Sarah Carter ’24
On Thursday, November 10, English and Creative Writing students coalesced in the Rehm Library for the Working Writers Series’ final seminar of the semester. The “Writing Globally” panel discussion featured the work of three writers working in divergent fields of global literature – from creative writing to literary translation and critical writing – and was sponsored by the Asian Studies, Latinx and Caribbean Studies, and Spanish departments of the College.
To commence the event, Prof. Xu Xing of the English department rose to the podium for some brief remarks regarding the format of the event. She debriefed the audience about each of the panelist’s professional positions and literary successes before turning to the panelists themselves. Of the three writers, Rodrigo Fuentes was the first to speak. An award-winning Latinx writer and recipient of both the Carátula Central American Short Story Prize (2014) and Juegos Florales of Quetzaltenango Short Story Prize, Fuentes read a sample from his second novel Mapa de Otros Mundos. His previous work, Tucha Panza Arriba (translated into English as Trout Belly Up) was shortlisted for the 2018 Premio Hispanoamericano de Cuento Gabriel García Márquez. Fuentes is also an Assistant Professor of Spanish at the College.
The audience next heard from contemporary fiction translator Meghan McDowell. As a literary translator, McDowell specializes in translating Spanish literature into English whilst maintaining the style and rhythm of the original piece. McDowell, who fell into her position by chance, conceded that the pathway to becoming a translator of fiction is ill-defined and imprecise. She noted no such educational programs for literary translation were ever available to her in Chile, where she studied. For a period of time, she fumbled her way around from one workshop to the next and sought the mentorship of colleagues in a Vermont MFA program she partook in before coming to any kind of profitable success. However, regardless of these minor impediments, McDowell feels very appreciative of her career and its importance. She is now devoted to promulgating programs and advocating for the growth of translation in the English language and is passionate about bringing the work of Spanish contemporary writers into the English-speaking world.
After introducing herself, McDowell shared with the audience a sample of writing from the work Chilean Poet – a collection of Spanish poems written by one of McDowell’s clients, Alejandro Zambra. McDowell then spoke at length about some of the hindrances to translation she experienced while writing this piece, some of which included struggles at the technical level. She commented that the collection hinges closely on the gendered nature of the Spanish language – something that we do not have in English. When translating between languages, she therefore experienced difficulty maintaining the vitality of her client’s message surrounding this facet of the Spanish language. She pondered how she might convey this theme of gender in the translated rendition of the text when the English language only uses genderless articles to announce its noun, To guide her revisions, McDowell resolved to use words in English that she already had. In a sample from the book, McDowell read, “The snow is a she, and so is the drizzling rain . . . The word for word, table, and lamp is female. The words for winter, summer, and fall are all male. A fingernail, she. A nail clipper, he . . .”
The last to speak was Singaporean poet and literary critic Jee Leong Koh. Beyond his writing career, Koh is also the founder of Singapore Unbound, a New York City non-profit organization committed to the freedom of expression in literature. When speaking with attendees of Thursday’s Working Writers Series event, Koh inflected excitedly as he read samples from two of his most recent poetry collections, “Inspector Inspector” and “Snow at 5 PM: Translations of an Insignificant Japanese Poet.” In a clear and resonant voice, Koh read the following lines: “Always kiss goodbye on the lips. There will be seasons of great loneliness. You cannot outrun them. So sit and survey the thunderous desert.”
Following these introductions, each panelist member participated in a panel discussion led by Prof. Xu Xing for the remainder of the event. Throughout their discourse, there were many times when the speakers all had coinciding viewpoints. Regarding the explosion of genre in Latin America, for example, both Fuentes and Koh acceded that speculative fiction is on the rise among Latin American writers. Both men also broached similar points about female writers in Latin America and concurred that, “some of the most interesting fiction in Latin America is written by female writers.”
Canva Image courtesy of Shanil Perez ’24
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