UA Joins Forces with Literary Translators

The American Literary Translators Association will have a new home in the University of Arizona College of Humanities.
July 12, 2018

Without literary translators, Don Quixote would never be known outside La Mancha, Yuri Zhivago wouldn’t have brought his author a Nobel Prize, and modern-day Scandinavian thrillers like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo couldn’t become worldwide bestsellers.

The art and craft of literary translation draws the world closer, opening stories and poems to new audiences. The American Literary Translators Association, founded in 1978 to support and advance the work of literary translators, recently announced it is relocating its headquarters to the University of Arizona College of Humanities.

American Literary Translators Association president Aron Aji cited the UA’s “deep commitment to literary arts and languages,” as a motivating factor in the move. The collaboration between the UA College of Humanities and the ALTA will give UA students and the Tucson community the unique opportunity to experience the programs of the only organization in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to literary translation.

“We spent the better part of the last five years reconceptualizing what we would like to be as the sole professional organization in the U.S. that is exclusively dedicated to literary translators and international literature in translation,” Aji said. “The UA College of Humanities strikes me as the ideal community with kindred goals and aspirations. I am excited about the creative synergies that the ALTA and the UA have so far only imagined. As we move forward, we will keep asking ourselves, how can our collaboration expand the reach, the versatility and the renown of our organizations?”

In addition to relocating its headquarters, the ALTA will hold its annual conference in Tucson in 2020 and 2022. The conference brings together more than 500 literary translators, writers, students, readers, teachers, publishers and other professionals to further the practice of literary translation.

“I am very excited about this new partnership. The fact that a prestigious organization like ALTA decided to relocate its headquarters to Tucson in the UA College of Humanities is not a coincidence,” Dean Alain-Philippe Durand said. “Indeed, ALTA took note of the several world renowned experts on translation studies and literary translators among our outstanding faculty.”

The ALTA’s presence on campus will be especially beneficial for students in the UA’s new bachelor’s degree in world literature, as well as those studying languages and cultures around the globe.

“Monolingualism just won’t cut it if you want to know what the world is singing and saying in its stories, myths, legends, and lyrics,” said David Gramling, UA associate professor of German Studies. “I have such hope for the boundless creativity and discovery that the ALTA’s move can unleash at the UA. The partnership is not just about translation in the strict sense, but about planetary issues and ideals like interculturality, storytelling, multilingualism, aesthetics, equity, and the challenges of understanding and overcoming the borders that separate us as humans.”

The association with the ALTA will benefit graduate students, undergraduate students and working professionals interested in continuing education and translation-related workshops and training. Longtime public engagement programs that will benefit from the ALTA partnership exist in the National Center for Interpretation, the Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language and Literacy, the Center for English as a Second Language, the Center for Buddhist Studies and the Poetry Center.

“Translators are essential. They exponentially create readership for work in another language, and in doing so, they multiply the possibilities for a literary work and what the impact of that work might ultimately be,” said Tyler Meier, executive director of the UA Poetry Center.

The partnership comes at a time when translated literature in the U.S. is growing in both popularity and importance. For the first time this fall, the National Book Awards will honor a work of literature translated into English. Best-seller lists routinely include international authors such as Japan’s Haruki Murakami, Italy’s Elena Ferrante, Norway’s Karl Ove Knausgaard and Brazil’s Paulo Coelho.

“It is fair to say that not just literary translation but translation in all its forms is enjoying renewed interest and importance, in large part due to globalization which has made interconnectedness nearly inescapable,” Aji said. “Literature in translation is a rich medium for cross-cultural dialogue and understanding and an important means of cultural diplomacy. Reading each other, understanding the merit of our diverse ways of being, and seeking in each other talents, wisdom and experiences can help us shape a common and more hospitable reality.”