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Unread 04-01-2021, 10:03 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 7,322

I assume that those who are tired of this thread can just ignore it. Anyway two things:

The American Literary Translators Association has issued a statement on their website that is well worth reading.

And the New York Times published an update last Friday:
Amanda Gorman’s Poetry United Critics. It’s Dividing Translators.

Below are snippets from that article, about how the German translation was handled by a team (a decision made before the controversy about the Dutch and Catalan translations started). And also some snippets about the Greek and Swedish versions.


Hadija Haruna-Oelker, a Black journalist, has just produced the German translation of Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” the poem about a “skinny Black girl” that for many people was the highlight of President Biden’s inauguration.

So has Kubra Gumusay, a German writer of Turkish descent.

As has Uda Strätling, a translator, who is white.

Literary translation is usually a solitary pursuit, but the poem’s German publisher went for a team of writers to ensure the poem — just 710 words — wasn’t just true to Gorman’s voice. The three were also asked to make its political and social significance clear, and to avoid anything that might exclude people of color, people with disabilities, women, or other marginalized groups.

For nearly two weeks, the team debated word choices, occasionally emailing Ms. Gorman for clarifications. But as they worked, an argument was brewing elsewhere in Europe about who has the right to translate the poet’s work — an international conversation about identity, language and diversity in a proud but often overlooked segment of the literary world.

“This whole debate started,” Gumusay said, with a sigh.


In a video interview, the members of the German team said they had certainly done such wrestling to make sure their translation of the text — about a weary country whose “people diverse and beautiful will emerge,” — was faithful to Ms. Gorman’s spirit.

The team spent a long time discussing how to translate the word “skinny” without conjuring images of an overly thin woman, Ms. Gumusay said.
Hmmm. I don't know about that. I was under the impression that the phrase "skinny Black girl" in Gorman's original was intended to connote someone whom others might dismiss as a lightweight, so I wonder if the German translators may have missed the mark by trying to avoid a negative image there. Continuing:

They also debated how to bring a sense of the poem’s gender-inclusive language into German, in which many objects — and all people — are either masculine or feminine. A common practice in Germany to signify gender neutrality involves inserting an asterisk in the middle of a word then using its feminine plural form. But such accommodations would be “catastrophic” to a poem, Ms. Strätling said, as it “destroys your metric rhythm.” They had to change one sentence where Gorman spoke of “successors” to avoid using it, she added.

“You’re constantly moving back and forth between the politics and the composition,” she said.

“To me it felt like dancing,” Ms. Gumusay said of the process. Ms. Haruna-Oelker added that the team tried hard to find words “which don’t hurt anyone.”

Each member of the team brought different things to the group, said Ms. Haruna-Oelker, the Black journalist. It was more than their color, she said: “It’s about quality, it’s about the skills you have, and about perspectives.”


Ms. Haruna-Oelker, one of the German translators, said one disappointing outcome of the debate in Europe was that it had diverted attention from the message of Gorman’s poem. “The Hill We Climb” spoke about bringing people together, Ms. Haruna-Oelker said, just as the German publisher had done by assembling a team.

“We’ve tried a beautiful experiment here, and this is where the future lies,” Ms. Gumusay said. “The future lies in trying to find new forms of collaboration, trying to bring together more voices, more sets of eyes, more perspectives to create something new.”
Personally, I can't see the vision of the final paragraph as a bad thing.

Other languages:


Irene Christopoulou, an editor at Psichogios, the poem’s Greek publisher, was still waiting for approval for its choice of translator. The translator was a white “emerging female poet,” Ms. Christopoulou said in an email. “Due to the racial profile of the Greek population, there are no translators/poets of color to choose from,” she added.
My dream team: one of one of the three Antetokounmpo brothers who were all on the same basketball court last night (awwwww!!!!), who are fluent in both languages and might be available once the NBA playoffs are over, plus A.E. Stallings, plus another Greek poet or two to be named by Alicia. Not going to happen, but a nice thought.

Swedish and French

Several other European publishers named Black musicians as their translators. Timbuktu, a rapper, has completed a Swedish version, and Marie-Pierra Kakoma, a singer better known as Lous and the Yakuza, has translated the French edition, which will be published by Editions Fayard in May.

“I thought Lous’s writing skills, her sense of rhythm, her connection with spoken poetry would be tremendous assets,” Sophie de Closets, a publisher at Fayard, said in an email explaining why she chose a pop star.

Issues of identity “should definitely be considered” when hiring translators, Ms. de Closets added, but that went beyond race. “It is the publisher’s responsibility to look for the ideal combination between one given work and the person who will translate it,” she said.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 04-01-2021 at 10:08 AM.
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