Two translators and a writer: Katy, Roberta and Clemens

October 26, 2018

Last night at UT Connewitz, the old, former movie theater that now serves as an event location in the south of Leipzig, I was able to be in the audience for a rare and special occasion. Two translators sat on stage with an author and yet the event didn't focus on the author. Instead, the author slipped into the role of moderator and interrogated his translators. Full disclosure, I am friends with both Roberta Gado and Katy Derbyshire and Clemens Meyer lives in my neighborhood. But I still learned some new tidbits and insights into the translators' and writer's lives.

This conversation on the stage was part of the 22nd annual literary festival Leipziger Literaturherbt, which this year has a focus on Leipzig's partnership with Houston, as well as emphasizing the role of translation in literature. After the opening on Tuesday, a reading by Claire Messud Leipzig's creative writing school DLL on Wednesday, the event on Thursday was the third is a week packed full of highlights. For me, this will include participation in a poetry translation workshop on Saturday and Sunday as well as an public performance on Monday.

Beyond the structural trick of having the author interview his translators, the reading also featured consecutive readings in Italian, German, and English. At one point early in the evening, Katy Derbyshire confirmed that you can be a translator and revel in the limelight. Although Roberta Gado largely agreed, she added that her occasional co-translator (a man) wouldn't get on stage to save his life. Other topics discussed included the high art of translating titles (and why the prize-winning translation of Im Stein is called Bricks and Mortar, not In the Stone), how to deal with culturally specific songs, and how slightly derogative labels carry different connotations in different languages. Despite many similarities, Roberta and Katy revealed different strategies for juggling projects: while Roberta intentionally jumps back and forth between various book-length projects, in part to prevent herself from getting too close to the material and figures, Katy only takes on smaller jobs while working on a big project. Work on Bricks and Mortar, for instance took about 10 months. Her reason was similarly revealing: part of the reason why she loves translation is the possibility of becoming one with a book and she even claimed she "wants to be destroyed by book!" That's what I call dedication.

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