Posts Tagged ‘Alan Cheuse’


The Book Studio at WETA

January 4, 2010

I’ve just recently (and belatedly) discovered The Book Studio, an online review and interview site hosted by WETA, Washington, DC’s PBS affiliate. Among the recent additions to the site is managing editor Bethanne Patrick‘s interview with Alan Cheuse about his recent books A Trance Before Breakfast and To Catch The Lightning and another interview with cultural commentator Kevin Smokler of (who appeared last September at the Fall for the Book Festival as well). Also of note: In early December, my fellow Washington Post critics Ron Charles, Louis Bayard and Maureen Corrigan talked about the best books of 2009 — a don’t-miss discussion. The Book Studio has now surpassed 100 interviews in all, so there’s plenty to enjoy. If you haven’t already done it, check it out!

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Baseball & Basketball Briefly, and a Book Launch

April 6, 2009

tarheelsToday’s scheduled interview, with N.C. sportswriter Brett Friedlander, has been slightly delayed, but with good reason. Friedlander is the co-author of a new book on Moonlight Graham, the real-life baseball player and physician made famous in W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe and the film adaptation Field of Dreams. More recently, however, Friedlander has been covering the NCAA Tournament, and with Carolina going all the way to tonight’s championship… well, we’re glad to wait on those answers. Go Heels!

In the meantime, just a quick note about yesterday’s reading by Richard Currey, author of Fatal Light, a novel just recently republished in a 20th anniversary edition by the Santa Fe Writers’ Project. The book launch party at The Writer’s Center was a great success, and Currey not only read an introduction he’d penned for the new edition but also sampled several passages throughout the book, from the opening lines to the closing coda, given readers a sense of both the book’s overall narrative arc and its lyrical intensity. Robert Aubrey Davis provided a warm introduction, looking back to Currey’s first published work and reflecting on Alan Cheuse‘s glowing review of Fatal Light when it first came out back in 1988. Cheuse himself showed up for a quick chat with the author and with Jon Peede, director of the NEA’s national initiative, Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience. Serena Agusto-Cox, fellow blogger over at Savvy Verse and Wit, was in the audience. (Glad to finally meet her in person, if only briefly!) And special kudos go to Kim McGlynn and Stephanie McBride of the George School in Newtown, PA, who are preparing study guides to be published online in conjunction with Fatal Light‘s rerelease and who drove down especially for the reading; the novel has been taught at the George School since soon after its first publication, with Currey himself giving the school special privileges to photocopy it for students during the book’s long stretch out of print. Publisher Andrew Gifford beamed happily throughout the event, for reasons both professional and personal.

All in all, a great event — and Gaffney’s afterwards was fun too (though I should have stopped before that third glass of wine).

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Jeffery Deaver & Marita Golden Headline Day-Long Fiction Seminar at George Mason University

February 11, 2009
Jeffrey Deaver

Jeffery Deaver

Bestselling crime novelist Jeffery Deaver will kick-off a day-long fiction writing seminar at George Mason University on Saturday, February 28. The event also features a keynote address by novelist Marita Golden, and the entire day’s events are co-presented by the MFA program at Mason and by American Independent Writers.

It’s a real pleasure to see a mystery angle to the program and also great to see a number of friends and colleagues on the various panels. An early morning session on “Literary Fiction Versus Genre Fiction” features John Gilstrap, James Grady, Donna Andrews, and fellow Mason professor Alan Cheuse, and a second session on “Novelists Who Write Reviews and Criticism” is headlined by Louis Bayard and also features Preservation magazine editor Sudip Bose. (I’m pleased to be serving on that panel myself, though admittedly my own novel can still be read only by someone snooping around the large sheaf of papers on my desk right now).

Marita Golden

Marita Golden

After Golden’s keynote address, afternoon sessions feature more friendly faces, including Mark Athitakis, who writes one of the best blogs in the business, and Laura Ellen Scott, who is currently tearing up the online short story market with her eclectic and highly enjoyable fiction; both authors, as well as Reb Livingston and Bernadette Geyer appear on the panel “New Media and Publishing Creative Writing.” Dallas Hudgens, interviewed recently on my site here, joins Alex MacLennan for the final session, on writing and publishing “Second Novels.”

The complete schedule and registration information is below.

Fiction Writing Seminar

Saturday, February 28, 2009
George Mason University, Johnson Center, Campus Cinema

Sponsored jointly by George Mason University
Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program
and American Independent Writers

8:00 a.m. Registration opens and continental breakfast available

8:45 a.m. Opening Remarks: William Miller, GMU and John Curry, AIW

John Curry is the co-author of the manuscript: WALKING WITH GIRAFFES: THE MAKING OF A LEADER, a memoir about Dr. Hubert Glover former CEO at PricewaterhouseCoopers and chair of the accounting department at Howard University. Curry’s job history includes writing and producing print and documentary projects at the US Information Agency, Voice of America, US News and World Report Books, CBS and CNN. He lectures at the University of Maryland and for more than a decade has taught literature and writing courses at USC, Occidental College, and Santa Monica College. Curry is the author of the novella THE MEDINA WALL, awarded honorable mention in Paris Belletric’s “The Archer Prize,” a Los Angeles literary competition. The writer of op-eds and essays, his short fiction has appeared in Paperplates, Short Stories Bimonthly and Entre Nous, and other publications. John has studied with authors John Rechy (recipient of PEN USA West’s Lifetime Achievement Award), Gay Talese, Mary Yukari Waters and James Regan.

9:00-9:15 a.m. Plenary speech

A former journalist, folksinger and attorney, Jeffery Deaver is an international number-one bestselling author. His novels have appeared on a number of bestseller lists around the world, including The New York Times, The Times of London, Italy’s Corriere della Serra, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Los Angeles Times. His books are sold in 150 countries and translated into 25 languages. The author of 25 novels, two collections of short stories and a nonfiction law book, he’s been awarded the Steel Dagger and Short Story Dagger from the British Crime Writers’ Association, is a three-time recipient of the Ellery Queen Reader’s Award for Best Short Story of the Year and is a winner of the British Thumping Good Read Award. THE COLD MOON was recently named the Book of the Year by the Mystery Writers Association of Japan, as well as by Kono Mystery Wa Sugoi magazine. In addition, the Japanese Adventure Fiction Association awarded the book their annual Grand Prix award. He’s been nominated for six Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America, an Anthony Award and a Gumshoe Award. He was recently shortlisted for the ITV3 Crime Thriller Award for Best International Author. His book A MAIDEN’S GRAVE was made into an HBO movie starring James Garner and Marlee Matlin, and his novel THE BONE COLLECTOR was a feature release from Universal Pictures, starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. His most recent books are THE BODIES LEFT BEHIND, THE BROKEN WINDOW, THE SLEEPING DOLL and MORE TWISTED: COLLECTED STORIES, VOLUME II. And, yes, the rumors are true, he did appear as a corrupt reporter on his favorite soap opera, As the World Turns. Deaver is presently alternating his series featuring Kathryn Dance, who will make her appearances in odd number years, with that starring Lincoln Rhyme, who will appear in even. He was born outside of Chicago and has a bachelor of journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from Fordham University. Readers can visit his website at

9:15-10:30 a.m. Literary Fiction versus Genre Fiction

Literary Snobs and Commercial Sellouts—We’ve all seen it happen: Literary writers bemoan the “trash” that makes the bestseller lists, while writers of popular fiction complain that they don’t get the proper respect from critics and the literary establishment. Our panel of supremely talented authors from both camps–literary and genre–will put faces on the abstractions and openly discuss the truths, truisms and falsehoods that underlie these age old accusations. Audience members will be invited to join in as the fifth panelist.

Moderator John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of six thrillers, the latest of which, NO MERCY will be released on June 27. His previous books include SIX MINUTES TO FREEDOM, SCOTT FREE, EVEN STEVEN, AT ALL COSTS, and NATHAN’S RUN, four of which were selections of the Literary Guild. His novels have been translated into more than 20 languages. John has also adapted four bestselling novels for the big screen: RED DRAGON (uncredited) from the Thomas Harris novel, for Dino DeLaurentiis Productions, WORD OF HONOR (from the Nelson DeMille novel, for Dino DeLaurentiis Productions); YOUNG MEN AND FIRE (from the Norman Maclean book, for Baltimore/Spring Creek Pictures/Warner Brothers); and NATHAN’S RUN (from his own novel, also for Warner Brothers). Last month, he signed on to write the screenplay for SIX MINUTES TO FREEDOM for Sesso Entertainment. A former firefighter and EMT, John holds a master’s degree in safety engineering from the University of Southern California and a bachelor’s degree in history from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Please visit

Donna Andrews is the author of 14 mystery books, including the New York Times bestselling SIX GEESE A-SLAYING. Ten of her books, from St. Martins/Minotaur, are humorous mysteries featuring Virginia ornamental blacksmith Meg Langslow, and four, from Berkley Prime Crime, feature Turing Hopper, an artificial intelligence who lives in a corporate computer system. Andrews’s first book, MURDER WITH PEACOCKS, won the Agatha, Anthony, Barry, and Romantic Times awards for best first mystery as well as the Lefty Award for the funniest mystery of 1999. She also won the Agatha award for best novel with YOU’VE GOT MURDER, a second Lefty award in 2006 for WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARROTS, and the Agatha award for best short story in 2008 with “A Rat’s Tail,” from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. An alumna of the University of Virginia, Andrews worked for many years in corporate communications before leaving her day job to write full time in 2001. She is the current treasurer of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, a past president of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, a member of the board of directors of Malice Domestic (an annual Washington area conference honoring the traditional mystery), and a member of the Private Investigators and Security Association. She lives in Reston, Virginia.

Alan Cheuse is the author of the novels THE BOHEMIANS (1982), THE GRANDMOTHER’S CLUB (1986), THE LIGHT POSSESSED (1990), and TO CATCH THE LIGHTNING (2008) plus three collections of short fiction, CANDACE AND OTHER STORIES (1980), THE TENNESSEE WALTZ (1991), and LOST AND OLD RIVERS (1998), and a pair of novellas THE FIRES (2007), as well as the nonfiction work FALL OUT OF HEAVEN: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL JOURNEY (1987). As a book commentator, Cheuse is a regular contributor to National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” He has edited with Caroline Marshall a volume of short stories, LISTENING TO OURSELVES (1994), and with Nicholas Delbanco, TALKING HORSE: BERNARD MALAMUD ON LIFE AND WORK (1997). He is also the editor of SEEING OURSELVES, GREAT AMERICAN SHORT FICTION (2007) and co-editor, with Lisa Alvarez, of WRITERS WORKSHOP IN A BOOK: THE SQUAW VALLEY COMMUNITY OF WRITERS ON THE ART OF FICTION (2007). His short fiction has appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Another Chicago Magazine, and elsewhere. A TRANCE AFTER BREAKFAST, his collected travel essays, will appear this summer.

James Grady, author of SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOR that was adapted into a Robert Redford film, received Italy’s 2004 Raymond Chandler Medal and France’s 2001 Grand Prix Du Roman Noir for his work that spans more than a dozen novels. One of his short stories received an Edgar nomination from the Mystery Writers of America and was bought by FX television. He’s sold feature scripts, created a police drama for CBS TV and worked on-staff for TV icon Stephen Cannell. Grady’s latest novel MAD DOGS has been optioned for a Hollywood feature film and won Japan’s 2008 World Baka-Misu award. In 2008, London’s Daily Telegraph named Grady as one of “50 crime writers to read before you die.” He’s lived in the D.C. area since Nixon, and is married to writer Bonnie Goldstein (who has also been an ABC producer, a U.S. Senate aide, and a private investigator), and is the father of two children, including Academy Award nominated documentary maker Rachel Grady.

10:30-10:45 p.m. Break

10:45-12:00 p.m. Novelists who write Reviews and Criticism

Moderator Nandini Lal is currently working on short stories, poems and a novel set in India. She is a book critic with 20 years’ experience. Her review was cited in the Washington Post Book World’s top books for the year 2008. Her poem was selected for a 600-foot wide DC Peace Mural (2008-2009) by artists and activists. She has been on the board of World Bank’s family publication (WBFN), editorial consultant, copywriter with TSA McCann Ericson, columnist, and film critic. She is a regular contributor to newspapers, magazines and websites of the Indian subcontinent. She moved to the U.S. in 2006.

With the 2008 release of THE BLACK TOWER (Morrow), the critically acclaimed author Louis Bayard now occupies, in the words of one reviewer, “the upper reaches of the historical-thriller league.” Bayard’s previous books were THE PALE BLUE EYE (HarperCollins), a national bestseller nominated for both the Edgar and Dagger awards, and MR. TIMOTHY (HarperCollins), a New York Times Notable Book and one of People magazine’s 10 best books of 2003. Louis’ novels have been translated into 10 languages, including Spanish, French, Portuguese, German and Russian, and he was recently selected as one of Out magazine’s top 100 cultural figures. In addition to working as a staff writer and book reviewer for Salon magazine, Louis has published articles and reviews in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Ms., and Preservation. His other novels include FOOL’S ERRAND and ENDANGERED SPECIES (Alyson). He is also a contributor to the anthologies THE WORST NOEL and MAYBE BABY (HarperCollins) and 101 DAMNATIONS (St. Martin’s).

Sudip Bose is senior editor of Preservation magazine, where he has edited the work of such writers as J.M. Coetzee, Ann Beattie, Tim Gautreaux, Phillip Lopate, Anita Desai, Frederick Busch, Madison Smartt Bell, and numerous others. He was born in Carbondale, Illinois, in 1973, attended Cornell University, and has lived in the Washington, D.C., area since 1996. His essays and book reviews have appeared in The American Scholar, the Washington Post Book World, Smithsonian, the New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The New Criterion, and Salon, among other places. He lives in Silver Spring, Md., with his wife and son.

Art Taylor is an assistant professor of English at George Mason University and one of the organizers of Mason’s annual Fall for the Book Festival. Since 2001, he has been a contributing editor at Metro Magazine in Raleigh, N.C., writing a monthly literary column. Since 2005, he has been a semi-regular reviewer for the Washington Post Book World, with a focus on mysteries and thrillers. Other literary essays/reviews have appeared in publications including The Armchair Detective, Mississippi Quarterly, Mystery Scene, North Carolina Literary Review, and The Oxford American, among other publications. His short stories have been published in several national magazines, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, North American Review, and The Rambler, and in various regional journals/newspapers — among them Cities and Roads, Lifeboat, The Lone Wolf Review, Wellspring, and the Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer’s “Sunday Reader” section (the latter twice). He is currently completing his first novel, FIRST LOVES, SECOND THOUGHTS.

12:00-1:00 p.m. Lunch—brown bag, nearby restaurants, or local fast food.

1:00-1:30 p.m. Keynote speech

Marita Golden has distinguished herself as a novelist, nonfiction writer, teacher of writing and literary institution. Her books, many of which have been used widely in African American, Women’s Studies and Literature Courses include the memoirs MIGRATIONS OF THE HEART, SAVING OUR SONS, and DON’T PLAY IN THE SUN: ONE WOMAN’S JOURNEY THROUGH THE COLOR COMPLEX as well as the novels LONG DISTANCE LIFE, THE EDGE OF HEAVEN, and most recently AFTER, which won the Fiction Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. She is the editor of the anthology IT’S ALL LOVE “BLACK WRITERS ON SOUL MATES FAMILY AND FRIENDS”. As a literary institution builder she co-founded both the African American Writers Guild and the Hurston/Wright Foundation. She serves as President Emeritus of the Hurston/Wright Foundation. As a teacher of writing she has held positions at George Mason University, Virginia Commonwealth University and currently serves as Writer in Residence at the University of the District of Columbia. Among the awards Golden has received in recognition of her writing career and her work as a literary activist are the Distinguished Service Award from the Authors Guild and the Writers for Writers Award presented by Barnes and Noble. She has spoken at colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad and has been a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show as well as ABC’s Primetime Live. Marita Golden lives with her husband in Mitchellville, Maryland.

1:30-2:45 p.m. New Media and Publishing Creative Writing

Literary publishing and marketing are currently going through a rapid transformation with rise of New Media and the reduction/evaporation of traditional media outlets. How do writers find their ways among these changes? Panelists will discuss new models for publishing, book reviewing and promotion (including social networking), as well how short fiction is evolving in response to a new generation of readers on the screen. This panel will probe assumptions of fiction being a commodity and the conventions associated with that.

Moderator Reb Livingston is the editor of the online poetry magazine No Tell Motel ( and publisher of No Tell Books ( ). She’s the author of YOUR TEN FAVORITE WORDS (Coconut Books) and co-editor of THE BEDSIDE GUIDE TO NO TELL MOTEL anthology series. Her poems have appeared in THE BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2006, The American Poetry Review, Coconut and other publications. During the ’90’s she worked as a programming manager and producer for America Online. She blogs at

Mark Athitakis is a D.C.-based writer and editor who has spent more than a dozen years contributing news, features, and reviews to daily newspapers, alternative weeklies, and magazines. His book reviews and author interviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, the Chicago Sun-Times, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, among other publications. He maintains a blog, American Fiction Notes (, that features regular commentary on books and trends in the publishing world, as well as a schedule of upcoming literary events in the greater Washington, D.C. area. He can be reached via e-mail at or via Twitter (

Bernadette Geyer is a freelance writer and poet in the DC area. She has founded and manages five web sites and three blogs. Her articles, book reviews and poems have appeared in Go World Travel Magazine, Freelance Writer’s Report, Sustainable Development International, 32 Poems, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and elsewhere. She publishes a monthly electronic newsletter on energy issues and tracks energy funding opportunities for one of her blogs.

Laura Ellen Scott teaches fiction writing in the undergraduate program at George Mason University. Her fiction can be found in print and online in Ploughshares, Mississippi Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Identity Theory, Hobart, Plots with Guns, Ink Pot Special Edition Short Story & Flash Fiction, Eclectica’s Best Fiction, Storyglossia, elimae, Behind the Wainscot, and Juked. Stories are forthcoming in Barrelhouse and the Paycock Press anthology GRAVITE DANCERS: MORE FICTION BY WASHINGTON AREA WOMEN. Her writing blog is

2:45-3:00 p.m. Break

3:00-4:15 p.m. Second Novels

Dallas Hudgens is the author of the novels DRIVE LIKE HELL (Scribner, 2005) and SEASON OF GENE (Scribner, 2007). He holds an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University.

Alex MacLennan’s debut novel, THE ZOOKEEPER, was published by Alyson Books in May 2006, and was a finalist for a number of Debut Fiction awards. A short story, “Touching the Pole,” was featured in STRESS CITY: A BIG BOOK OF FICTION BY 51 D.C. GUYS in 2008. Alex holds an MFA in Creative Writing from American University, and received a Larry Neal Writer’s Award in 2004. He was named a Writer to Watch by Washingtonian magazine in 2006, and currently writes for Conservation International, a global environmental group.

Moderator and other panelists to be announced


Register online at, by telephone to (202) 775-5150 or by FAX to (202) 775-5810.

AIW Members $119, Non-members $189, and Students $69.

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Kyle Semmel Talks Translations

December 21, 2008

kyletrimmedKyle Semmel’s work as publications & communications manager of The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, is unquestionably a full-time job. Semmel handles all of the marketing and advertising for the Center’s fine offerings (classes, readings, and other programs), helps to network the Center to other arts organizations in the area and beyond, and also heads up the organization’s blog at First Person Plural. But his work at The Writer’s Center is only part of Semmel’s life in the world of literature.

An accomplished writer himself, Semmel has long been committed to the craft of fiction. His first published story, “Lake Effect,” appeared in the Ontario Review, and “The Throw,” a fictional take on Dizzy Dean of the St. Louis Cardinals, is forthcoming in Spitball: The Literary Baseball Magazine. His interest in the novella has recently prompted him to work on a connected series of them (a project that continues to evolve) and to write on the novella in his posts for First Person Plural.

In publishing, Semmel has also been closely involved in recent years with the Santa Fe Writers Project, helping to produce and promote books including Ray Robertson’s Moody Food, Alan Cheuse’s The Fires, and Pagan Kennedy’s The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other Stories. 

And most recently, Semmel has found success as a translator — particularly helping to bring Danish authors a wider American audience. His translation of Danish poet Pia Tafdrup’s essay “Medellín Illuminated: Poetry and War at the 14th Annual Poetry Festival” was printed in Aufgabe: Journal of Poetry, and he’s been involved in an extended project translating a number of stories and a longer work by brooklyn-review-cover25Simon Fruelund, several of which have already found publishers: “Tide” appeared in The Brooklyn Review (full issue downloadable here); “Unsettled” was included in The Bitter Oleander; and  “What Is It?” will appear in an upcoming issue of Redivider: A Journal of New Literature and Art. As a result of his success so far, Semmel has recently been awarded a Translation Grant from The Danish Arts Council.

Semmel will be sampling his work at a Writer’s Center Staff Reading on January 11. In advance of that, he talks here about the art of translating and recommends several recent and upcoming translations. 

How did you first get involved in translating? And why Danish in particular? (A particular demand for Danish literature? A niche market? Some personal tie to the country perhaps?)

My father was fascinated by the German language and so I kind of absorbed his interest. It started there. In graduate school I met my wife, who is Danish. The two languages are very different, but they share enough similarities that it was easier for me to learn.

I don’t think there’s a “demand” for Danish literature, any more than Ecuadorian or Korean. There are a number of great Danish writers — a few Nobel prize winners, mostly forgotten today — but you do see very few of them in print over here. Peter Hoeg is probably the most well-known Danish writer living today after the success of Borderliners (a great book), 2316720789_763bee30d1but Christian Jungerson published a big book here last year, The Exception, that got great reviews (I haven’t read it), and this year Hawthorne Books published Peter Fogtdal’s The Tsar’s Dwarf. I don’t know how the translation reads — though since Tiina Nunnally translates, I suspect it’s wonderful — but the original is terrific and fun. Fogtdal has quite a few books, so there’s plenty more to mine there. 

I think I do it simply because I love doing it, it’s a neat challenge, and there are a large number of great undiscovered Danish writers out there.

How has your training and your skill as a fiction writer helped you with translating another person’s stories into English? And vice-versa, how has translating impacted your work on your own fiction? Can you do both at the same time, shuttling between projects?

These days I’m writing very little of my own fiction. I’m working on the manuscript by Simon Fruelund, and that’s taking the bulk of my time. I might — it’s entirely possible — be trying to avoid writing my own fiction by translating. Has it helped my own fiction? I don’t think so. For me, at least, it seems like two totally separate mind-sets. When I translate I’m taking a form that already exists and shifting it into another language. There’s something almost businesslike about it. You get in a groove, but the story is pretty much all set for you; you’ve just got to do it justice in a new language. When I write fiction I’m out in new territory, making up the story as I go along. There’s something both liberating and terrifying about that — which is probably why I’m not doing it.

But if I were writing fiction right now, I could shuttle back and forth between the two. It goes back to being two different mind-sets.

In advance of this year’s Nobel Prizes, committee member Horace Engdahl made some comments about American writers’ and readers’ insularity — particularly commenting that Americans don’t translate enough or read enough in translation. You’ve already written (passionately) about this controversy, and so I don’t want to revisit it too much, but I am curious why YOU, as a translator yourself, might encourage American readers to check out a new French or Japanese or (since you mentioned it) Ecuadorian or Korean or, of course, Danish writer? What might we get from those works that we won’t find in American novels and short stories?

bolanolastevenings_sI think this is the million-dollar question. Why, when sifting through the hundreds of thousands of books published each year in the U.S. alone, would we pick up a translated book over a domestic book? Marketing is the key. New Directions has been publishing Roberto Bolano’s books these past few years [even before The Savage Detectives and 2666] and doing a fantastic job of marketing them. He was a great literary talent — and it helps (from a marketing perspective!) that he died young — and he deserves to be translated into English. My gut feeling is that he’s going to be read in the same way as Garcia Marquez, and treated as a classic Latin American writer.

But the short answer is that American readers don’t read many translated books because they never hear about them. I don’t for one second think that Americans wouldn’t love to pick up more books by foreign authors. If publishers gave a little marketing shove to some translations then you could see more translated books being read.

By the way, I read in the Washington Post that Horace Engdahl stepped down from his position at Nobel. This might be stemming from his lame-brained comments. I don’t know. In either case, I think he’s a representative of an old world belief that needs to be replaced.

What recent (or even not-so-recent) translations would you specifically recommend to others?

Anything by translators Barbara Haveland or Tiina Nunnally. They translate Scandinavian books and they are very good. Barbara Haveland translated Jan Kjaerstad’s The Discoverer into English (which will be published in the spring by Open Letter Press), and Tiina Nunnally has done some of Per Olov Enquist’s books. Jay Rubin’s translation of Murakami’s After Dark is great. Rubin and Philip Gabriel both translate Murakami, and it might be worth seeing the difference in Murakami’s “voice” as it’s filtered through two different translators.

coverIn a separate but related aside, I recently heard a program on NPR’s “The World” about Linn Ullman’s new book A Blessed Child. Linn Ullman is the daughter of Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullman, and she’s a pretty important Norwegian writer. The new book is apparently a riff on her father’s famous film Wild Strawberries. What was interesting about this program was how the reporter and her guest — a man who directed the international literature division of, I think, the University of Iowa — never mentioned the translator even once. It sounded as though this guy, who describes the book’s plot, had read it in the original, and that sounded fishy to me. So I checked online and found that the translator was a woman named Sarah Death (yes, Death).

Now it IS possible that he read it in the original, but the fact is the book has been translated into English, and that’s a moment when it’d be very helpful for listeners to know that they don’t have to understand Norwegian to read the book.

Translators don’t get much respect. But a good translator can make or break a book, and they should be recognized for the hard work they do. I don’t think I’m just writing that because I’d like to do a lot more of these translations. I think it’s a legitimate concern, because the translator IS responsible for making the thing as right-sounding as possible.

In that regard, what does make for a “good translation”? How can we readers who may not have access to the original for comparison (or the language skills to make that comparison even if we had the original) — how can we judge whether a translated work is successful or not?

I think a successful translation should read smoothly. Readers don’t need to know a language to know that something sounds off. Or if something is written that you know is wrong — calling a medical doctor a medic or something like that, when you know the author must’ve meant something else. Of course, some things are simply impossible to translate, and it may come across as a translator error. Stilted dialogue in the translation may in fact be stilted dialogue in the original. So it’s not a perfect science. My best indicator of a good translation is fluidity: Do we forget this thing is translated? Does it read like something written in English? The same rules should apply for a translation that applies for a book published in English. It should flow, and the language should be exact.

 — Interviewed by Art Taylor

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News Briefs

November 11, 2008

File this one under “Someday My Blog Will Have a Staff”:

32 Poems is looking for 1-2 extra sets of hands to help us grow.

The 32 Poems intern could help with any of the items below that looks interesting:

  • planning readings (best if you live in large metro area);
  • creating concept for new renewal postcards (graphic designer would do the actual design work);
  • sending out renewal postcards;
  • creating concept for new subscription postcards (graphic designer would do the actual design work);
  • building or updating website;
  • contributing to blog with interesting posts;
  • photographing or taking video of 32 poems events;
  • reading poems sent in via online system;
  • manning 32 Poems table at AWP for a few hours each day;
  • inventing interactive ways to engage with people at AWP conference;
  • using web 2.0 tools to create community.

If you are already familiar with 32 Poems, you are welcome to suggest an area we need to work on and to explain how your skills would help with that. 

Please send a cover letter explaining your experience in 1-2 of the areas above to Please do not send a resume or any attachments at this time. If you know how to make video, you are welcome to make a video explaining your experience. In that case, just send me the link.

Please also put “32 Poems intern” in the subject line, so I can filter the emails to a special folder.

And file this under “I Missed Alan at Politics & Prose, But Now That He’s Reading On Campus…”:

The George Mason University Bookstore is hosting a Faculty Author Event on the lower level of the bookstore on November 18 from 5:30 p.m – 8:30 p.m. The featured faculty authors that evening will be Russell Roberts (author of The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity) and Alan Cheuse (author of To Catch the Lightning: A Novel of American Dreaming). Each author will speak and sign books with special time for Q&A.

Russ is scheduled to speak at 5:30 p.m., then Alan is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. The Mason Bookstore will have titles by each of these authors available for purchase. Light refreshments will be available from 6:30 p.m.-7 p.m. All are welcome to attend at any point during the event. Contact Jennifer Nance, 703-993-2665 with any questions.

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