Jim Story’s Tribute to Edith Grossman
Edith Grossman is honored on the occasion of her 80th birthday. One of the most celebrated literary translators of our time, Grossman has been praised for her translations of work by Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and many others. Her acclaimed 2003 translation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote is already considered a classic.
This tribute was written by Dr. James C. (Jim) Story. He is the author of Problems of Translation.
It’s a singular honor to be able to express my gratitude, my admiration, and my deep respect for Edie Grossman—a sublime translator, an inspired teacher, and a friend.
I first met Edie at the 92nd Street Y, where she was teaching a course on Don Quixote. When I saw that entry in the Y catalog, I immediately decided that I stood to gain from taking that course, since it would provide a means for me to force myself to read one of the classics of literature that I had thus far missed. Also on my mind, however, was the novel I was writing at the time, with the title Problems of Translation. I’d decided Problems could be best described as a picaresque, and I thought—since Quixote is sometimes classified that way—there might be a few extras I could pick up about the genre itself. And was it foolish to think that some points of resemblance might be discovered between that book and mine?
What I gained from that course was far, far more than I expected. It changed my life! Through Edie’s great knowledge and teaching, I discovered that, not only was Cervantes’ work a genuine masterpiece, but it was perhaps even what Edie often referred to it as, the first real novel, and the best novel ever published! I was amazed, enthralled, and converted on the spot. As a professional historian, I was equally impressed with Edie’s knowledge of the time period during which Cervantes lived and wrote. Edie set forth not only the literary but the historical context for his work in a way that was both thorough and engrossing.
And her seminar did have an effect on my writing.
Since that time I have finished my novel (it’s been out for a year now). It won’t come as a surprise, I’m sure, that one or two quotations from Don Quixote did find their way into my book, as well as a quotation from Edie’s own wonderful book, Why Translation Matters.
In the years since, my beloved partner, Jill, and I have had the good fortune to dine with Edie on a few occasions and, not only did she prove to be a delightful, warm and generous dinner companion, but she also suggested agents I might contact and—despite her incredibly heavy schedule, she took the time to read my novel and to write a blurb for it which continues to adorn its cover.
I recently received an email from Ben Fountain, the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award a few years back for his novel, Billy Lynne’s Long Halftime Walk, and before that of the PEN-Faulkner Award and the Lannan Prize for Brief Encounters with Che Guevara. Ben, like Edie, is a friend who began as a mentor, in Ben’s case at a Zoetrope: All-Story workshop I attended in Belize in 2007. When Ben heard from me that I had been invited to help celebrate Edie’s 80th birthday, he replied: “You’re buds with Edith Grossman! My God, that woman is extraordinary. Her translations of García Márquez, among others, have opened entire worlds to me and I’m sure a lot of other folks as well. Please do tell her she has a huge fan in Dallas, Texas.”
And in New York City, another huge fan in me.