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Translator in Residence: A new model for industry-academia collaboration at University College Cork

Wednesday, June 15th, 2022

By Estefanía Muñoz Gómez (MA in Translation Studies Programme Director, University College Cork) and Clara Ministral (Literary translator and Literature Ireland/SLLC Translator in Residence 21/22)

Translation may be one of the oldest occupations in the world, but the work of translators looks quite different now to how it did just a few decades ago. While deep linguistic and cultural knowledge and the ability to mediate various forms of text are still at the core of the profession, translators need to develop a range of additional competences and skills to build a successful career in today’s digital world. As reflected in the EMT Competence Framework, these include hard technical skills, personal and interpersonal skills, and the practical business skills necessary to provide professional language services.

The evolution of the translator’s skills profile is evidence of the continuous expansion in roles and activities within the language industry. Language services are increasingly technology-driven and closely linked to the wider businesses processes involved in the movement of goods and services across borders, but this still comes as a shock to many students who decide to pursue a postgraduate degree in translation. Passionate about languages, and often with a background in the Humanities, their eyes are opened for the first time to post-editing, project management, quality testing, cultural consultancy, audiovisual translation, game and software localisation, proofreading, or copywriting as examples of the diverse areas in which they could specialise after graduation.

Helping students get familiar with the professional landscape is therefore an essential aspect of translator education today. However, a career path that is commonly overlooked (and at times even discouraged) is that of literary or editorial translation. Often romanticised as the exclusive realm of authors and scholars, it is nevertheless a professional practice which plays a key role in the publishing industry and the distribution of literary outputs. As a result, one of the various ways we are working on bridging the proverbial gap between industry and the academic world in the MA in Translation Studies at University College Cork (UCC), Ireland, is through the establishment of a Literary Translator Residency. This initiative, which supports a 10-week residential bursary, was born from a partnership between the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures (SLLC) at UCC and Literature Ireland, a national agency dedicated to the promotion of contemporary Irish literature abroad, particularly in translation. Due to be launched in 2020, the first residency had to be postponed until 2022, when we welcomed Clara Ministral to the UCC campus.

Clara Ministral studied Translation and Comparative Literature and has been translating fiction and non-fiction from English to Spanish for over a decade. She has translated over twenty books, including works by Rebecca Solnit, Jan Carson, Colin Bateman, Sherman Alexie, John Haines and Rebecca Miller. During that time, Clara has also held other positions in the arts sector, both in the UK and in Spain, primarily in publishing and bookselling. Since 2018, she has been running a mentoring scheme for emerging translators in Spain in collaboration with the Spanish Association of Literary Translators. Among her latest translations to be published are Camino de vuelta (The Way Home) by Mark Boyle and Cuando te llaman terrorista (When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir) by Patrisse Cullors-Khan. Ever since discovering and then translating Jan Carson’s novel The Fire Starters, winner of the European Union Prize for Literature for Ireland, Clara has been a keen proponent of Irish literature in the Spanish-speaking world and is currently working on several projects intended to introduce Irish works to Spanish-speaking publishers and audiences. She has participated in Literature Ireland’s Talking Translations podcast series with extracts by Caoilinn Hughes and Michelle Gallen, and has contributed to the organisation’s inaugural series of summer workshops for early career literary translators and postgraduate students of translation.

Clara’s deep commitment to the profession was made evident during her residency, when she worked on promoting contemporary Irish literature among Spanish publishers whilst also bringing her practice into the day-to-day life of our School and community through a number of activities for students, staff and the wider public, including several open cultural events. Conscious of the challenges of developing a career as an editorial translator for those unfamiliar with the publishing industry, Clara delivered a workshop series with practical tips on how and where to get started. Attendees learnt about different opportunities such as getting published in literary magazines or writing reader’s reports and received guidance in how to prepare their own pitches for publishers.

In addition, Clara chaired a translation slam with two other professional literary translators, Laura McGloughlin and Rahul Bery. In this event, all three translators discussed their own versions of a text, looking at some of the challenges posed by the original work and comparing solutions. This was a fantastic opportunity to learn what really goes on ‘behind the scenes’ when translators work on a literary text and to discuss topics such as translating voice and dealing with wordplay and ambiguity.

Finally, Clara took part in a research seminar alongside Galician poet and translator Daniel Salgado. Their presentations and subsequent discussion offered a fascinating contrast of approaches between literary translation as a professional practice and a secondary activity to complement scholarly, journalistic or authoring work. As she had done throughout her residency, Clara emphasised the critical importance of demystifying the profession where it matters most by fully recognising its more prosaic aspects such as working conditions, financial consideration and legal issues.

The programme will continue in coming years to include translation into the different languages within our School, but with Clara as its first ambassador, it has proven its potential to give greater visibility to professional literary translators and their work, promoting their presence in literary festivals, periodicals and other spheres of the cultural industry. Moreover, the Translator in Residence initiative has shown to be a valuable model to bring practitioners closer to both students and staff. As well as placements, internships, guest speakers or simulations, translator training programmes may consider similar agreements with working translators, whether literary or in other sectors, as a way to strengthen the dialogue between industry and academia and help students learn first-hand about the rich and varied paths available to them.

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