Intervista Collettivo Idra / Interview

Recentemente, Christina B. Assouad mi ha intervistato sul mestiere di traduttrice. Christina cura la rubrica Beauty Case per il Collettivo Idra, un grande contenitore dove le protagoniste sono le donne e ciò che nella letteratura le riguarda. Inoltre alla sua grande passione per la scrittura e il cioccolato fondente, Christina, insieme al Collettivo Idra, ha firmato i romanzi collaborativi “Social Singles” e “Tutto il resto è rasta: cinque ragazze in Giamaica.”

Recently, Christina B. Assouad interviewed me for her column Beauty Case, as part of the Collettivo Idra website, about my work as a literary translator. According to the site, Collettivo Idra is “a place for women and all things dealing with literature in its feminine form.” In addition to Christina’s great passion for writing and dark chocolate, she is one of the authors, in conjunction with Collettivo Idra, of the collaborative novels Social Singles and Tutto il resto è rasta: cinque ragazze in Giamaica. The following is a translation of the interview.

Hello Lori and welcome to Beauty Case.

Hi Christina, thanks for inviting me.

 To start, I’d like you to tell us something about how a person becomes a literary translator. Is there a well defined path to follow or is it a job that comes out of being fluent in a language and having a great passion for books? What has been your experience?

There are essentially two ways to become a literary translator: the academic route, with a degree in foreign language and literature followed by specialization courses in translation, and of course supported by periods abroad; or ‘by chance’ after having gotten a good start in another field. Translators coming from these two paths approach the profession differently but, in my opinion, both can be equally valid. Personally, I belong to the latter group.

I grew up in a journalistic family and love the subtleties that can be expressed with a language. I came to Italy in 1986 and after a few years began working with scientific translations (and I still do), but I realized I missed using adjectives!

Whichever way a person becomes a translator, I’d say the defining factor is having a good feeling about what you translate.

Can you tell us three characteristics a person needs if they want to be a translator? Of course, if there are more than three, don’t hesitate to share them…

The first and, as far as I’m concerned, most important to translate successfully in any field is to write well. A person can learn to write and can improve their skills, but a gift from Mother Nature is important from the start.

In addition, a translator needs to be a perfectionist and well organized. Generally I have a number of projects going simultaneously: for example I may be reading a manuscript in preparation to start translating while I’m revising another text I’ve just translated, and meanwhile an author may need my urgent help with a synopsis to send to an agent, and still another has made changes that need to be woven into an already completed work. And all this needs to be done with maximum precision!

Like in any field it’s also necessary to be professional, which means respecting deadlines, knowing how to listen and being flexible.

When you’re working on a translation, have you ever thought “I would have written this paragraph differently” or “I would have made the protagonist more…”?

It’s inevitable! There are lots of ways to transmit ideas and sensations and a translator considers the alternatives.

In any case, the way I face this dilemma is through direct contact with the author. Working with a writer—for example to prepare a text for self-publication or to submit the first chapters to a foreign agent or publisher for evaluation—I try to encourage him/her to have a critical eye. First of all, I’m a reader and if something doesn’t make sense to me, I talk with the author. Make no mistake, I’m not a literary critic but I do ask questions in an attempt to close up any holes. In fact, translation tends to bring defects in a manuscript to the surface, offering an opportunity to improve the overall work.

Another aspect to keep in mind is that readers in other countries often have different tastes about what they read and I think it’s part of my job to help the author understand this. For example, American readers generally want there to be a hook in a story right from the beginning; too much explanation or backstory can bore the reader. I think it’s my duty to express my opinions in hopes of finding successful solutions.

 It’s a delicate job making words travel from one language to another. How difficult is it to translate [in Italian tradurre] without betrayal [tradire]?

You’re right, it is a real challenge. In fact, this is why I prefer to collaborate with an author whenever possible. I like to hear her voice (not only on the page), see how she moves, hear her laugh, and talk about what’s behind the story. The other thing that helps me is to read the text I’m translating at least three times. The first time so that it leaves me with an impression, the second time I read it in greater depth and pay attention to the details, and finally I read it with an eye toward the dynamics between the various parts. I want to feel the story has worked its way inside me. And then I do more or less the same thing with the translated text. It’s a good thing I like to read!

When you’ve finished a project, have you ever gotten so hooked on it that you feel a bit like a coauthor?

 More than coauthor, I feel like the midwife. For an author, that book is her baby, and I work to bring about its (re)birth so that it’s healthy and strong in translation. Usually a literary translator works either for a publisher, for herself on texts from the public domain, or for the author. In the first case, the translator has to stick to the original text as closely as possible since contact with the author is minimal or nonexistent. In the second case, since the author is generally no longer living the translator is free to interpret the text, and in the last case it’s a matter of collaboration. Personally, I like teamwork, but each translator has his/her preferences and strengths.

Do you have a website or can you suggest any for further information about your profession?

I’ve got a site at, and readers can find a wealth of information about literary translation and translators at

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