“…when writers engage in the art of literary translation and collaborate on the translation of each other's work, the experience will broaden and enrich their linguistic imaginations.”
I found this sentence in the foreword of Wort Für Wort//Word for Word 2013, a publication by the Ugly Duckling Press. The book launch took place at Columbia University yesterday to be followed by a dramatic reading today. Wort Für Wort//Word for Word 2013 is the result of a collaboration of Columbia University’s School of the Arts/Writing and its Literary Translation Program, now directly by the gifted translator Susan Bernofsky, and the Deutsches Literatur Institut Leipzig, represented by the Austrian writer Josef Haslinger, the professor for Literary Aesthetics since 1996.
The translation exchange program was started two years ago. Columbia students spend a week in Leipzig and the Literatur Institut students spend a week in New York. They get to know each other and embark on the tasks of translating each other's work. Yesterday, eight student writers read from their works and their translations. Fiction, nonfiction writers and playwrights were represented.
In the ensuing discussion all of the students said that translating had been much harder than they had anticipated. Some stumbled over the title. There is no “Blue Moon” in the German language, only a blaue Stunde. But blaue Stunde is not the same as a blue moon. Others had trouble understanding the references. What was that particular smell unique to East Germany that Ellen Wesemüller wrote about? Did it still exist in Leipzig? Could Ellen take her translator Rachel Sur to a place where she could experience it?
The students worked hard trying to get the tone, the rhythm, and cadence right. They had to work in a style alien to them. After translating, they felt a deeper appreciation for their mother tongue. They had become better writers, for they had studied each word intensely until they found the best, if not right, equivalent in their language.
The short readings made me curious. I am looking forward to getting to know eight young writers.
Wort Für Wort//Word for Word 2013
Ursula Kirchenmayer - Kevin Magruber
Juliane Stadelmann – Bryan Quick
David Frühauf – Michael Makowski
Ellen Wesemüller – Rachel Sur
Ugly Duckling Press. 2013