Emma Ramadan’s translation of Sphinx by Anne Garréta has been nominated for the PEN Translation Prize

Here she speaks to us about her life since her Masters in Cultural Translation at AUP


After completing the MACT program at AUP, how did you feel about your next ‘move’ and your options as a translator?

The MACT program and by the advice of individual professors was a huge help in preparing me to keep moving forward as a translator. Dan Gunn helped me to hone my translating skills, Daniel Medin exposed me to a lot of great translation blogs and journals and communities excited about translation, Geoff Gilbert and the other professors in the program helped me think more critically about what kinds of projects I should seek out and take on, how to think and talk about them. I felt like I had a much better idea of where I wanted to go and how to get there.


What was your first step from AUP?

After AUP I went to Morocco on a Fulbright grant to translate a few Moroccan authors and to learn more about the literary scene there. I’m now putting together an issue for Words Without Borders on Moroccan writing (in March 2016) pulling from all that I learned and from the incredibly nice authors I met there.


Tell us about the commissioning of Sphinx

In terms of commissioning – I was interning at Archipelago Books in Brooklyn the summer I found out about Sphinx. I met Will Evans, the founder of Deep Vellum, when he came to the Archipelago office one day when he was in town for Book Expo America. We kept in touch and a year later when I was getting serious about wanting to translate Sphinx, I asked for his advice about how to pitch a work to a publishing house, and he liked the sound of the book so much he decided to take it for himself! We’ve been working together ever since.


What were the particular challenges of translating this book?

To sum up the challenges, at first glance the biggest one is the linguistic constraint in the book: Garréta removes all mention of the gender of the two main character, A*** and the narrator. But the actual issue of avoiding gender markers doesn’t come up all that often in translating the book.

There are a couple of page-long passages where every line is tricky but for the rest of the book the major challenge was getting the narrator’s high register and voice right. Also, in French because nouns are all gendered, Garréta did some amazing things playing around with that, like describing a body by its head (feminine) and then individual masculine body parts. Or another passage where Garréta describes a body and alternates MFMF. (Both of these passages are described in this essay)  That kind of thing was unfortunately lost in English.


What is next on the cards?

My translation of Anne Parian’s Monospace, which is experimental prose poetry, just acme out with La Presse

Also working on the next Garréta for Deep Vellum, Pas un jour / Not One Day as well as a number of Moroccan authors including Fouad Laroui, whose book of short stories The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers is coming out with Deep Vellum in March to coincide with the Words Without Borders issue!