My translator journey
Updated: Dec 9, 2022
I was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil in a monolingual household. I fell in love with English sometime in middle school, where English was the only foreign language offered. In college, I majored in English Language and Literature at Universidade de São Paulo. It was such a challenge--reading Shakespeare and Chaucer when my command of (modern) conversational English was still developing. At the end of those four years, my command of English was good enough to land me a job as an English instructor at a language school and a spot in the graduate-level degree in English/Portuguese translation at Universidade de São Paulo.
When I completed the translation program, I found it hard to build a career as a translator. I wasn't sure what to specialize in (legal, medical, technical?), and even though literature had always been my greatest love, I didn't feel I had the language skills or the life experience required to translate literature. I pursued a career in English teaching instead.
A few years after I graduated from college, I came to the U.S. for graduate school, earned two degrees, and ended up staying, first as a permanent resident and now as a U.S. citizen. I have lived in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Arizona, and California. I have worked as an English as a Second Language instructor and teacher educator, raised two children, become actively involved in every community I have lived in, and learned a lot about myself. By the time I turned fifty, I had developed the English skills and gained the life experience I had deemed necessary to translate literature, although I had not thought about doing that work in many, many years. It was only when I fell in love with the work of a particular Brazilian author that it occurred to me that translating literature was what I really wanted and had to do. (I wrote about being an emerging translator in my essay Another Kind of Emergence, published by Hopscotch Translation.)
In 2014, when I was in São Paulo visiting family, I went to a bookstore, as I do every time I go to Brazil. I was browsing the fiction section and spotted Marilia Arnaud's novel Suíte de Silêncios (Suite of Silence). I read the blurb on the back and started reading the first page. I was captivated by Arnaud's lyrical prose and assured voice. The intimate first-person narration pulled me in right away, and I wanted to know more about the protagonist's journey. I bought the book and read it on the flight back, delighting in the beauty of the language and the poignancy of the story. I caught myself translating each paragraph into English in my head. When I got home, I started translating the book in earnest.
I found Marilia Arnaud on social media and sent her my translation of the first pages of Suite. Not only did Arnaud respond--she said she liked my translation very much. She gave me permission to submit my translation of the book to publishers. I was thrilled. But I also knew I had a long road ahead of me. No one knew me as a translator. I had to make myself known before I could pitch my translation of Arnaud's book.
I had researched Arnaud's work and found she had published several short story collections. I asked her if I could translate some of her short stories and submit them for publication, and she agreed. A couple of years later, two of those short stories were published: Miss Bruna, in Massachusetts Review, and Broken Crystal, in Columbia Journal Online. (You can read Broken Crystal here.) In addition, I had been reading the work of João Anzanello Carrascoza, whose work is also lyrical and inviting, and got in touch with him about publishing my translations of his short stories. Again, I was elated to find he had enjoyed my translations of his work and wanted me to submit them for publication. I published my translations of two short stories by Carrascoza: Sea, in Your Impossible Voice, and Lines, in Ambit. You can read Sea here and listen to my reading of it here.
With these publications under my belt, I felt I was in a good position to start pitching Suite to publishers. Unfortunately, no publishers have picked up the book. I am in the process of pitching Marilia Arnaud's most recent novel, O Pássaro Secreto (The Secret Bird), winner of 2021 Kindle Prize in Literature, and resuming my pitches of Suite. Learn more about these books in the pitches section of my website (ilzeduarteliterarytranslator.com).
As I move onward in my translator journey, much work needs to be done: to continue learning about translation and the publishing industry, honing my skills as a writer and translator. But this is truly a labor of love. What could be better than a lifelong journey of literature and learning?