“When I read, there’s a voice in my mind that speaks the words that I’m reading—and that’s the voice I listen to when I translate,” says legendary translator Edith Grossman. “As the voice speaks … I try to speak in English what the voice in my head is speaking in Spanish.”
Tonight, Thursday, June 24, at 7 p.m. ET, we conclude our event season with a bang: Join us for a riveting conversation between one of our great American translators, Edith Grossman, and Peruvian author and Nobel Laureate in Literature Mario Vargas Llosa, whose work Grossman has been translating from Spanish into English for nearly 25 years. The program, part of our Behind the Book series, premieres on the Library’s YouTube site, and will be available for viewing afterward on YouTube and on the Library’s website.
Author and former Library of Congress Literary Director Marie Arana moderates the conversation, which delves deeply into Grossman’s half-century-long career—including, of course, her literary relationship with Vargas Llosa.
Asked about his first impression of Grossman and her translation of his 1997 novel, “Death in the Andes” (first published in Spanish as “Lituma en los Andes” in 1993), the Nobel Laureate notes, “I respected very, very much the way in which Edith managed to identify with the original text. I thought immediately that her versions of the novel in English were—I wouldn’t say perfect, but precise—and it was something that didn’t seem to be a translation of the novel, but something that had been written originally in English. And I think this is the major achievement of a translator: to give the impression that this is not a translation, but something that has been written in the foreign language directly.”
Grossman discusses her unintentional foray into translation, the internal voice she hears when she translates, how she discovered her love of Spanish (“The truth … is that I hated school, and the only teacher I could tolerate was a Spanish teacher”), and her ability to “leap across languages” that so keenly demonstrates the unifying force of translation.
When the conversation moves to how authors feel about translation, Vargas Llosa admits, “I feel terrified by translators”—before softening that sentiment with a few humorous anecdotes and praise for Grossman. The two go on to discuss the many voices that writers and translators inhabit in their work, and shifting attitudes toward translated literature in the U.S. and abroad.
Discussions of “voice”—in one’s mind, on the page, and spoken out loud—loom large in this program, which leads into a brief exploration of the Library of Congress’ PALABRA Archive. This collection dates back to 1943 and contains nearly 800 audio recordings of 20th and 21st century Luso-Hispanic poets and writers reading from their work.
We don’t want to spoil the entire program for you, of course, so we hope you’ll tune in for this rich and generous conversation!