Katherine Young, winner of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) translation fellowship, discussed her grant-winning project, the translation of three novellas by Azeri political prisoner Akram Aylisli. During her remarks, she passed around copies of some of the supplemental materials she had prepared during the NEA application process. She encouraged prospective applicants to secure the rights to translate a work before actually translating it and to leave plenty of time to prepare the translation sample and associated paperwork for the application. Among her other suggestions: aim for artistic excellence in the translation sample; be aware that selection panels include people from various professional backgrounds (including academics) who may have conflicting expectations about what’s appropriate in a literary translation; consider choosing a contemporary author, or one whose work is not already available in English, over an author who has already been translated dozens of times; and choose an author whose work you love, as you’ll be living with both author and work for a very long time. She also noted that applications are a matter of public record and that, in the event of an unsuccessful application, an applicant can ask to review his or her materials and read the remarks of the selection panel.
Lara Vergnaud, recipient of a 2013 PEN/Heim Translation Grant and a 2015 French Voices Grant, discussed her experiences applying for and receiving a PEN/Heim Translation Grant, noting that the process is less demanding than the NEA grant. Lara received a PEN/Heim Grant for her translation of Zahia Rahmani’s France, story of a childhood, which was published in 2016 by Yale University Press. She stressed what a great opportunity the PEN grant is for emerging translators as it can offer valuable publicity, support, and potentially lead to a publication contract. She recommended stressing the most unique aspects of a proposed work, beyond its literary merits, in application materials; securing required permissions in advance of the deadline; choosing a lesser-known author over more popular ones; and paying particular attention that the application ‘sells’ the project in question to jurors who may be unfamiliar with the author or book. She noted that while translations grants are sometimes hard to find, there are many resources available from cultural institutes like the Goethe Institute and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy that are worth exploring.
Tanya Paperny, recipient of translation fellowships from Vermont Studio Center and Ledig House, discussed various residency opportunities for translators (below). She also offered several broad suggestions on applications overall: Make the widest case for your translation project. Don't imagine you're speaking to other translators. You may be speaking to writers/artists of any genre. So tell them why your translation project matters, what it will bring to English-language audiences. Finally, re-read your application materials OUT LOUD and ask someone else to review them as well.
Residency: Translation Lab at OMI International Arts Center
- About a week or so all expenses paid and they bring both translator and original author together to collaboratively work on the translation;
- Translators can also apply to the regular Writers OMI at Ledig House residency (Lara did this residency at OMI and recommends translators working with dead or unavailable authors apply);
- Make sure both translator and author can make the dates before you apply;
- Gorgeous setting, great food, great sense of community;
- You get a room with an attached studio;
- Cohort skews towards more experienced translators, but emerging translators should still apply.
Residency: Vermont Studio Center
- One of the largest writers/artist colony in the U.S.;
- The fellowships they have change every single year but they do support translators (Tanya got a full fellowship from Zoland Poetry);
- Great work space that is private and separate from your housing;
- Cafeteria meals, great sense of community with visiting writers and artists;
- If you don't get a fellowship, you can do workstudy to offset the costs.