Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!
Please welcome this month’s interviewee, Diane Grosklaus Whitty, nominated by Kim Olson.
1. How did you get into translation? And what was the importance of co-translating a book by Mário Quintana, a well-known Brazilian author (and also translator), in your early translation years?
I drifted into translation much as I drifted into a 23-year residency in Brazil, cutting short vague plans to pursue an academic career in psycholinguistics. About two years into my ex-pat life, I started committing translations. I say ”committing” because I had no business tackling the task at that point. But it was 1978 and I was a native English speaker in a high-demand market, long before email, the internet, or even personal computers (I used a manual typewriter back then). Today I realize I got very lucky with Mário Quintana’s book: lucky to have been given the assignment and lucky that it didn’t present any major translation challenges, for which I would not have been prepared. Prime rule for a translator: know what you don’t know. I caught on to that over the years, as I took short courses and attended seminars in translation, and as experience hit me aside the head every once in a while. My four-year stint as in-house translator and interpreter for the Australian Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro (1982-86) was a period of intense on-the-job training. By the time the Australian government closed the consulate, I was ready to take the plunge as a full-time free-lancer.
2 The first thing that struck my attention when researching about you to create your questions was the quality of the detailed information one can find on your website, especially your vast portfolio. How important do you think it is for a translator to showcase their portfolio?
I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all formula. If you’re a new translator starting out and don’t have much of a portfolio, spending time and money on a website might not be as important as investing in ATA certification or a new CAT tool. In my case, however, while I don’t have a degree in translation or a master’s in, say, public health, what I do have is vast experience – more years than I actually advertise! So my site serves to showcase my work in a way a resume never would. I actually created it just a year ago. I source over half of my income from direct clients in Brazil and when the real plummeted in late 2015/early 2016, I pulled back from the Brazilian market for a while and devoted my extra time to designing the site. I’ve gotten little traffic through it (half a dozen certified document translations), but I think it serves its other purpose well. I should point out that only about 10% of my work is for agencies; busy PMs want a neat and tidy resume to tuck away in their virtual file cabinet plus a list of the CAT tools you work with; they won’t take the time to visit a website. But here’s an example of how it works with my direct clients: I was approached last fall by a publisher about a non-fiction book on Zika. In my email reply to her query, I highlighted relevant jobs from my portfolio and pointed the editor to my website, where she could also look at samples of my work in the ”snippets” tab. I can’t confirm that the website made any difference in the fact that I landed the assignment (my current favorite-ever), but having the information neatly laid out somehow made it easier to pitch my skills.
At the same time, whether you want to showcase your portfolio or not, I feel it’s important to maintain one. For years, I used to do this in a simple Word file, plugging the raw data into a table hidden inside a folder on my desktop. The website transformed a dreary act of record-keeping into the chance to see the efforts of my labor on display.
3. You mention your all-time favorite escort interpreting assignment was working for the Australian delegation at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. Could you tell us a bit what it was like and why you enjoyed doing it?
I think translators and interpreters are insatiably curious, and this particular assignment gave me glimpses into slices of the world to which I would otherwise not be privy. I sat in while the shadow minister for the environment – a devout Catholic – engaged in an hour-long private conversation with an elderly priest who had been a militant under the dictatorship; I also interpreted for the then-minister of the environment, whose appointments included meeting with a group of street children who were learning sustainable crafts. I was actually a “girl Friday” for the 40 or so members of the delegation, untangling logistic snarls, giving lessons in local culture, and accompanying groups through exhibits and sometimes just around town. Perhaps what I loved most was never knowing which of my language or cultural competency skills might come into play. And the Earth Summit was history – who doesn’t enjoy watching it unfold?
4. Besides having an amazing portfolio, you also showcase some great testimonials, such as “You are like Romário in Brazil. Nobody can replace you,” by a filmmaker, and “you choose the words as I choose the notes when I write an arrangement, very carefully,” by a jazz saxophonist and flautist. Do you think having testimonials help build trust with our potential clients and make them choose us?
Yes, definitely. In a world where ”e-meeting” has become the norm, and where scams are a constant plague, I think testimonials help legitimize your claims and add a personal touch. I’ve drawn most of the testimonials from email exchanges with clients (with their permission), and I have two criteria in mind when deciding what to post. First, I want the comments to mention the qualities and skills that I feel I bring to the job. Second, since the bulk of my work is for direct clients, I give top billing to recognizable names in a given field. So if a scholar or publisher contacts me about a potential job, I can direct them to my site, where they will often recognize a name or two, by reputation or even personally (Brazilian academia is a small world). It helped that I had horded positive feedback over the years in a special file. I recommend it for those days when a job, or a client, has you tearing your hair out and wondering why you ever decided to be a translator – you can take a stroll down memory lane and re-visit some of the clients who make your job a pleasure.
5. Besides having a thorough website not many freelance translators have, you also have a Facebook page, something else not all freelance translators have either (not to mention a rather active ProZ.com profile). And you do share some interesting articles there. How important do you think it is, for freelance translators, to be online?
I don’t consciously seek to maintain an active online presence. In fact, I’m not really a big fan of social media. I created my professional FB page on a whim, but then I found that it forces me to pull my head out of my work and have a little fun. When I left Brazil and returned to the Midwest, in 1999, I started my own little email newsletter for my clients back in Brazil, called ”News of North and South” (a nod to Elizabeth Bishop). It wasn’t focused on translation but on news that might be of interest to my clients – Caetano Veloso’s show in Chicago, my experience with ”return-to-my-native-culture shock,” a US report about something happening in Brazil. It was my excuse to send clients an email and remind them I existed, without directly nagging them for work. I’ve discovered that my FB page works much the same way. I post about translation, language in general, Brazilian literature in translation… and try to keep it light and entertaining. And since it’s FB, I also use it to advertise my accomplishments and pat myself on the back. I automatically repost to my personal FB page, because many of my FB friends are also longtime clients. I can’t say the rewards are all that tangible, but the investment is minimal. Over the years, I’ve learned that big rewards can come from tiny investments.
7. Now it is your turn. Who do you nominate to be our next interviewee?
I would like to nominate Alison Entrekin, a force in bringing new voices in Brazilian literature to the world stage. Alison has three skills I greatly admire: a matchless talent for reproducing the Brazilian reader’s experience in English (a way of looking at translation that I’ve learned from her), utmost grace in crafting English prose, and an ability to reflect on the translation process itself – reflections that she generously shares with her colleagues, much to our good fortune.
It was a pleasure to e-meet you, Diane, and to get to know a bit more about you. I really appreciate your taking the time to kindly answer my questions. 🙂