Monday musings on Australian literature: Contemporary Australian literary translators

Today’s Monday Musings was inspired by the shortlisting for the 2018 Stella Prize of Iranian-born Australian-based writer Shokoofeh Azar’s The enlightenment of the greengage tree. I first came across this book when Lisa (ANZLitLovers) reviewed it last August, commenting in her opening paragraph that the novel “is an exciting development in Australian publishing” because it was written in Persian by Azar and translated into English by Adrien Kijek for publication by Wild Dingo Press. I wonder how many other speakers of non-English languages in Australia would like to write – or do write – but are closed off from the majority of us because of a lack of support and money for translation?

I have written about translation here several times before, but in this post I want to specifically name some current Australian literary translators, many of whom are based in our universities. We do, in fact, have many literary translators, but I’m going to select just a few – somewhat randomly – to give a sense of the breadth of translators we have here.

Stuart Cooke and Juan Garrido Salgado

Sydney-born Cooke has lived in Hobart and Latin America, but is currently a lecturer in creative writing and literary studies at Brisbane’s Griffith University. The various bios I’ve seen for him describe him as a poet, critic and translator. I’ve picked him because one of his translation interests is the Aboriginal song poem. In 2014 he published a translation of George Dyuŋgayan’s Bulu line: a West Kimberley song cycle. His other translation interest is, apparently, Spanish. In 2007 his translation of Juan Garrido Salgado’s Once poemas, Septiembre 1973 was published.

And, just to complicate things a bit, this Juan Garrido Salgado is a Chilean immigrant to Australia (1990). His poems, says Red Room Poetry, have been widely translated, and he himself has translated works by Australian poets – John Kinsella, Mike Ladd, Judith Beveridge, Dorothy Porter and MTC Cronin – into Spanish. He has also translated five Aboriginal poets into Spanish for Espejo de tierra/Earth mirror poetry anthology (2008)!

Linda Jaivin

When I chose this post, one of the two translators to pop into my head – before I went to Google – was Linda Jaivin whose Quarterly Essay, Found in translation, reviewed a few years ago. American-born, she did Chinese studies at university in Rhode Island before spending time in Taiwan and Hong Kong. She’s perhaps a bit of a ring-in here because she doesn’t seem to have translated novels or other sorts of books, but she is a professional translator whose work has included subtitling (into English) Chinese films like Farewell My Concubine. She has written a memoir, The monkey and the dragon, about her experience as a translator in China. And, she’s an associate of the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University.

Meredith McKinney

Ogai Mori, The Wild GooseThe other Australian translator I remembered, before Googling, was Meredith McKinney. The daughter of the great Australian poet Judith Wright, she has made a name in her own right as an expert in and translator of Japanese language and literature. She lived in Japan for a couple of decades but is now a visiting fellow in the Japan Centre at the Australian National University where she teaches Japanese-English translation. She has translated both classic and modern Japanese novels and short story collections. You can see a pretty comprehensive list at GoodReads. Her translation of Furui Yoshikichi’s Ravine and other stories won the 2000 Japan-US Friendship Commission Translation Award.  A few years ago I bought her translation of The wild goose by Ōgai Mori (Finlay Lloyd) but it still, unfortunately, languishes on the TBR.

Ton-That Quynh-Du

Pham Thi Hoai, The crystal messengerVietnamese-born Ton-that Quynh-Du came to Australia in 1972 under a Colombo Plan Scholarship. He has worked as a translator, court interpreter, and as an academic at Deakin University, Monash University and the Australian National University. His translation of Pham Thi Hoai’s novel The crystal messenger – a book that has been on my bedside TBR for some years now – won the 2000 Victorian Premier’s Award for literary translation. (This award is now, unfortunately, defunct. I believe it was called the SBS/Dinny O’Hearn Prize for Literary Translation, and was only awarded three times, in 1997, 2000 and 2003. What a shame.) His translation of this same author’s collection of short stories, Sunday menu, won the 2007 ACT Book of The Year Award. While he mostly translates into English he also does some translation into Vietnamese (as does Pham Thi Hoai, who now lives in Germany)

Kevin Windle

I chose Kevin Windle as my fifth example because I found, via Google, that last year, 2017, he won a rather prestigious award, albeit one not known to most of us Australians. It’s only awarded every three years by the International Federation of Translators (FIT), and is the Aurora Borealis Prize for Outstanding Translation of Non-Fiction Literature. A press release said that “his work, translating into English from nearly a dozen different languages, and across a wide range of subject areas, is described by his supporters as ‘reliably brilliant’.” How I’d love to be descried as “reliably brilliant”! London-born Windle has worked at the University of Queensland but is now emeritus fellow in the School of Literature, Languages, and Linguistics at the Australian National University, where his expertise is in Translation Studies and Russian. Indeed, the Words Without Borders website states that in 2014 he was awarded the inaugural AALITRA prize for literary translation from Spanish, and in 2015, second prize in the John Dryden competition for a translation from Polish. Although the Aurora Borealis Award was for non-fiction, he has apparently translated fiction, drama, literary biography, and linguistics and ancient history texts.

The above-mentioned press release for Kevin Windle’s Aurora Borealis win notes that the award aims

to promote the translation of fiction literature and non-fiction, improve the quality thereof and draw attention to the role of translators in bringing the peoples of the world closer together in terms of culture.

And that seems a perfect point on which to end, I think.

Do you read translated literature? I’d love to hear your favourites – or anything else you have to say about translation.

17 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Contemporary Australian literary translators

  1. I feel guilty that I’ve not paid as much attention to the translators when I’ve read a book. Yet this requires tremendous skill – the word translation doesn’t really repreent their contributions. I thnk of them more as co creators.

    • I note them in my book citation details at the end of my review posts Karen, though don’t put them in the post titles. Those are long enough. I only know a few translators by name. Jay Rubin who has done quite a few Murakamis is one. But then I don’t read enough translations to be familiar – and that’s a shame.

  2. How I’d love to be described as fluent in a dozen languages. Who would I speak to? I’m sure there are people around me to whom I could speak if I wished to engage with them and of course there is no shortage of writing in a multitude of languages. So there are all my excuses gone. I read classics – French, Russian, Spanish, German – in translation but don’t think about it much. And Scandanavian crime fiction and Murakami of course.

    • Oh yes, me too. Mr Gums is fairly fluent in German. (Well, fluent enough to read a German translation of Emma with just an occasional dictionary check, and to converse with Germans when we meet them). Me though, I can read basic French – but am rusty with literary French. I’m not a good speaker of languages though so, although we did Italian classes (the Dante Alighieri Society) many moons ago, I don’t think I’ll return to learning languages.

      I do like to read translated literature but fitting it into the schedule is tricky. And, I’m always aware, as I know I’ve said before, that there’s a translator between me and the text.

  3. I’ll add Aussie-born Will Firth to your list: he lives in Europe now and translates German, Croatian and something else – Russian, I think, I can’t check because I’m still having internet problems and it’s hard to search my own blog!
    I’m shortly going to be attending a celebration of French Lit and hear preeminent French translators Brian Nelson and Julie Rose who have translated some of the Zola novels I’ve read. This celebration is organised by AALITRA which is the Australian Association of translators, and at the last event I went to I met heaps of translators doing all kinds of languages!

    • Thanks Lisa for naming Will Firth. I wanted to focus here on translators working in Australia at present. It was interesting, though, to see how many of them were born elsewhere. And there you are, you’ve named Aussie-born Will Firth who is working overseas! I guess that’s our global world. I mentioned AALITRA in the post but I knew when I was writing it that I should have spelt them out or linked them. (I was running late for my deadline.) I’ll link them now.

      And I was going to email you to see how you were going with the internet. But clearly it isn’t fixed yet.

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