Baruch Professor receives $20,000 for literary translation
Published: Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Updated: Friday, June 29, 2012 15:06
Amazon.com recently awarded a $20,000 grant to Assistant Professor Esther Allen of Baruch College’s Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature after recognizing her work at the Pen American Center.
“This is very profound for me,” Allen said during an interview with The Ticker.
She insisted that literary translation is highly important to the entire community of readers, expressing great appreciation towards Amazon for the funding. It will allow for the translation of books written in English as well as other languages.
The grant will bring recognition to the Minor in Spanish-English Translation, launched in the Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature of the Weissmann School of Arts and Sciences at Baruch over the past two years. It will also support a collection of essays by literary translators edited by Professor Allen herself as well as Professor Susan Bernofsky of Columbia University.
This collection of essays will be published in the spring of 2013 accompanied by a two-day symposium at the CUNY graduate center where issues in many aspects of literary translation in the context of contemporary forms of globalization will be raised. The title of the essay collection will be, “In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What it Means,” and the symposium will be called “Transculturations.”
Literary translation allows readers to tie bonds in the literary community even if they do not speak the same languages. Even with modern advances in technology aimed at translation, converting a text from one language to another can be problematic. Often, there are terms that don’t have a literary equivalency in the targeted language.
At Baruch College, the curriculum includes several foreign texts that have been translated into English. Students can dive into a wealth of world literature thanks to literary translations available through campus resources. Still, the disparity between books translated into English and those translated into other languages is rather large.
“Can you imagine that among 200,000 books published per year in the United States that less than 2 percent will be translated in other languages,” asked Allen.
English is widely spoken worldwide, which can account for some of the lack in demand for English-based works to be translated into other languages. But many activists are working towards creating more balance in the field, including Pen, a literary association of which Professor Allen has been a proud member.
For a translator, a devoted worker at the Pen American Center, and a teacher in the department of modern languages and comparative literature at Baruch, literary translation is such an important tool for Professor Esther Allen. She believes that when there are exchanges between different literatures, more should be preserved than lost; “losses are inevitable,” said Allen, but it is necessary to reduce them.
Literary translation and the concept of transculturation, a term coined by renowned anthropologist and essayist Fernando Ortiz, as opposed to acculturation, go hand in hand, and Amazon’s grant is aimed at ensuring that such transculturation continues as cultures become increasingly intertwined.
Acculturation can be defined as one culture completely overlapping and absorbing another, whereas transculturation involves the merging of cultures without one losing its essence to the other.
“It has been fascinating to watch Amazon redefine literary translation as a ripe commercial opportunity for their global business,” said Allen in a press release.
“For the past three years, Amazon has been the forefront of support for literary translation we are extremely grateful to them for extending that support to CUNY,” she adds. This grant offered by amazon will benefit not only CUNY, but also it will pave paths for many new commercial possibilities in the literary translation world.
Amazon has also provided grants to several other literary outlets around the United States in recent years including the Loft Literary Center, the Council for Literary Magazines and Presses, the Brooklyn Book Festival, Words Without Borders and the Center for the Art of Translation, just to name a few.
Edith Grossman, who has translated some of the most notable Latin American works of literature in the last century, including the works of authors like Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, summed up the importance of literary translation to the academic and intercultural exchange that is the center of the increasingly globalized world in her book “Why Translation Matters.”
“Where literature exists, translation exists. Joined at the hip, they are absolutely inseparable and in the long run, what happens to one happens to the other. Despite all the difficulties the two have faced, sometimes separately, usually together, they need and nurture each other, and their long-term relationship, often problematic but always illuminating, will surely continue for as long as they both shall live.”