in a neighborhood by Elizabeth Park (itself, another "point" on the map). 

And this cemetery, with its cherub-faced tombstones. 
Lost Diary entry

Friday, October 25, 2019

On Leaving Atlanta

Aug. 8, 2017
I write on a kitchen counter cluttered with all the items that were removed from side tables that have also since been removed – the house is empty and I think we are, too. We are for all intents and purposes departed – most of the goodbyes have already been said, the personal effects carted away. But we are lingering in a skeleton of a home so we can clean. 

Strange to think I don’t like goodbyes since with all the moving about over the years, I say them much more often than the average person.
How do I feel? Well, I've dipped into Van Morrison (“St. Dominick’s Preview”) so I am courting the ache. Plus, all the reporting for Delta and the AJC Personal Journeys essay. I am stewing in nostalgia, by choice, as if to throw a bucket of cold water on my face: You’re leaving, you’re leaving, you’re really doing it, Jeanne. 

Lost diary entry

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Book list -- 2019

I've set myself a goal of reading 50 books this year. Not sure I will make it! (I note, sadly). I started off with a set of particular books I planned to read but have had quite the year of exploring new books and of deliberately seeking out books in the genres I most interested in cultivating (books from the Fascist period in Italy, for example). That means that I often will put aside a book I am reading to make room for a new arrivel. Hence, the best laid plans of mice and men....But here's what I've been reading and here's what I plan to read:

Books I've already read:
L'Isola di Arturo -- Elsa Morante
La Lunga Vita di Marianna Ucria -- Dacia Maraini
Sagittario -- Natalia Ginzburg
Le voci della sera -- Natalia Ginzburg (re-read)
Happiness as Such -- Natalia Ginzburg
Suspended Sentences -- Patrick Modiano
Paris Nocturne -- Patrick Modiano
Villa Triste -- Patrick Modiano
Suspended Sentences -- Patrick Modiano
L'uomo che non ho sposato -- Rossano Campo
Country Girl (memoir) -- Edna O'Brien
Harry Potter, Book #4
Wide Sargasso Sea -- Jean Rhys
Best American Essays, 2018
Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewell -- Pico Iyer
Starting Out in the Evening -- Brian Morton
A Girl Returned -- Donatella Di Pietrantonio

Books I've begun to read
Menzogna e sortilegio -- Elsa Morante (insanely long -- may take a while!)
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous -- Ocean Vuong
Lost in the Spanish Quarter -- Heddi Goodrich
Le parole tra noi leggere -- Lalla Romano

Books I'd like to read but unsure if I will find
A Stranger's Pose -- Emanuel Iduma
A Small Place -- Jamaica Kincaid

Books I planned to read when I began this list:
Tutti i nostri ieri -- Natalia Ginzburg (AGAIN)
Cattiva -- Rossella Milone
Il Partigiano Johnny -- Beppe Fenoglio
County Girls (fiction) -- Edna O'Brien
“The Brutal Friendship” by Deakin
“War in Italy, 1943-1945” by R. Lamb

Annual re-reading
A Christmas Carol -- Charles Dickens (have read it now several years -- we'll see if I get to it)

Books I'm re-reading for my Literature of Travel class (not sure they count -- b/c skimming in part)
Tropic of Cancer -- H. Miller
Il Giorno della Civetta/Day of the Owl (first time reading it in English!) -- Sciascia
Out of Africa
Aran Islands -- Synge

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Montreal memento shrine

I create memento shrines when I return from Italy (or when Mike does) -- carefully-arranged piles of all the precious Italian goods I'm about to enjoy. You've probably seen them on this blog. Until now, I reserved that personal activity for one and only one place (Italy) but now Montreal is becoming one of my beloved places and as such, it's getting the shrine treatment. This one sits on my desk and I can't bear to dislodge it. Paradoxically, it means I am not actually enjoying in full the bounty I brought back. But I find just looking at the cover of the children's book "Je suis terrible" (reflecting in every way my level of French!) or glancing at the Montreal t-shirt fills me with coziness, with a sense of being sated.

To be clear, Italy remains in the top position. And yes, my house is a mess because there are probably  mini-shrines all over the place, if not to cities I love then to groupings of books, and also plant displays and mementos that escaped the shrine.

Is this where I shrug and say c'est la vie?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Libri & livres (or What I bought in Montreal)

I've fallen in love with Montreal of late for many reasons, and certainly chief among them is the possibility of buying actual Italian books and even bilingual editions of Italian books where the second language in the language pair is French! (Yes, I go to Montreal to buy Italian books, ci mancherebbe)

But I also buy books (and magazines) in pure, straight French, even though I don't speak or read the language fluently. Truth be told, narrative French (as opposed to the French of newspapers or websites or menus) outstrips my comprehension abilities.

All is not lost, though, because I came upon a solution this trip:

Graphic novels!

In this case, a short one by Julie Delporte, an emerging Montreal-based writer and cartoonist originally from France.

During these three-trips-in-three-years to Montreal, I've found that I simply still love languages, and in particular, any language that I can master a bit.

I yearn for them, and for the possibility of speaking, even if only briefly, in another language (it helps that I've let go the pretense that I must speak perfectly).

I cherish the interaction I'm able to conjure with merchants or other people I meet. Sure, they can typically speak English but speaking to them in their native tongue opens a particular door into their lives.

I certainly feel that way in Italy and when speaking Italian with Italians. Pamela Druckerman warned recently in a column for The New York Times about the dangers of the ubiquity of English everywhere in Europe (one interesting observation she makes -- Americans may begin applying to colleges in Europe that are much, much cheaper!).

I found her piece interesting and would add one word to the list of things lost in the all-English world: TONE. Italians, for example, are quickly polishing their English skills. But transferring their tone? Duplicating the cadence they use when they speak Italian? Not so easy. And I live for the tone Italians use when they speak. The exasperation one hears in the voice of the barista who's Monday-morning-quarterbacking a soccer game -- it's worth every bit of trouble one might encounter learning or maintaining one's Italian.

So when I am next in Montreal (and I hope to be there frequently in the coming years), I will be tossing around phrases like "bonne journée," without caring about being fluent or sounding good. I only care about having an insightful interaction with the Montreal French-speaking population.

And I will be buying books like this one (which I found at the lovely Drawn & Quarterly bookstore).

Friday, July 26, 2019

On Keeping a Notebook (for Longreads)

The fine editors at Longreads let me write about one of my true passions -- keeping a notebook.

Or lots of notebooks. The one in my car, for example, plus specific journals for trips to Italy and a fancy leather-bound number for fiction (aspirational, to be sure) that my sisters gave me when I finished my MFA at Bennington.

I write by computer, of course, and I even keep a notebook-style journal in my Dropbox account. But I’ve come to cherish my notebooks, and perhaps especially my car journal which I use, as I mention in the Longreads piece, often by leaning it against the steering wheel, my eye moving between the page and the road. 

Those entries tend to gush with emotion because if I’ve bothered to record a thought in the car diary, it’s an urgent one, often scrawled while the car is still coming to a halt, and the handwriting attests to it. 

It’s a jumble of information, a place, for instance, to write down lines for stories I may never finish, like, “’I wouldn’t kill him yet,’” I say as I meet her at the front door.” The entries are often short out of necessity; one from October of 2013 reads simply, “I think I’m losing my fingerprints.” The next day, the babysitter called me at work, and I wrote in the journal about talking to my son: “I hear his voice down the phone line, tiny, bewildered. ‘Mommy.’ Then again, ‘Mommy.’” 

Anyway, you can read my piece for Longreads at their site by clicking this link.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Writing about my translation-in-progress for Ploughshares magazine

I have written an essay about the book I am translating, focusing on the hidden indignities of the female characters' lives and how they can appear like precursors to the stories we're hearing in this new #MeToo era.

(You can find it here on the Ploughshares blog.)
Mariateresa Di Lascia finished writing her magnum opus, Passaggio in ombra, 25 years ago this year -- meaning she could have no notion of #MeToo.

Indeed, as I mention in my essay, she wrote the novel "long before the words “me too” meant anything other than “ditto.”  But I see the book as incredibly pertinent to the way our society is finally grappling with how a woman’s life is often marked by an endless series of hidden indignities that mar and distort. While the prose may at times have an antiquated bent, the crushing double standards dished out to the novel’s heroines are disturbingly familiar."

I use the character of Giuppina as one of the more salient examples; she  is raped and forced to give up her child. "Who rapes her?" I wrote. "A friend of her father’s. A friend. She’s a fictional character yet that description gives me the chills. This is a moment where the trauma women experience is finally coming to light. And this is a novel where the trauma women experience forms the backbone of the narrative."
This little book published 25 years ago is seeded with little incidents such that all kinds of crimes against women are hidden in plain sight.
As I mention in the Ploughshares piece, that tells me the value of exploring older books to see what they can tell us—to see what they have been telling us all along, whether we realized it or not. 
How long do we need to know something before the urge to act on this knowledge bursts upon us? 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

My Year in Writing*

I won't lie. It might be better to re-christen this rubric -- at least for this year -- the Year in Translating.

That's because, on the writing front, in some ways, there's very little to report. Because of my teaching duties at UCONN and the translation projects I've begun, I published very little this year and most of my writing was devoted to book reviews and critical essays (including one for Literary Hub about an Italian woman writer finally winning the Strega literary prize after 15 years of male winners -- see link below).

In other ways, there are some important milestones to report.

*I won the 2018 PEN America Grant for the English Translation of Italian Literature. It was a thrill, and a heady recognition for anyone in the literary translation field. And also: that's $5,000 in the bank! Now I just need to publish this beautiful, little Italian novel (Passaggio in ombra by Mariateresa Di Lascia).

*I also published two short story translations and a novel excerpt translation. Click on the link below to read a gorgeous short story by F. Marzia Esposito (published thanks to Angie Cruz whom I met at Bennington):


*These translations included my first in-print translation courtesy of the Kenyon Review for a lovely little story by Francesca Scotti (see photo above).

*Last but not least, I received my first personal rejection from The New Yorker for a short story I translated. Yes, a personal rejection that included my name from a real person (the fiction editor!) and kind words about my submission! From The New Yorker! Yes, that New Yorker.

I will admit I would have preferred to publish more writing, particularly of the non-critical variety (and receive a yes from The New Yorker on the translation). The time that I spent grading and preparing lessons -- ARGH!

But as I continue my journey with writing, I see how long the road is but also how I can reconstruct my personal road map with new destinations and side routes that I believe will help me reach the final goal.

What do I mean? I believe translating a novel is a very fine, self-run apprenticeship on how to write fiction or how to publish a book of nonfiction. (It's sounds slightly delusional, I know, so I was thrilled to read something to that effect in an essay in an anthology on translation edited by Lynne Sharon Schwartz -- my old Bennington prof -- called Crossing Borders).

So the final destination for me remains writing a book. I've just taken a few detours.

I also unfortunately have a penchant for beginning so many things that I don't finish! ARGH! Some of the writing projects I've worked on this year include:

"Polly's Guide to Italian Men" (fiction -- maybe)
"Polly's Adventures in Italy" (in diary format)
"How Italy Ruined My Life" (nonfiction)

Will they ever see the light of day? Who knows? Right now, a dozen different iterations of them clutter my Dropbox.

If you're interested in what's happening in the Italian book world, you can check out one small bit of writing I did this year by taking a look at this article, the one that I wrote for Lithub about the first woman Strega winner in 15 years (brava, Helena! For reference, the Strega is Italy's top book award).

Here's to another year of writing and translation for me. I hope all of you will continue with your creative projects, too! Also: have you written your year in writing? Or translation? Or woodworking?!

Buon Anno!