ELV Zomercursus Literair Vertalen 2017

From August 21-25, I had the tremendous pleasure of participating in the ELV Summer School for Literary Translation in Utrecht. This year, the week-long intensive course put the spotlight on three languages into which there is a growing demand for translated Dutch literature: French, Turkish and English. When I first heard about the course at a masterclass with David Colmer at the Vertalershuis in March, the application deadline was only two days away! I submitted a translation test (an excerpt from Carmien Michels’s Vraag het aan de bliksem) and was delighted to find out months later that I was one of six translators selected for the course.

But getting in was only the first step! Then we had to prepare a non-fiction translation from De stamhouder by Alexander Münninghoff and a fiction translation from Jij zegt het by Connie Palmen, two very different and equally challenging texts. The non-fiction masterclass was given by Susan Massotty, prize-winning translator of Anne Frank, Cees Noteboom and Margriet de Moor, among many others. We worked through the nitty-gritty details of Münninghoff’s text, comparing and revising our work. But what stuck with me the most from Susan’s teaching were our discussions on the importance of fully understanding both the explicit and implicit aspects of the source text, in other words thinking through the 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where and Why) before embarking on the How. By understanding these 5 W’s, we were able to extract the irony in Münninghoff’s writing and better convey it in English.

Later in the week, we had our fiction masterclass with Sam Garrett, translator of Dutch greats like Herman Koch, Tommy Wieringa and Gerard Reve. We spent two days combing through our translations of Connie Palmen’s Jij zegt het, a historical novel in which a reflective Ted Hughes looks back on his tumultuous marriage to Sylvia Path. As English translators, we had the extremely difficult task of re-finding Hughes snobby, cynical, unabashedly British voice in Palmen’s Dutch interpretation of it. We were constantly asking ourselves questions like: This is what Palmen’s Hughes says in Dutch, but what would the real Ted Hughes say in English? Would Hughes really have said it like this? Is Palmen’s Dutch dialogue based on real encounters between Plath and Hughes? If yes, then what did they really say in English? So, do we translate Palmen’s Dutch or do we adapt the dialogue to what the real-life versions of her characters said (or what we, as English native speakers, think they would have said)?  With Sam, we also talked about intertextuality and the role it plays in literary translation, i.e. how important it is to unravel the layers of a text and understand the other texts, myths, languages and histories referenced within it.

Other than the two masterclasses with Susan Massotty and Sam Garrett, we attended lectures on literary translation, which offered an overview of major literary thinkers like Walter Benjamin, Umberto Eco, Octavio Paz and James Holmes. Désirée Schyns of Ghent University lectured on issues such as translator agency, semantic equivalence and the discursive role of the literary translator. We also enjoyed an afternoon on translating children’s literature with Michele Hutchinson and had a lot of fun working on Dummie de Mummie. Throughout the week, the ELV organized several valuable networking opportunities with publishers, agents and the Dutch and Flemish Foundations for Literature.

In addition to the lectures, masterclasses and networking events, each language group spent the week working on a collective translation of a beautiful, gut-wrenching slam poem about immigration by award-winning Belgian poet Carmien Michels. She was kind enough to join us for our final performance of her work and we all had the opportunity to experience its resonance in English, French and Turkish. While each language had its own quirks, it was interesting to discover that we all faced some similar challenges.

All in all, the ELV Zomercursus Literair Vertalen was a rare, enriching experience and I am so happy that I rushed to apply for it at the last minute. I would recommend it to anyone interested in developing their translation skills in literary translation from Dutch.