Christopher Kenneally is director, business development at the Copyright
Clearance Center, and host of CCC’s podcast series “Beyond the Book”.
accurate idea of what the book
is and what its value is.”
Readers’ tastes evolve over
time, as much for translations
as any other literary work. For
example, although Constance
Garnett helped introduce
many English-speakers to the
great Russian-language novels
of Tolstoy and Chekhov in the
early 20th century, her work is
faulted today for not fully
conveying the force of the original Russian.
“What most people aim for right now is a sort of ‘domesticity’.
They want the translation to speak to its audience,
as if the audience were reading the work in the
original language,” according to Cedilla’s Julia
Sanches, a translator of Portuguese, Spanish,
French and Catalan, who also worked for
several years at the Wylie Agency.
Brazilian by birth, Sanches has lived in the
United States, Mexico, Switzerland, Scotland
and Catalonia, where she earned a graduate
degree in Comparative Literature and Literary Translation
from Barcelona’s Universidat Pompeu Fabra. While working
with Andrew Wylie, she acquired an appreciation for
the agent’s perspective when working with translators.
“The agent’s loyalty is to the author when it comes to
business such as royalties and negotiating fees,” she
recalled. “If the translator’s share comes out of the
author’s share, that goes against what the agent is
trying to do, which is to defend the author’s rights, and
get both the author and the agency some income.
“Translators’ fees and advances also tend to be too
modest for them to have agents on their own. We thought that
the most valuable thing [Cedilla] could offer each other and the
community was our [publishing] expertise.”
“Among our other members, Allison
Markin Powell, for example, has extensive
contracts experience,” Heather Cleary noted.
“In addition to the coverage of ten languages
among the nine members, we each bring a
different skill to the table. We seek that
variety in the business model as well.”
Yet for all the emphasis on offering as
many possible bottom-line-driven services, the Cedilla & Co
collective is mission-driven by members who hear the world’s
voices as a symphony of human expression.
“From an artistic and cultural standpoint, we are advocates
of translation and translators,” Heather Cleary said. “But in a
broader sense, we’re advocates of the defence of multiplicity
and the defence of listening.” ■
According to the Ethnologue,
which publishes a database of
all known global tongues,
more than 7,000 languages
are spoken today around the
world. In the ancient myth of
the Tower of Babel, this
multitude of languages was a
curse on humanity from God,
writes Christopher Kenneally.
Translation, though, can rescue
us from that predicament, and
draw us closer together–and a new organisation is dedicated to
that very mission.
“I think we can all sense the political urgency of
refusing to narrow our horizons at this moment,”
says Heather Cleary, a co-founder of Cedilla &
Co, a new US-based collective devoted to bringing
the world’s voices to English-language readers
through published translations.
“One of the ways this can be achieved in the
deepest and most lasting way is by allowing
other voices and other perspectives in. There really is no better
way, I think, to avoid the consolidation of limited worldviews
than by insisting on a multiplicity of perspectives,” she told me
in a recent interview for Copyright Clearance Center’s
podcast series “Beyond the Book”.
A translator from Spanish and a founding editor of the
digital, bilingual Buenos Aires Review, Heather Cleary
earned her doctorate in Latin American Cultures from
Columbia University and currently teaches at Sarah
Lawrence College. Her translation of Sociophobia, a
critique of communication in an era of social networks
by Madrid-based sociologist César Rendueles, appeared
in April 2017 from Columbia University Press.
Nine translators, who work in ten languages (including Arabic,
Chinese and Japanese, as well as numerous European tongues),
constitute the “collective” for Cedilla & Co. Cleary and the
others–many with awards and bestsellers to their credit–offer
publishers much beyond English translation versions of foreign
works by drawing on their wide range of publishing experience.
Before any translator ever opens a dictionary, said Cleary,
there is work to be done. “International publishers will often
send publishing houses in the States samples of works that are
prepared by non-professional translators. That can really hurt a
book’s chances for being acquired because understanding
what’s so special about a given book is key to
communicating its value,” she explained. “The
original materials that are first seen by the
editors are very important. One of the points in
our advocacy of literature and translation [at
Cedilla & Co] is that we want to make sure
that materials put in front of US editors are as
good as they can possibly be, and give the most