1. Could you describe a typical working day?
I don’t use an alarm clock, so I wake up whenever I wake up. I have the New York Times delivered, and that’s the first thing I turn to: I do the crossword and read as much news as I can bear. I do errands and chores and then usually begin work at about noon and work 5-6 hours a day. I listen to music while I work, and take a break every hour or so to stretch or look out the window or take a walk.
2. You have been a translator for many years and have worked with many of the greatest writers in Spanish. What are the major developments you see in translation practice today? Where do you see translation heading, as a practice?
I think one of the important changes is the rapid growth of university programs in translation in the United States. Another is the rise of professional awareness among translators (I mean, an awareness of themselves as professionals with certain rights and not the slaves of publishing houses). I’m reluctant to predict what will happen to translation over the next ten years, since I can’t even begin to imagine what will happen to publishing. Wherever publishing goes, translation is bound to follow.
3. As one of the most eminent literary translators, would you ever turn your hand to creating your own fiction? If not- why not?
I have tried to write fiction and always failed, since whatever concept I have in mind is invariably reduced and compressed into a poem. There are certain stories I’d like to tell, but so far my efforts at narrative have not succeeded.
4. If you could narrow it down, what are your three favourite/most beautiful words in the English language?
When I was a teenager, the received wisdom was that “cellar door” was the most beautiful phrase in English. Now I tend to favor “I love you.”
5. What do you value in a work of fiction? For example, do you look for a certain balance of happiness and sadness, beauty and gravitas, in a story?
I can’t answer this question: happiness and sadness aren’t the qualities I think about or look for in fiction. What I want in a book is writing that compels me to keep turning the pages. The last book I read that I liked very much was Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life”–an intriguing novel.
6. What is your best tip for self-editing and revision during and after the translation process?
If you have time to let the translation cool off, looking at it with a cold eye is very useful. I’ve always found that reading problematic passages aloud is extremely helpful in finding out where I’ve gone wrong and what needs to be revised immediately and drastically. I think multiple revisions are crucial for refining your style and producing the best work you’re capable of.
7. What is the most frustrating/challenging aspect of your work and what is the most rewarding aspect?
Twisting and bending English so that it reflects the sense and style of the original and yet stays true to itself is both the most challenging and most gratifying aspect of my work.