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

Ben arrivato 2014! / Glad you’re here, 2014!

Un altro anno nuovo, e sono piena di ottimismo! Aspetto grande cose dal 2014. Perché?

L’anno scorso ho avuto l’occasione di conoscere molto persone nuove, in particolare al Women’s Fiction Festival di Matera nel mese di settembre e tramite la European Writing Women Association (EWWA) che è nata poco dopo. Inoltre, ho iniziato di frequentare un gruppo per scrittori: una volta la settimana ci troviamo per leggere i nostri scritti e chiedere suggerimenti e opinioni. Opportunità come queste possono assomigliare un tesoro inaspettatamente trovato e possono trasformare il nostro approccio alla scrittura.

Generalmente pensiamo alla nostra passione come un’attività da fare in solitudine. E spesso è proprio così. Ma vorrei evidenziare – in giallo fosforescente – l’importanza e utilità di leggere a voce alta i propri scritti ad altri scrittori, aspiranti o professionisti che siano. Con i nostri simili, possiamo provare forme nuove, sbagliare, migliore, confrontarci, gioire, esprimerci, ricevere la critica costruttiva, e festeggiare con persone che comprendono, nel loro profondo, cosa vuol dire mettersi in gioco attraverso la parola scritta. Certo, può essere utile far leggere tuo manoscritto da amici e parenti, ma l’occhio di un altro scrittore porta una valenza imparagonabile.  Infatti, lo scambio di opinioni e esperienze diventa essenziale quando lavoriamo principalmente da soli. Il feedback che si può ricevere in un gruppo di scrittori ti stimola in ogni fase della scrittura, dalla prima idea alla stesura e le revisioni, e all’importante momento di inviare tuo manoscritto all’editor.

Ed è una strada a due direzioni! Leggendo i lavori degli altri ti aiuta a migliorare i tuoi scritti. In parte perché sviluppa il tuo occhio critico, ma anche perché ti spinge ad esaminare le tue parole da un punto di vista nuovo. Spesso lo scrittore con più esperienza nel gruppo trova qualcosa di fresco e diverso quando lui/lei partecipa in un gruppo di questo genere, e quello dilettante trova uno spazio protetto per la propria voce.

Quindi, guardiamo 2014 come un anno per migliore le nostre capacità, con un desiderio di crescere e far sentire le nostre voci. Buon anno a tutti!

Here we are with another new year before us, and I’m full of optimism! I have high hopes for 2014. Why? you ask.

Last year I had occasions to meet many new people, in particular at the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera in September and through the European Writing Women Association (EWWA) that formed shortly thereafter. In addition, I’ve started attending a weekly writers’ group. These interactive opportunities can feel like a long-lost treasure and can transform the way we approach writing.

We generally think of this passion of ours as a solitary activity. In fact, time and space to work on your manuscript privately is greatly important. But I’d like to highlight – using the brightest shade of yellow possible – the importance and usefulness of reading your work out loud to other writers, whether they’re amateurs or professionals. Together with people who share your same love for the written word, it’s possible to try new forms, make mistakes, improve, test yourself, rejoice, receive constructive criticism and celebrate with others who understand deep down inside what it means to put yourself “out there” through your writing. Sure, it can be helpful to have your friends and family read your manuscript, but another writer’s eye provides an unparalleled perspective. Indeed, when so much of the work is done alone, an exchange of opinions and experiences becomes essential. Feedback from a writers’ group can stimulate you during each step of the process, from your initial idea, to carving out the first draft and rewrites, and all the way up to that important moment when you send your manuscript off to an editor.

And one of the best things about sharing with other writers is that it’s a two-way street! Reading what others have written helps you with your own writing: in part because it develops your critical eye, and also because it pushes you to look at what you’ve written from a new perspective. Often more experienced writers find freshness and novelty when they participate in group settings, while  new authors find a sheltered place to test their own voice.

So, let’s look at 2014 as a year to work on our skills, with a renewed desire to grow and make our voices heard.

Happy new year to all!