Foreign translators share impressions about the prose workshop in Latvia


2017, January 11

Foreign translators share impressions about the prose workshop in Latvia

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As previously reported, in early December 2016, an international prose translation workshop was held as a part of the Prose Readings Festival in Latvia. Six translators – Uldis Balodis, Mārta Ziemelis, Suzanne McQuade, Kaija Straumanis, Jayde Will – from several English speaking countries, as well as Žanete Vēvere-Pasqualini from Latvia, participated in the workshop. During the workshop, the translators, mentored by Alexandra Büchler and Katharina Bielenberg, jointly worked on various texts and met up with Latvian authors and publishers. Translators shared their stories about the workshop and recognized it as a great opportunity to exchange experiences, escape the inevitable isolation of their work, and lay a solid foundation for mutual collaboration in future, and, of course, develop translation skills.

Mārta Ziemelis

I feel so grateful for the chance to take part in the December 2016 translation conference in Rīga. It was amazing to meet and get to know other translators from so many different places, to discuss the puzzles, passion and significance of our shared profession, to feel like part of a community. I feel that we formed lasting friendships and became a close team; it would be excellent to be able to build on that foundation at similar future events, and to expand this community.




Suzanne McQuade

As translators, we believe in Latvian literature and are committed to helping share it with the rest of the world. The workshop provided us with a bigger and better toolbox for being equipped to help achieve this. 

To me the most obvious benefit of this workshop was the establishment of a working literary translation community. Many of us discussed how isolating it can be doing the work we do, and meeting others who do the same thing, sharing our experiences and offering feedback to each other will be a huge benefit to the quality of our work going forward. I also think it will help motivate us to remain committed to bringing Latvian literature to a larger audience. Working as a group instead of as individuals allows us to have a stronger voice in promoting the cause of Latvian literature abroad. 

The professional guidance given to us by the workshop leaders, Alexandra Büchler and Katharina Bielenberg, was indispensable. Throughout the workshop, they helped shepherd us towards techniques for better quality translations and a deeper understanding of how to pitch Latvian literature to the world, both through finessing our technique as well as through conversations in which we tried to distill a sense of what Latvian literature embodies and how it can best be presented to the world. 

In addition to our days spent workshopping our translations in the beautiful and inspiring National Library, we had opportunities to attend prose readings and speak with the authors whose excerpts we had translated. We also met with Latvian publishers to hear more of their questions and concerns about reaching the English-speaking world with their work. Having that kind of direct access to the authors and publishers allows us as translators to discuss the nitty-gritty and fine tune the way we choose both words as well as projects. Our discussion with fantasy author Ieva Melgalve about word choice in her work was particularly enlightening, and Andra Manfelde helped us better understand the tone and drive behind her historical fiction. These experiences again helped remind us that the work of a translator involves conversation, and this workshop encouraged the very type of conversation we needed to continue to inspire our work. 

Jayde Will

I think it’s a terrific opportunity to be challenged with new kinds of texts and guided through different ways of looking at them. It was also great to have experienced facilitators such as Alexandra Büchler and Katharina Bielenberg to help us with our pitches and gain a greater understanding of what is needed to better promote Latvian literature. And meeting with translators that are dealing with your language combination is great – you can talk about language-specific things that you all have to deal with. It’s an exciting time to be translating from Latvian, and I am looking forward to such seminars in the future.

Uldis Balodis

The Translators’ Workshop was one of the most valuable events, in which I’ve had the chance to participate in a very long while as part of my work as a translator. The event organizers, first of all, brought us all together, which is significant and important, because there just isn’t all that large of a number of people in the world who translate Latvian books into other languages. As a person who effectively has spoken both Latvian and English for his entire life, it was extremely interesting to talk with other translators who had also grown up with both of these languages as well as with others who perhaps didn’t grow up speaking Latvian, but learned it later. We each had an important and, in my opinion, mutually enlightening insight into our approach to translation. The days spent with the publishing and translation industry experts, Alexandra Büchler and Katharina Bielenberg, were a very valuable learning experience for me in better understanding the inside workings of the professional translation publishing industry and also on how to position myself as a translator in more effectively establishing contacts with publishers, finding financial support for translations as well as how to more clearly – in both written and spoken words – offer to translate books for publishers, which I think are valuable and in need of translation. Likewise, I’d like to give my greatest praise and thanks to those who worked with us every day – especially Juta Pīrāga and Inga Bodnarjuka-Mrzauskas – for leading and planning this wonderful event. Their work, as well as that of everyone else involved, was extremely effective and worth its weight in gold. I hope that also in the future it will be possible to participate in events like this and continue to improve my own skills as a translator by learning from other translators and professionals working in this field.

Kaija Straumanis

The translation workshop was a good place to meet other literary translators – both those who have been in the profession for a long time and beginners. I was mainly interested in what the literary representatives from the Writers Union' (Jayde, Žanete, Vilis) had initiated and done in terms of spreading Latvian literature abroad. It was nice to talk to them, share advice, suggestions, etc. They are really keen on helping to set big things in motion, and it was pleasing to see.

In the future, it would be great if a similar workshop would cover more of the editing issues. The workshop was especially delightful for those for whom this type of event was their first, to “get into the spirit” of it all, to see how we our translations are similar, yet never the same, and how rarely you'll find straightforward “right” or “wrong” answers.

Next time, it might also be worthwhile to focus attention on different translations (this time we got to translate the same texts). For instance, we could all be translating 1-2 shorter fragments, and later comparing them, however we could be working on longer fragments separately, then reading them out loud and editing in a group. Such workshops take place in Rochester, and this type of exercise is often included in  literary translation courses.

All in all, it was great to meet and get to know everyone – it is always a great pleasure to make new contacts with (young) colleagues, and to know that there are more people translating from Latvian that than it seems at first. I hope the group to double in size!"

Žanete Vēvere-Pasqualini

It was truly interesting to compare the different versions of the same work, and the different approaches of the translators. It is curious how sometimes in several translations of one and the same story, only one sentence would match. I am yet to receive the analysis and comments of my work from Alexandra, however I am encouraged by the fact that my analysis (at least judging from what other participants said) was Since seen as adequate. I was the only Latvian there, I had some concerns in this regard. I found it valuable to get to know the other translators. I believe that we will be actively communicating in the future, and will be able to help each other find the best solutions to difficult cases.