What is a Translation Residency? Well, it depends on whose house you’re in and what kind of guest you are.
In 2015, I was doing the first of two year-long stints as acting editor of New Books in German magazine. On the committee of the magazine was Theodora Danek, the Project Manager for Culture at the Austrian Cultural Forum London. After a meeting one day, she asked if I would be interested in curating some literary events for the ACF London that would promote Austrian literature and its translation. As a pretty fresh translator of German-language literature, I had noticed that translated literature events tended to skimp on the translator part of the equation, so early on I knew I would always like to include translators in the events I curated. I also found that quite a few of the contemporary Austrian writers I was discovering through my work at New Books in German had never been translated into English. I had an idea: what if the role was renamed and recalibrated to Translator in Residence? I pitched it to Danek and the Director of the Forum: I would focus all of the events on translation; translators would always be present in some way at the events; and if an Austrian writer I invited hadn’t been translated I would translate part of their work. They agreed to it, and off I went. This was an ad hoc, two-year, self-created residency, and it taught me so much about collaborating with authors, creatives and institutions.
Just as things were winding down for me at the ACF London at the end of 2017, the British Library announced its first Translator in Residence position. I applied and was over the moon to be selected. This residency in many ways expanded what I had started at the ACF London in terms of a translator-focused event programme, but was a completely different prospect. The aim with the BL residency was to engage with the life and staff of the Library, and I was at the Library one day a week. I held conversations with the staff over the year, and this culminated in a video exploring the languages of the British Library. I had also matured as a translator, and now felt ready to teach my first literary translation course at the Library. The seed of my research in the life writing of literary translators also started here when I had the chance to explore the archive of Michael Hamburger, turning elements I had found in his correspondences into my poetry pamphlet Hamburger in the Archive.
Separately but simultaneously to my residency at the British Library, I was translating Marion Poschmann’s Die Kieferninseln, or The Pine Islands. The British Library residency wasn’t specifically for translating, and I found that I needed somewhere to clear my brain and focus only on translating the novel. The book itself is very focused on nature and serenity, and living and commuting around London was proving a difficult backdrop to translate in. I applied to the Looren Translation House, a beautiful place for translators of all languages to spend weeks or months with funding to translate a project while looking out over beautiful Swiss countryside. Though I only spent a week there, it was what I needed to get in the head space to crack the first draft of the novel, which would go on to be shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize the following year.
And now, here I am as a resident at the British Centre for Literary Translation. While a resident (remote, but visiting over the residency period of 4 months), we have been meeting to discuss the residencies’ progress and ongoing blog series online and the support of the residency has allowed me to work on my current translation project with additional focus; it’s a new creative non-fiction book by Gregor Hens that is very Sebaldian, which obviously feels very fitting. I’ve already given a workshop to the MA Literary Translation students on pitching translation projects, and the idea for this blog came out of a question asked as part of a Q&A session with both translators in residence and the MA cohort. My initial interest in translators’ lives has erupted into an (almost completed) 4-year PhD research project that I will present as part of the BCLT seminar series.
Every residency has been so welcoming and nourishing, and I am always a very grateful (and hopefully helpful) guest.
Photo: Robin Silas Christian
Jen Calleja is a writer, literary translator from German, and publisher based in Hastings, UK. She has translated nearly twenty works of German-language literature by writers including Marion Poschmann, Wim Wenders, Raphaela Edelbauer, Michelle Steinbeck and Kerstin Hensel. She has been shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize and the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for her translations, and was the inaugural Translator in Residence at the British Library (2017-2019) and the Austrian Cultural Forum London (2015-2017). Her own books include Vehicle: a verse novel (Prototype, 2023), Dust Sucker (Makina Books, 2023) and I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For (Prototype 2020). Alongside Kat Storace, she is co-founding publisher at Praspar Press, a small press for Maltese literature in English and English translation.
While Translator in Residence at the BCLT, Jen will be working on her translation of a book-length psychogeographical essay by German writer and translator Gregor Hens for Fitzcarraldo Editions (title TBC), her second collaboration with Hens and Fitzcarraldo. She will also be researching and presenting her current PhD project on literary translator memoirs – ‘The life-art of translation’ – which includes her own surreal and experimental memoir Fair. She hopes to be as available and accessible as possible to the MA Literary Translation cohort and fellow researchers while a resident, and plans to give workshops on how to edit translations and write creatively about one’s translation practice.