Julia Guez’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 Julia Guez. She is a poet and translator of Luis Chaves’s Equestrian Monuments.
In the spring of my second year at Columbia, I ended up taking what turned out to be a transformational course on Comparative Translation with Edie Grossman. The energy in that seminar is one I keep in mind and always try to approximate in the classes I am teaching now.
Edie would bring so much insight, humor, curiosity, and care to texts she had probably read a hundred times; by the end of our conversation as a class, though, we’d still feel as if we were able to delight in finding so many new windows and doors into what we were reading—Madame Bovary, The Tin Drum, Pedro Páramo, among others. She was open to that; her openness to finding new possibilities in a text was infectious. (On good to great days, I still feel that way when I am working through the texts I am co-translating now.)
Halfway through that semester, I’d made up my mind to apply for a Fulbright. In the space of only a few weeks, my sense of how I wanted to spend the next year of my life (or the next several) had changed pretty dramatically. I opened my statement of purpose for the grant with an excerpt from Why Translation Matters:
“As the world seems to grow smaller and more interdependent and interconnected while, at the same time, nations and peoples paradoxically become increasingly antagonistic to one another, translation has an important function to fulfill…Translation not only plays its important traditional role as the means that allows us access to literature originally written in one of the countless languages we cannot read, but it also represents a concrete literary presence with the crucial capacity to ease and make more meaningful our relationships to those with whom we may not have had a connection before. Translation always helps us to know, to see from a different angle…As nations and as individuals, we have a critical need for that kind of understanding and insight. The alternative is unthinkable.”
I was ultimately given the grant (which funded a year’s worth of research and translation in Costa Rica). And for the many people who’ve asked for any pointers about successfully applying for Fulbright Fellowships to fund any projects in literary translation around the world, my only advice is to be sure and quote Edie Grossman.
Through so many of her translations, through the path-breaking book on why translation matters, through the course and through conversations we’ve shared about New York, about pregnancy, about Sor Juana, CIRCUMFERENCE and motherhood, Grossman has so generously helped me to know, to see my life’s work (and my life) and the literature I’ve encountered along the way from so many different angles. Her example, her kindnesses and encouragement, her generosity and warmth mean more to me than she could possibly know.
Such an honor to celebrate this day with her; she has given us so much to celebrate.