Greatest Women in Translation: Julia Sanches

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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series, dearest followers! After a long hiatus of setbacks, we’re finally back!

Please welcome this month’s interviewee, Julia Sanches, Brazilian-born literary translator from Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Catalan into English.

Julia Sanches

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1. You’re Brazilian-born (São Paulo), but work into English (from Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan and French). How is that so, considering we usually translate into our mother tongue?

I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot, lately; not about how it is I translate into English – it’s obvious to me – but about the idea of mother tongues. This rethinking was in part prompted by Esther Kim and Frances McNeill’s essays in the latest issue of In Other Words. In “We May Have All Come on Different Ships, But We’re in the Same Boat Now: Why We Should Not Label Translators as ‘L2’ or ‘Non-Native,’” McNeill interrogates the validity of the L1/L2 designations (L1 being “the language you think in, you feel in, you know best, whereas L2 is the language you aspire to speak fluently”), while in “Inheritance from Mother,” Kim points to the troubling lack of heritage speakers in the professional world of literary translation, and offers ways to address this.

In her essay, McNeill offers three examples that belie the L1/L2 dichotomy and interrogates whether or not one should consider the person in question an L2 speaker. Here’s my example: A person born in Brazil to Brazilian parents moves to the United States with her parents when she is three-months old. She is dropped into English-only education and quickly comes to speak English fluently. She speaks Portuguese at home and with her extended family in Brazil; they call her gringa. Eight years later, she moves with her parents to Mexico City and enters a bilingual school, where classes are imparted both in Spanish and English. She becomes fluent in Spanish – they call her güera – retains her English and continues to speak Portuguese at home. Five years later, she moves back to the United States with her family, where she attends a monolingual (English) public school. One year later, she moves with her family to Switzerland, where she attends an international school (read: where students’ common language is English). She later completes her higher education in Scotland (English) and Spain (Spanish). What is this person’s (you got it, it’s me) L1/L2?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘mother tongue’ as ‘one’s native language; a first language.’ So, in that respect, Portuguese is my mother tongue – it is the first language I picked up at home, from my mother, who always insisted that I should never lose it – although the notion of languages being native (i.e. inherent to, innate, naturally becoming, again according to the OED) to anyone baffles me a little; our capacity for language may be innate, but its execution has, in my experience, been very much learned.

What’s more: I’m a citizen of Brazil and of no other country. Although I lived in Europe for fifteen years, it was never anywhere that made citizenship an easy path for me. After about thirteen years in the United States, I can finally apply for citizenship, though I’m not sure I’ll ever feel American. I could uncomplicate my identity as a translator by obviating the fact that I’m Brazilian, but what’s the fun in that?

2. On your website, you say you are soon-to-be chair of the Translators Group of the Authors Guild. Could you tell us more about it?

We’re in the process of creating a Translators Group within the Authors Guild, following the model of the Society of Authors’ Translators Association in the UK. Generally speaking, there’s an industry standard for author contracts and terms here in the U.S. This standard wasn’t arrived at out of the kindness of publishers’ hearts, but was fought for. The idea behind creating a Translators Group is to support work to establish similar industry standards for translators. Alex Zucker and Jessica Cohen have been working with the Authors Guild on a model contract that would spell out certain contractual terms that might seem impenetrable to some translators, among other things.

Another thing we’re exploring is establishing translator communities within the Authors Guild’s regional chapters around the country, to help better share information about contracts and other working conditions. The Authors Guild is the only organization in the U.S. with in-house lawyers providing legal services to authors and translators, and they’re already huge advocates for translation and translators. The idea is to focus this effort.

3. Last year, the Brazilian publishing house Companhia das Letras invited five Brazilian literary translators to talk about their professional trajectory in their blog in celebration of the International Translation Day, and you were among them. You wrote about your experience translating The Sun on My Head, Geovani Martins’ first book. On Twitter, you said you wrote the blog post in English and then translated it into Portuguese, but didn’t like the self-translation process. Do you remember why?

I sound completely unlike myself in Portuguese. It was like giving voice to a stilted and awkward-sounding stranger who happened to also be called Julia Sanches.

4. You retweeted a quote by Javier Cercas at the Edinburgh Book Festival, “Translators are like psychoanalysts. They know you really, really, really well. I’m really scared of them.” On your post for Companhia das Letras (above), you said the relationship between translators and “their” authors is disturbing, unbalanced, partial and voyeuristic (curiosity: were these the words you originally used in your English version?). Could you elaborate more on the relationship between the author and their translator?

First off: in English, it was “lopsided, unreciprocated, and often hair-raisingly voyeuristic.” Interesting…

What can I say but that: when I translate – especially when the book in question is such an engrossing challenge as Martins’ collection, something so distant from my lived experience – I get a tad obsessive. If you were to decontextualize my behavior, it might seem stalkerish, even. I read everything I can about the book, the author, I read the book itself a gazillion times, both in English and in Portuguese (and I’d probably read them in other languages, if it were available to me). I follow the author on Twitter if I can, and Instagram (yikes). I draw connections between what they post about music (etc) and the musical (and other) references in the book. Often, I go to bed with a translation problem at the back of my mind – sometimes even at the forefront – and wake up fretting about it, too. On good days, I’ll have a solution by the time I’m at my computer.

It’s a bit like crawling into and living in another person’s skin for a long stretch of time. Or spying on a neighbor from across the street. You know near everything about them and often they don’t know the first thing about you. It’s a little bit creepy – in a totally harmless way.

5. You are one of the organizers of the And Other Stories’ Portuguese Reading Group. The 2018 group had, for the first ever, an all-Brazilian reading list (including one translated by yourself). Could you tell us a bit more about how it works? Are there any plans for another edition in the near future?

And Other Stories’ Reading Groups are a rather innovative and ingenious way for the publisher (AOS) to find overlooked gems from other languages to publish in English. The idea is to put in the hands of readers some of the sleuthing, reading, and evaluating that goes into figuring out what to publish. On my side: I email a bunch of Portuguese readers and ask if they’d like to participate; then reach out to agents and ask for materials (hard copies usually, no one really likes reading on screens); we meet, in person, if possible, but usually over Skype, to discuss our impressions, which I then memorialize and share with the publishers. Rinse and repeat. It’s quite fun. Victor Meadowcroft, who will be heading the UK group, and I are currently choosing which titles to read and discuss in the fall. You should join us!

6. You write really well! I’m truly impressed and in love with your writings. Haven’t you ever thought of venturing into being an author yourself?

Oh, gosh. Thank you! Writing fills me with a very particular and acute anxiety, so I tend to avoid it. Translating ticks that box for me, whatever that means. It’s thrilling, plus, I get to hang out in and between various languages, which is where I feel most at home.

7. I will take advantage of your inside view into Brazilian literature and ask for recommendations. What books do you personally recommend, translated or not?

I’ve recently finished reading Emilio Fraia’s Sebastopol, which I deeply enjoyed. The prose is just my style, limpid and charged. He’s also quite masterful at creating suspense, at leaving things unsaid, at giving voice and weight to silences.

8. I could keep asking you a ton of questions, but I’ll leave you for now. So now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I’d like to nominate Charlotte Whittle, an acrobatic translator from Spanish whose recent projects include Norah Lange’s People in the Room and Jorge Comensal’s The Mutations. She is also one of the editors of Cardboard House Press and periodically holds cartonera workshops. Aside from all this, Charlotte is an amazing storyteller; she’s got an eye for the most off-kilter and delightful details and remembers them, too. We keep each other sane and safe from bouts of imposter syndrome. I think of her as a co-conspirator.

Greatest Women in Translation: Marta Dziurosz

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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

Women in Translation month is over this year, way buzzier than the previous years, but we can keep doing our job here, interviewing and recognizing the great women we have in translation.

Please welcome Marta Dziurosz, nominated by Canan Marasligil.

Marta Dziurosz

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1. The first literary translation job you found on your own was at a book fair in Poland: you say you introduced yourself “at the stall of every publisher, left them some hand-made materials […] and one of them bit.” If you had to do it again, would you do anything differently? What advice would you give to those who are starting out and would like to do the same thing you did?

That was a surprisingly successful strategy for a completely different time and place – I wanted to start translating from English into Polish, and it was perhaps ten years ago. The market of translated literature in Poland is massive, which has all the predictable problems, but it also means it was comparatively easy to start working this way. My relationship with that one publishing house lasted for seven years and I was very happy to be working with them. The thing is I am now doing it again, but the other way round – translating from Polish into English, which is a completely different kettle of fish. The market is tiny and because the resources for publishing translations are so much more stretched, you need to be more canny when introducing yourself if you want to be successful. I won’t lie – it does help to be in London and meet people personally, but exciting things in translation-focused publishing are also happening in the North, with the Northern Fiction Alliance and the focus on translation during the Edinburgh festival. Edinburgh, just like the London Book Fair, the Literary Translation and Creative Writing Summer School in Norwich, Translate at City and International Translation Day, are great focal points of the year when you get a massive shot of industry knowledge, so it’s great to try and be there. People on ETN (the Emerging Translators’ Network) usually have good tips on where to stay. In general, preparation is key – before you pitch or introduce yourself, know what you want to do and who you want to talk to. On the other hand, though, chance encounters and conversations are also great and potentially fruitful. Finally, read widely in your language to see what you like, and read as many books as you can translated into English from your language, see how they do it and ask yourself why.

2. Being a non-native translator of English yourself, you talk a lot about this controversial subject (here, for example). You say you are “increasingly confused about who a native speaker really is” (link above). Why is that?

I want to help make it less controversial. The reason why I am confused about this term is that you’d have to be wilfully ignorant not to see that people arrive at languages at various stages of their lives and through various circumstances.

Language competence, cultural sensitivity, suppleness of phrase, a sly sense of humour, an ear for nuance – these are not exclusive to “native” speakers.

The division between “native” and “non-native” defines the latter negatively, as if through some sort of lack, and “non-native” is frequently used as a shorthand for “in need of linguistic instruction”. I wrote an article about this for The Linguist and a good few people emailed me saying they’ve been holding themselves back in their careers because they felt it wasn’t the done thing to translate into a language you’d come into later in life. Isn’t that a shame?

3. You work at Pan Macmillan, drafting and negotiating most of their translators’ contracts. As you say, it “is an interesting peek behind the scenes” and gives you “the chance to mediate between the two sides of the deal” (link in Q1). What have you learned, as a translator, with this experience? And what advice would you give to translators regarding contracts based on this experience?

As a translator, remember that the person you’re negotiating your contract with (sometimes it will be a dedicated contracts person, sometimes not) is a human being, and not your enemy. Both sides want the deal to happen (preferably on good terms and with the minimum of hassle). Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to negotiate for your preferred terms, but pick your battles and know when to gracefully accept a compromise. Remember that the terms of your contract will to some extent depend on the terms of the “head” contract – that is, the contract your publisher signs to buy rights in the book with the original rights holder (for example, the publisher of the original Spanish book you’re translating into English). If you’re a member of the Translators’ Association, you can use their free contract vetting service, or you can listen to a podcast of an event about this I chaired at Free Word, to cover the basics.

4. You have recently presented a keynote on scents in literature. “The purpose of the talk was to reflect on the many ways in which scent is used in literature to evoke emotions and tell stories,” as you point out in the event’s blog, where you also provide a reading list related to the topic. Could you explain in more details what translating scent is all about?

We had a whole panel discussion about it at Free Word. I am very interested in the transmission of ideas; in this case between words and scents and vice versa. The perfumer Thomas Fontaine recently said in an interview: “Perfume is a story; we get a story from a, for example, fashion brand, and we translate that into fragrances”. At the Free Word event, it was fascinating to discuss the embodiment of a brief into a fragrance, and the translation of scent into literature, as well as translating a book about scents from French into English. When making a transition between languages, or between scent and text, what gets carried across? You can dig pretty deep in that topic, and Ricarda Vidal, one of the participants of the discussion, did just that in her Translation Games project.

5. You are an Associate of London’s Free Word Centre, and were their 2015-2016 Translator in Residence. As a TiR, last year, as part of Free Word’s celebrations around International Women’s Day, you chaired a panel discussion on women in translation, a topic that has everything to do with this series. How can we tackle this gender imbalance in international literature and make a difference? Do you think initiatives such as Women in Translation help somehow?

Of course I am incensed that we still need to discuss this, but we do still need to discuss this. A few recent lists of recommendations for books in translation included barely any women authors, and in terms of review space (dramatically scarce as it is), percentages of books in translation published and event/panel appearances the field is still far from level. The initiative you mention, the new Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, And Other Stories’ idea of publishing only women in 2018 – looking at the history of publishing and the endless years when focusing exclusively on men didn’t even warrant a comment or a moment of reflection, I’d personally say they are very necessary. They make us reflect a bit more about what we read, where we find our recommendations, who we support with our money, attention and time, whose perspective we find worthwhile.

6. As an advocate of Polish literature, what book, in particular, do you recommend for someone who would like to start exploring it? As you already recommended a few that have not been translated yet in your interview to Jen Calleja (link in Q1), it can be one that has been already translated.

The most beautiful Polish book I’ve recently read in translation was Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft and published by Fitzcarraldo. I reviewed it for the Glasgow Review of Books – it’s a beautiful, tender look at people in transit, a personal encyclopedia of travel, movement, migration.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I’d like to nominate the eminent German translator Charlotte Collins, whose work I admire – this is for very selfish reasons, I’d just like to know more about her practice!

Greatest Women in Translation: Nancy Cristina Martorana

Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

This month’s interviewee is Nancy Cristina Martorana, nominated by Angela Levy.

Welcome, Nancy!


nancy martorana

1. You are American, but moved to Brazil in 1956. Why?
2. Every translator has a different story on how they became a translator. What is yours?

Since the answer to these two questions is interrelated, I will merge my answer.

I came to Brazil with my parents when I was only 10. At the time my Dad was an executive transferred to Brazil from a parent company in the United States. I did my schooling at Escola Graduada de São Paulo, better known as Graded School, and knew early in life that I wanted to pursue a career that involved languages. I had actually been in Brazil before, between the age of 8 months and 16 months, also because my Dad was transferred to Brazil from Romania (where I was born). However, My Dad’s company (ITT) won a bid to install basic infrastructure in Iran (Persia, at the time) and I was to spend the next 3 years in that country. Although it was my first language, I do not remember anything, not even after hearing it spoken by the natives years later. Because of all the countries we moved to, my mother decided to get a French governess, wherever we went to make my language learning more consistent. To make a long story short, I already knew in high school that I wanted to do my college at the translation/interpretation school of Geneva. However, I was rejected because I was too young (minimum age of 18) and had to speak three languages fluently to be accepted. This irritated me immensely to be discriminated, especially because of age. Today, as a teacher, I understand fully – years of experience are needed to pursue a career with any degree of success in translation/interpretation; as I tell my students, layers of knowledge are compacted year after year.

3. Although you teach both consecutive and simultaneous interpreting at Alumni, you have more experience with simultaneous than with consecutive interpreting. Do you prefer one over the other? If so, why? If not, what do you like and dislike in both?

In addition to consecutive and simultaneous interpreting, there are other oral forms, like intermittent and focus groups. Basically, consecutive requires rephrasing and own-writing-deciphering skills and the others are direct delivery of the language. I find consecutive the most difficult of all forms since it requires notetaking and notereading (your own notes!). I have done a total of 3 consecutive interpretations in my career, and although some people do prefer them (to my great surprise), I think that associative learning (memorization of translated word associations) is easier than rephrasing. However, consecutive training is a good learning method.

4. However, you go even beyond and also translate (both technical texts and books). Do you prefer one over the other (translation x interpretation)? If so, why? If not, what do you like and dislike in both?
5. Do you only translate from Portuguese into English (your mother tongue)? Why don’t you feel comfortable translating into Portuguese, even after living for so long in Brazil?

Again I will merge the two ideas since one leads into the other.

Actually, I do not like technical texts or books. If you consider that any text which is not conversational is technical, including literary texts, then I would have to say that I only like certain technical texts, including literary texts, where the technicality comes in knowing the language perfectly. Then, after a translator has sweated many hours looking up technical terms and can say that he/she has relatively mastered the subject, even though he did not do 5 years of college to learn the terminology, he is comfortable enough to say that he likes technical translation, but, mind you, only in that particular subject that he has mastered. I, for one, love to do cosmetics (actually very technical) because I have been translating its terminology for many years, and, even though I don’t know all the terms, I am comfortable to accept, even welcome, the challenge of finding those I don’t know. On the other hand, I will promptly refer any engineering or equipment maintenance texts to my colleagues who now master and welcome these fields, because of their years of exposure.

Books was the second question and my answer was that I don’t prefer them either. I think it all depends on your customer base. All my customers have short deadlines, and I don’t mean “for yesterday,” but short texts, commonly institutional, that don’t take more than a few days to complete. Because of the fast translation turnover of my customer base, I must give anyone wishing to translate a book a l-o-n-g delivery date, since I must translate the book at the same time as I fulfill the translation needs of my regular customer base. Sometimes it works out, and books authors accept the terms.

Lastly, you broached the issue of translation versus interpretation. This depends on one’s personal vision of one’s career. For example, it is difficult to be a teacher and also available for simultaneous interpreting, because you cannot miss too many classes. I saw many students invited to join the Alumni faculty after they graduated, but, since they were excellent interpreters, and the pay is much different, they chose to pursue a better paying and more personally satisfying career in interpretation, and very rightfully so, since they were very good at a very difficult profession. As for me, I was frustrated at the beginning of my profession by a colleague whom I was practicing my Portuguese (and she, her English) with. After scrutinizing my second translation into Portuguese, she had marked my paper with only a dab of red ink. However, all the joy I felt in seeing the few corrections (mostly commas), were abruptly crushed by the words, “It’s all grammatically correct, but it isn’t Portuguese.” I had failed to realize that Portuguese is very nominal, whereas English is very verbal. Now that I know, I can’t really say that it is too late, because my customer base has always been avid for translations into English, which I was better at than Portuguese, so why sweat it?

It is better to go with what you know!

As for the pay, my students reward me in so many other ways; I embrace teaching with great satisfaction – I love to teach; I found my core in teaching translation/interpretation.

6. You introduced the didactic material of the simultaneous interpretation oral skills segment of Alumni’s Translator and Interpreter Course and are responsible for updating it throughout the years. In your opinion, what topics should every interpretation course cover?

Yes, when Alumni added another day to its course to cover oral skills like simultaneous interpretation, I and the teacher responsible for “the other way around,” namely from English to Portuguese, asked how we should put together this course, what should be given. The answer we received was whatever and however we thought best. After many, many, many hours of toilsome thought, I decided that the best place to start was filling in the gaps of what was needed in the original Alumni course (creating a glossary based on the pertinent terminology of the interpretation job) and this led to organizing and managing the target of oral delivery. As mentioned before, I prefer associative learning (memorizing basic translation associations) to what I would call a “philosophical” didactic approach, but admittedly with tips on how to enhance delivery of the know-how.

Updating? Always, since language lives and breathes, always changing and updating itself. We translators must keep abreast.

Topics? Those that all translations and interpretation require, i.e., all involve some degree of marketing, management, economics and business. No matter what the topic, these are always addressed, because we are taking about companies that want to make money selling their wares. Apart from these, interpreters must know a little (or perhaps a lot!, but a little is good for starters, and experience provides the lots) of everything, because one never knows when a lecturer will make an example from a totally different field, or cite a current event from today’s newspaper. We interpreters always have to stay on our toes. For those more interested in literary translations (I would say that you practically have to choose between one or the other), the prerequisite is definitely knowing one’s own language. Even with all my college English and reading, and the many layers of knowledge that I have accumulated over the years, I could never equal this with the same dose in Portuguese, never! Moreover, I have to constantly update myself in my own language, as it lives and breathes at a heartbeat that I passionately desire to grasp.

7. Now it’s your turn. Who do you nominate as our next great woman in translation?

I would have to say it is Elenice Araujo. Hopefully she will accept.


And she has! 😀 Thank you, Nancy, for accepting Angela Levy’s nomination and my invitation, and for kindly taking the time to answer my questions. It was a pleasure to e-meet you!