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Translator for the Ages

Edith Grossman’s translations recreate Spanish literature for English-language readers.

En español | Thanks to Edith Grossman’s translations, the works of Gabriel García Márquez, Mayra Montero, Miguel de Cervantes, and others are more accessible to English-language readers. Her latest labor of love is The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance (August 2006).

Q: What led you to work on contemporary texts?

My first reading of Pablo Neruda’s poetry.

Q: Why return to your roots, the late 15th-17th centuries?

Translating Don Quixote in 2003 was serendipitous. Once I recovered from my shock at the request, I realized how exciting it would be. Once back in the mindset of the Golden Age…I thought it would be wonderful for people to get excited about [Renaissance] poetry.

Q: How did you choose the works in this anthology?

 I chose poems I like very much by poets I like very much.

Q: Can these poems have popular appeal?

Poetry doesn’t make for bestsellers, but I think these poems can appeal to readers because they are brilliant and beautiful poems.

Q: How can Spanish Renaissance literature help us understand Latin American culture?

The more a person reads great literature, the more that person understands the world. The human condition is similar enough throughout time to be open to the insight gained from literature.

Q: How does an author’s use of language affect the way you translate?

If a writer is using an elaborate, baroque style…or a very clean, spare style, I do my best to write that kind of English. I’m trying to allow the reader in English to experience the text in a way that’s comparable to the way the Spanish-language reader experiences it.

Q: When you’re working on contemporary literature, how collaborative is your approach to translation? Does the author have a role in the process?

The author collaborates as much as he or she wants. Some authors are not interested in seeing the translation until it’s published, and even then I’m not sure if they look at it. Others like to see the translation before I submit it to the publisher. I’m always glad to do that because they, of course, have an insight that’s denied to everyone else in the world because it’s their book. Normally I don’t speak to the author about the translation until the very end, when there are always a handful of terms and words that require an explanation from the author.
Q: Which authors whose works are only available in Spanish would you most like to see translated into English?

There is a wonderful Spanish author named Carlos Rojas. I think one or two of his novels may have been translated into English, but not widely distributed. He is one of the most interesting novelists I’ve read in any language. He’s a remarkably talented, intelligent, gifted writer, and I think he’s a great territory waiting to be discovered in English.