The Emergent Translators Collective is a growing workshop and DIT micro-press dedicated to transforming the literary translator’s task through the use of alternative and collaborative publication models. Our members are, in general, early-career translators who are interested in engaging translation as a literary, editorial, design, and production process. Instead of following the more traditional hierarchies involved with publishing a translation, we believe our texts will be best served through horizontal editorial and production processes. As a collective, we bring together a host of professional skills associated with the publishing sector, and we wish to develop this knowledge further by putting our hands to good work. By working together to create limited edition, small batch broadsides, folios, chapbooks, pamphlets, recorded performances, and other ephemera, and by offering decent honoraria for this labor, we advocate not only for translation in the abstract, but for the translators and the necessary cultural exchange they make possible.
The sheer number of creative projects undertaken by contemporary translators—as both writers and small-publication editors—reveals that translation is a fundamental way of making sense of the world. In a formidable way, we are all emerging translators: Each time we interpret a text for new audiences, we also interpret ourselves in new detail. This sentiment, however, is not to obscure the material aspect of the title “emerging”; as more and more translators enter the workforce, many remain in the liminal emerging space for years–sometimes three, sometimes seven–before landing a book deal or well-paid work. We believe that maintaining a status quo of under-paid, or, more often, unpaid labor only encourages job insecurity in the arts sector. If we want translation to thrive and to become a sustainable profession outside of the classroom, and if we want to draw students into Literary Translation as a field, then we have to make sure that translation isn’t just a “labor of love” for a few established translators.
A return to the small in our own moment is meant to remind us of how privileged we are to have access to paper, ink, and performance spaces in which to realize our work, and to connect with translators in other locations who might not have those same privileges. With this in mind, our goal is to work alongside other advocacy groups—Pen America, Cedilla & Co., and ALTA—who fight for occupational security for an emerging base of early career translators. Even if our financial contribution is small at the outset, it is better than the mere visibility that many other “accessible” magazines offer; more importantly, for many emerging translators, a payment of $100 can provide a full week’s groceries that they might not otherwise buy. Moreover, our website and manifesto will also serve as a platform to discuss the taboo questions of payment and labor in the field of professional translation. Our plan, then, is threefold: carve out new performatic and typographic spaces for translation, especially short, experimental, and otherwise marginalized texts that might not find publication otherwise; pay all contributors for their labor through aggressive fundraising, grants, membership, and communal sales; and provide training in multiple forms of printing, editing, and translation practice. While we might not reach the oft imagined, general audience that other presses are constantly seeking out, we do hope to tap into the growing publics attuned to indie and micro-press publishing.
Our workshop aims to welcome all members with a dedicated interest in translation and curiosity for the book/chapbook arts. Our first members will be current University of Michigan graduate students and alum, but we hope to establish a model that might be used to create other chapters throughout the US (and in sister-chapters abroad!).
As our project is nascent, we acknowledge that our collective knowledges aren’t yet enough to confront the entrenched realities of publishing in translation. We welcome constructive criticism from the “voices of reason,” but we also recognize that the status quo still prizes an elite few (or an elite few novels…). If we are to take translation, as praxis, seriously, then we need to understand that the current market doesn’t necessarily reflect the interests of translators, despite the fact that lofty ideas of world literature are realized through their bodies. Even those who claim to be indexes of world literature participate in an uneven system of global cultural production and dissemination. Thus, we aim to foster a sharing of knowledge without claims to possession.
The future of translation awaits.