I Take My Turn for Translation
When I moved to New York City full-time in winter 2015, I began attending meetings of the PEN Translation Committee. I had already participated in the activities of the PEN Children’s Committee for years and served as a blogger for the PEN World Voices Festival, coming down from Albany and staying with my mother-in-law in Queens or in the small apartment Richard and I rented in 2013 to see if we wanted to live permanently in the city. At a Children’s Committee in January 2014 I received my first translation gig, which became the award-winning picture book The World in a Second.
I appreciated the work that the Translation Committee co-chairs have done to welcome new members into the group (thank you, Alex Zucker and Margaret Carson for giving me such a warm welcome!), run the meetings, and organize a fun social gathering afterward. But as I kept a seat warm at the meeting, it never occurred to me that my turn would come up to serve as co-chair. That has changed, and beginning with the new year, I will be joining Tess Lewis as the new PEN Translation Committee co-chair.
Over the next four years, I worked with the Translation Committee on a model contract for translators. I did advance promotion for various events that the committee co-sponsored or organized and blogged about them afterward. I participated in a well-attended panel on translating children’s books at the Brooklyn Book Festival and read from my children’s book translations at the KGB Bar in Manhattan.
My new position will require new skills of me — showing up on time, organizing and running meetings to cover a large agenda in the 90 minutes we have, serving on award committees (which I’ve already done three times for the Children’s Committee), and spearheading new initiatives. At the meeting at which I was appointed, we discussed a Translation Slam — two translators translating the same text passage — for a children’s book, which will highlight the unique issues that children’s books present when crossing from one language and culture to another.
Another initiative I’d like to pursue is expanding translators’, and readers’, knowledge base related to gender-specific language and nonbinary identities. As gender-specific as the English language is with pronouns, other languages are even more so, with adjective endings, verb conjugations, and surnames dependent on one’s gender. How do authors writing in languages other than English express gender fluidity? How do we translate those books? And how would someone translate the variety of English-language pronouns into non-English languages. We can examine the work of groundbreaking writers around the world who have addressed gender fluidity and bring in the translators of their work.
My term as co-chair will last two years, and I look forward to this new responsibility and challenge. I thank the members of the PEN Translation Committee for their confidence in me.