Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture speaks to Translations students
On Monday, February 19, Dr. Ilan Stavans was a guest teacher in the Translations senior elective, offered in the English Department.
Dr. Stavans is the Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His areas of research focus on English, Yiddish, Spanish, and Spanglish; he is the author of the first Spanglish translation of Don Quixote. Dr. Stavans is the host of the podcast "In Contrast" on WAMC and is the founding publisher of Restless Books, "devoted to bringing superb international literature in translation to English-language readers."
In preparation for the visit, the students read Dr. Stavans’s translations of Pablo Neruda poems, as well as the opening chapter of Don Quixote in Spanglish. The conversation with Dr. Stavans was a wide-ranging one. He described his own experiences growing up in a multilingual household and community, his experience as a Mexican immigrant to the United States, as well as his academic work as a translator and publisher. Students in the class, most of whom speak at least two languages, shared their own experiences as bilingual people and as as translators of culture and language. They engaged Dr. Stavans on questions of his philosophy of translation and the ways he makes choices as a translator. Dr. Stavans discussed the importance of an awareness of the changes and evolution inherent in every language and the extent to which all translations are a kind of draft; there is always room for change, improvement, and greater nuance. He emphasized his focus on his audience when crafting a translation, particularly thinking about an audience of young people.
He discussed the intersection of advocacy with his work as a publisher, in working to shift the availability of literature in translation in the United States; currently, only about three percent of the literature published in the United States are texts in translation. In 2016, his publishing house established The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing and recently established Yonder, “a new imprint from Restless Books devoted to bringing the wealth of great stories from around the globe to English-reading children, middle graders, and young adults.”
There were many takeaways for the students from this discussion, including reflections on the connection between language and identity, bilingualism as an asset, and the role of bilingualism in American culture. Cindy ‘18 noted that the idea she took from the conversation with Dr. Stavans was the notion that “translators create possibilities.”