I recently translated an article by Senegalese academic, Louis Ndong for a special issue of Research in African Literatures on African audiences. The article, entitled Literary and Cinematic Scenes of Reading in the Works of Ousmane Sembène, explores portrayals of reading in well-known texts such as Le Docker Noir (Black Docker), Xala and Le Mandat (The Money Order). Ndong discusses how Sembène’s representations of reading are established through the genres of texts consumed, the reader’s education level, whether their education is religious or scholarly, and the reader’s perspective in the narrative. You can read the full article (with Jstor access) here.
I recently presented a keynote paper at the University of Glasgow’s Annual PG conference in Comparative Literature and Translation Studies. The conference explored how “Comparative Literature, Translation Studies and Translation study, question, shape and create flows by connecting texts, art forms, ideas, languages and disciplines”. The full title of my paper was: Translation and Fluidity in Cameroon: Political Interventions, Literary Activism and the Flow of Words across the Francophone-Anglophone Divide.
Organised by Dr Henriette Partzsch, Lucy McCormick, Charlotte Le Bervet and Dr Shanti Graheli, the conference was held online due to the Covid-19 pandemic (many other international events have had to be cancelled). By moving the event online, the conference attracted a record number of participants, highlighting the potential of the medium for other future such global events.
I recently worked with a team from the Universities of Bristol and Exeter to produce a feasibility report on Literary Translation and Creative Writing Training in West Africa. As part of the project, managed by Dr Ruth Bush and Prof Madhu Krishnan (Bristol University), I travelled to Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon to meet in-country consultants, Sulaiman Adebowale, Edwige Dro and Dzekashu MacViban. While overseas, I conducted over 60 interviews with translators, writers, academics, students, journalists, politicians and more. The interviews and meetings that took place helped me map out current training opportunities, which differ significantly across the three countries depending on language politics, teaching priorities and funding. My research report is now available to download here in both English and French (translation by Edwige Dro):
Translating the resistance poetry of Laura Boullic for Active Art (Paraguay Press, 2019) was a highly rewarding experience for me on so many levels. Firstly, the story behind the collection of writings and images is a fascinating one: the publication was inspired by the 1923 Active Art manifesto by Latvian philosopher, Andrejs Kurcijs and the collection of diverse texts and images all respond to that essay and the notion of activism through writing and image. Secondly, the team behind the publication were inspiring in themselves. The Editors, Joachim Hamou, Maija Rudovska and Barbara Sirieix were incredibly passionate about their work and the work of the contributors, describing to me in detail the history, development and production of the book. They were hugely invested in the project; this inevitably rubbed off on me. Their philosophy on writing also extended to the translation project I was given, embracing translation as a creative, and also active, process that doesn’t always need to adhere rigidly to each word or grammatical construct when you’re aiming to create something new that’s just as clever stylistically as the source text. Laura’s work, entitled Ainsi réunies/And so collated (around 5,000 words), was made up of extracts of poetry, essays, messages, notes, and her clever use of language, innovative style, and unusual structure and layout provided a whole host of exciting new translation challenges.
I spent a long time trying to find solutions to translation puzzles that I hadn’t encountered before. Boullic would use punctuation to convey multiple meanings to a single word, so “s’avoir”, for example, to convey both the idea of knowledge and belonging. If I couldn’t replicate exactly the same structure, I would try to still find a solution in fitting with Boullic’s wider strategies. I gave myself a higher level of creative freedom than usual, rather like Boullic. So, “s’avoir” became “k’own’ledge”. Sometimes, I had to change a word entirely but look at the layers of meaning it seemed Boullic was trying to convey. For example, “en puissance – en – puisant du sens” became “potential – shall – be potent”. Yes, different, but in keeping with Boullic’s narrative. She also used exponents, so dédiéeiddéée, meaning “dedicated” was raised to the power of the idea, the latter being a misspelt anagram of the former. Impossible to translate this word for word, though I needed to keep the concept of ideas, the anagram, the misspelling. Being dedicated to those ideas is also helping us to be active, so ideasaides eventually came about. I was pleased when I landed on the solution for “égal à mon oui (ouïe, nom)”: “equal to my yes (aye, know)”, and the sounds of certain words and phrases also took up a lot of thinking time:
“C’est peut-être un recueil. Ceci, ou c’est peut-être un essai.
Laissée de poèmes.”
“Perhaps it’s a collection. This, or perhaps it’s an essay.
Let’s say poems.”
Those eureka moments when you finally come up with a solution you are happy with are incredibly satisfying. Boullic’s emphasis on gender was also quite pronounced in places and I did play with this quite a bit. My favourite solution would be the following:
“comme je pense à la guerre
aux guerres qui se pourraient dénouer
“as I think of war
of wars that could be dismissed
Adding in the reference to alpha males seemed in keeping with Boullic’s stance but did add something different to the translation. And that’s translation… Wonderfully, Laura and the editors agreed. Laura really embraced my ideas and we also had a few interesting and fruitful discussions in the editing process, which was really enlightening. As a whole, working with such an inspiring team that took writing and image to a new, active place, meant I had one of the most fulfilling translation experiences to date. And the crazy translation puzzles meant those breakthrough moments, when I came upon a solution, felt even more rewarding than usual.
If you would like to read my translation of Laura Boullic’s work and contributions from the editors plus Eva Barto, Robert Glück, Ainārs Kamolinš, Bella Marrin, Rebeka Põldsam, Evita Vasiljeva and a 1987 essay by James Baldwin, you can purchase the book from Paraguay Press. The collection also includes the work of Latvian Translator, Ieva Lesinksa.
Active Art was produced in collaboration with Kim? Contemporary Art Centre in Riga and sponsored by the Fondation d’Entreprise Ricard in Paris, the Latvian Ministry of Culture, Latvia 100, and the Latvian State Culture Capital Foundation.
I thoroughly enjoyed running a session for PhD Employability Day at the Loughborough University campus in London. A group of enthusiastic PhD and Masters students attended my talk on Academia, Freelancing and Consultancy. I explored the pros and cons of different roles, balancing multiple jobs and commitments plus the challenges of working for yourself and setting up your own business. I also looked at financial issues, marketing, seeking out clients, networking and contracts. There were lots of questions from students working in a wide range of fields from Design Innovation and Digital Marketing to Sport Business, and it was fascinating to see how students were able to apply my experiences in the world of translation to their own areas of study. If you’d like to know more or see my resources, please get in touch!
When I translate prose and poetry, I can’t help but become part of the source text writer’s world, and never more so than when I translated In Paris: 20 Women on Life in the City of Light by model and fashion designer, Jeanne Damas and journalist, Lauren Bastide. A number of the texts I’ve worked on are autobiographical or semi-autobiographical, so I’ve needed to research the authors in depth as well as their experiences, the places they’ve lived and worked, their lifestyle, their connections. Sometimes, I research their background just to understand the nuances of a particular word or phrase that seems to be embedded in the writer’s past or present. At other times, I follow in their footsteps by scanning maps or photographs to understand exactly where they were at a particular time so that my translation makes sense to readers who are familiar with the location. But with In Paris, published this month by Viking (an imprint of Penguin Books), I definitely took all this to another level. It changed my behaviour.
The book documents the lives of 20 fascinating women living in Paris today and between chapters, the authors themselves describe their own experiences of the French capital, showing what it takes to be a true Parisienne. This is where I was drawn in, and before long, I’d dragged my old trench coat out of the wardrobe and was making a Provençal casserole, eyeing up Pouilly Fumé in the supermarket (a bit too expensive for me), and buying red lippy à la Parisienne. The 20 featured women were also fascinating and aspirational and as I connected with each one, I couldn’t help but have my favourites… I fell in love with the drive of restaurateur, Jesus Borges, the frankly nutty Dora Moutot with her collection of trolls and I really needed a pair of Amélie Pichard’s fabulous shoes. I wanted to meet British bookseller, Sylvia Whitman, who runs one of Paris’s most historic bookshops, Shakespeare and Company. Teen style icon, the Gucci Gang’s Crystal Murray fascinated me with her confidence, and political activist, Lucie Hautelin, with her focus and determination. And I couldn’t help but admire and want to emulate the typically-Parisian sophistication of antiques dealer, Françoise Golovanoff. I could go on… I’ve wondered whether these characters are my favourites because I connect more with their particular stories, or simply because they were my favourite chapters to translate. I’m not sure. The two things seem to be intertwined.
No doubt, every reader will relate to different chapters and different women. My husband, who proofs my translations, was most taken with writer and Instagram idol, Sophie Fontanel, who refuses to be bound by traditional, often age-related rules that govern our style and behaviours. One thing that all the women achieved was to make me fall in love once more with Paris. As each one described their experiences of their own quartier or arrondissement, their favourite bakeries, markets, restaurants, clubs, walks, views of the capital, I got to know the backstreets of the city I once lived in but haven’t returned to in many years. The book also highlighted the multicultural nature of the city, how it’s constantly evolving while holding on to some of our favourite traditions (baguette, people-watching and romance), and the “sod-it attitude” of its unique female inhabitants who refuse to let the capital’s trauma of recent years impact their way of life. Translating the book was a first step towards understanding today’s “real Paris,” the one that lies behind the often touristy façade of any capital city. Translating In Paris lead me to act, to change my behaviour in the short-term. But in the long-term, it made me want to spend more time in the city so I could explore some of the unusual, secret places highlighted in the book. Indeed, upon finishing the translation, I had a far better understanding of the French capital and what it takes to be a modern-day Parisienne. All that’s left to do now is buy a plane ticket!