Creative minds came together virtually to discuss the impacts and nuances of language and culture in literature across different written genres at a recent Guest Writer Series event hosted by the Creative Writing Department of the University of Redlands.
Entitled “Transmissions: Conversations Across Languages, Cultures, Borders, and Communities,” the event featured books translated by four different writers: Adnan Mahmutović, Olivia C. Harrison, Teresa Villa-Ignacio, and Brent Armendinger. “We wanted to feature a range of guests who explored these questions from very different angles,” said creative writing professor Greg Bills.
The breadth of literature presented in the event considered examples and impacts of transnationalism in the literature. The virtual format allowed international authors to share their lives and writing experiences, a unique opportunity for students who participated in the discussion. Several of the books discussed were presented in Professor Youna Kwak’s writing seminar on translation, and several of his students were present.
Adnan Mahmutović, a Bosnian-Swedish writer and professor of English literature at Stockholm University, read several excerpts from his book, How to get away with it and stay fairan autobiographical story that spans from the 1990s, when he arrived in Sweden as a war refugee, to 2012. His was full of poignant visual language, accentuated by moments of sadness or sarcastic humor .
Another piece, “Mother Tongue”, explored the nature of the Bosnian language and the dialectical particularities that are recognized in different regions and often get lost in translation. “In Bosnia, it is possible to avoid pronouns because they are in the verbs themselves. In English it’s difficult because verbs don’t work that way,” he said.
Authors Olivia C. Harrison and Teresa Villa-Ignacio, who collaborated on the translation of Hocine Tandjaoui’s book Clamor, took turns reading sections of the story. Originally written in French, the book focuses on Tandjaoui’s experience living in Algeria in the 1960s, during the country’s struggle for independence from France.
Harrison and Ignacio read sections highlighting the powerful impact of sounds and songs on emotions, especially those associated with past memories. The book examined the country’s popular music landscape to illustrate the chaos of the time, and its publisher created a Spotify playlist of the songs featured throughout its pages.
Throughout their discussions, each writer touched on the common theme of communicating powerful and complex emotions through writing, which is a difficult task. “The difficulty with trying to render a poem into another language is trying to stay true to the linguistics of the original and the music,” Harrison noted. Ignacio added: “There was this question between fidelity and creativity in the translation. And in [one] cases, we have wandered towards fidelity. You have to make decisions as you go.
Brent Armendinger, a self-proclaimed “experimental translator” and professor at Pitzer College, read street chandelier, a recent work that includes pieces by five Argentine poets. His reading included the original Spanish poems and its translated versions.
Armendinger translated the poems using his personal Spanish vocabulary, then asked people in his neighborhood to translate words or phrases he did not know. This process allowed him to subvert some of the linguistic quirks that appeared in the plays while revealing the unique qualities of the language. “I had no idea it would become what it became,” he said, referring to his unusual songwriting process.
A solid Q&A segment followed the authors’ offerings. A few questions focused on language differences and their impact on translation. Panelists offered advice drawn from personal experiences. As a third-year creative writing student, I enjoyed learning different writing techniques like Armendinger’s. I also learned to use sensory details in a contemporary way.
Students and faculty engaged in a rich discussion with the speakers, touching on the nuances, power, and occasional challenges of transnationalism in literature. While each of the works presented had many differences – in language, place, time and style – they came together with the common thread of expressing the value of exploring languages and cultures throughout writing.
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