Virtual Memories Show 459:
Tess Lewis & Alta L. Price

“‘Turn And Face The Strange’ is a pretty ideal theme not just for the era we’re living, but the particular books we chose for the festival.”

They were among the last people I recorded with before lockdown, and now translators Tess Lewis and Alta L. Price are back to talk about co-curating the Festival Neue Literatur 2021 (which runs from November 11 to 14, 2021), and how the theme they developed for the postponed 2020 edition, TURN AND FACE THE STRANGE, became even more appropriate for the pandemic era. We get into the cliffhanger of rescheduling FNL and the offsetting challenges of virtual vs. in-person author attendance, the rise of nationalism and closed borders, how literature from other languages can become the fallback to let us understand the world from another person’s perspective, and the act of translating when people refer to the pandemic in the past tense. We get into the German-language authors (and two American ones) who are participating in this year’s FNL — Anna Baar, Joshua Cohen, Isabel Fargo Cole, Judith Keller, Helen Phillips, Benjamin Quaderer, Sasha Marianna Salzmann, and Ivna Žic — and how their works approach questions of identity and belonging through strange means. We also get into what Tess and Alta have learned about the world and themselves over the past 20 months in Pandemia, why the seclusion of a translator’s life prepped them for some of the worst of it, what themes they’d love to curate for future FNLs, and whether Hölderlin would have used DoorDash. (Listen to my 2020 episodes with Tess and Alta.) Give it a listen! And go check out the Festival Neue Literatur!

“What is life if you’re living in one room, or if you’re not interacting with people?”

“As with translation, there are multiple interpretations of the theme of ‘Turn And Face The Strange’.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guests

Tess Lewis’s translations from French and German include works by Peter Handke, Walter Benjamin, Anselm Kiefer, Maja Haderlap, Philippe Jaccottet, and Christine Angot. She has been awarded grants from PEN and the NEA, the Austrian Cultural Forum NY Translation Prize, the PEN Translation Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is Co-chair of the PEN Translation Committee and an Advisory Editor for The Hudson Review. She has written essays on European Literature for a number of journals and newspapers including The Hudson Review, World Literature Today, Partisan Review, The American Scholar, The Wall Street Journal and Bookforum. She is delighted to be back with FNL, having curated the festival in 2014 and 2015.

Alta L. Price runs a publishing consultancy specialized in literature and nonfiction texts on art, architecture, design, and culture. A recipient of the Gutekunst Prize, she translates from Italian and German into English. Her latest publications include books by Martin Mosebach and Dana Grigorcea. Her work has appeared on BBC Radio 4, 3 Quarks Daily, Maharam Stories, Trafika Europe, Words Without Borders, and elsewhere. She is a member of PEN, the Authors Guild, the American Literary Translators Association, the Third Coast Translators Collective, and Cedilla & Co.

Listen to my 2020 episodes with Tess and Alta.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Tess’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones and a Blue enCORE 100 Microphone feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Tess and Alta by me. It’s on my instagram.

Seriously-Funny-Prof-Pic-v2-1-300x300Virtual Memories Show #156:
Ross Benjamin

“As a translator, your initial feeling is, ‘I want to inhabit this text.’ There’s a primary identification, a mirror effect, where you see your own creative possibilities reflected there, and want to realize them through this text.”

The 7th annual Festival Neue Literatur is Feb. 25-28, 2016 in New York, and this podcast is a Media Partner, so let’s talk to the event’s curator! Translator and Guggenheim fellow Ross Benjamin joins the show to talk about putting together “Seriously Funny,” this year’s FNL theme, and coordinating the 6 German language authors and 2 Americans who will be the featured guests. We talk about humor, German stereotypes, and the difference between reading a language and being able to speak it. Along the way, we get into the styles that different translators have, the challenges and joys of translating Kafka’s diaries, the pros and cons of translating living authors and dead ones, and the angst of trying to give meaning to a single word. Give it a listen, and get over to Festival Neue Literatur from February 25-28, 2016 in New York!

“In the early diaries, you can feel Kafka groping for a voice and a style.”

We also get into Ross’ history as a translator, what he’s learned about his mother tongue in the process, what other language he’d love to learn, the deep responsibility that comes from bringing a text into English, and more! Go listen!

“Most authors don’t mind answering ceaseless questions about their own work. It’s not just ego or vanity, I think it’s fascinating for them because authors don’t necessarily think consciously about all these aspects of their work.”

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Also, if you want to find out who Ross is reading nowadays and get a list of the books we talked about in this episode, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show! At the end of February, the new episode of our patron-only podcast, Fear of a Square Planet, will go up with a bonus segment about who Ross is reading and why.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

rossbenjaminRoss Benjamin is a translator of German-language literature and a writer living in Nyack, NY. His translations include Friedrich Hölderlin’s Hyperion, Kevin Vennemann’s Close to Jedenew, Joseph Roth’s Job, and Clemens J. Setz’s Indigo. He is currently at work on a translation of Franz Kafka’s complete Diaries, to be published by Liveright/Norton. He is a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow. He was awarded the 2010 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize for his rendering of Michael Maar’s Speak, Nabokov, a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship to translate Clemens J. Setz’s The Frequencies, and a commendation from the judges of the 2012 Schlegel-Tieck Prize for his translation of Thomas Pletzinger’s Funeral for a Dog. His literary criticism has appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, Bookforum, The Nation, and other publications. He was a 2003–2004 Fulbright Scholar in Berlin and is a graduate of Vassar College.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded in a conference room in Nyack, NY on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Benjamin by me.