Literary translators wear many hats. They are often teachers, writers, editors, publishers, and marketers. Jennifer Croft, translator extraordinaire, is no different. Translating from Polish, Ukranian, and Spanish, she is also founding editor of The Buenos Aires Review, bilingual journal for emerging and established writers from the Americas.
Jennifer Croft is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, MacDowell and National Endowment for the Arts grants and fellowships, as well as the Michael Henry Heim Prize for Translation and a Tin House Workshop Scholarship for her novel Homesick, originally written in Spanish. She holds a PhD from Northwestern. Her translation from Spanish of Romina Paula’s August is forthcoming from The Feminist Press in April, and her translation from Polish of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights will be out in England in May. She has published her own work and numerous translations in The New York Times, VICE, n+1, Electric Literature, Lit Hub, BOMB, Guernica, The New Republic, The Guardian, The Chicago Tribune and elsewhere.
In the following interview, Jennifer talks to Underpass about her work as a translator and a publisher.
Underpass: How did you acquire your languages, and how did you get involved in the translation world?
Jennifer Croft: I first studied Russian as a teenager and in college I majored in that and English, with a minor in Creative Writing. When I graduated I tried to think of how to combine those three things and realized that literary translation might be ideal. I learned Polish as I was doing my MFA at The University of Iowa and got a Fulbright to live in Warsaw for a year. During that time, I explored contemporary literature in Poland and began translating Olga Tokarczuk, one of the country’s best writers.
I did a PhD at Northwestern University that permitted me to study other languages, and eventually I got involved in Spanish after researching another Polish writer, Witold Gombrowicz, who spent twenty-three years in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’ve now lived in Argentina for six years and translate from Spanish as well as Polish.
You work with Polish, Ukrainian, and Spanish. What are your experiences working with such diverse languages?
From Ukrainian I work with one author, Natalka Sniadanko, whose books I first read in Polish translation. We became friends and translate her texts together (although I did also study Ukrainian at Harvard). My main languages, Polish and Spanish, are obviously very different, as are the literary traditions and contemporary scenes in Poland and Argentina (and I only translate from Argentine Spanish, having never lived in any other Spanish-speaking country). It’s tremendously pleasurable to be able to alternate between such diverse works, and to find styles in English for such different writers.
Tell me about The Buenos Aires Review. When did you decide to take on this project? Did you have any particular goals in mind?
I founded The Buenos Aires Review a few years ago with three other women in Buenos Aires, Heather Cleary (a fellow translator), Maxine Swann (a novelist) and Pola Oloixarac (a novelist as well). We had several goals in mind, but the core of the project was to facilitate literary conversation between the Americas, providing translations of exciting new writing by Latin American authors who might not otherwise reach audiences in English due to the difficulty, historically, of publishing translations with major presses in the United States. In Argentina, meanwhile, many translations come from Spain, rendering the language itself more difficult for Argentine readers to appreciate, and making books expensive. We’ve been able to foster a number of long-standing collaborations between writers and translators, which is something we’re very proud of.
How do you choose your translation projects? Do you choose texts that you enjoy, or do authors/publishers seek you out?
I’ve been so fortunate with my translation projects in that I’ve always been able to choose writers with whom I feel a particular affinity. This has enriched my own writing enormously, and has made me incredibly happy as a translator. I’ve been working mostly with the same people for years now, all of whom I initially approached after reading. Although I often get inquiries from publishers and others, it’s rare for them to work out.
How has the act of literary translation been affected by the rise of the “Information Age”? Do you see the takeover of social media as helpful when marketing new authors in translation? What are some ways publishing presses can take advantage of online networks to increase the numbers of translations in English-speaking countries?
I think the rise of the internet has been enormously helpful in promoting literatures abroad and online magazines are wonderful for publishing translations. I do use social media for promotion, and it definitely helps when you’re dealing with smaller presses that might not otherwise be able to reach as many people.