Mary Ann Newman’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 Mary Ann Newman. She is the translator of Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life et al. She is also the executive director of Farragut Fund for Catalan Culture in the U.S.
A tribute written to be read by anyone beyond the immediate circle of friends and family always runs the risk of becoming elegiac. And that would be about the worst possible way to talk about Edith Grossman. Aside from her exquisite grasp of nuance, or maybe, indeed, because of it, Edie has the most sensitive bullshit detector known to woman or man, encapsulated in her trademark bilingual expression when something just plain rings false: Dame un break!
Speaking plainly, Edith Grossman is a cluster of contradictions: a connoisseur of style with no patience for rhetoric. A sensualist with a ramrod work ethic. An adorable curmudgeon. A citizen of the world who, given her druthers, would rather not leave her house.
So others go to her, as the mountain goes to Mohammed. In these days of Skype and texts and virtual relationships, Edie has gathered around her a gaggle of passionate readers of poetry—poetry books!—whose only common traits are a love of literature and a love of Edie. The enticement that keeps this group of busy, sometimes weary, New Yorkers returning month after month is the sheer pleasure of reading along with her. And drinking lots of red wine.
Why? Because Edith Grossman is the embodiment of literature, and I mean that quite literally. Douglas Robinson writes about translation as a physical act, as a somatics. He says a poet tastes, and smells, and feels words; that in fact everyone feels words, but only a poet, or a translator, knows how to isolate that feeling and subject it to analysis, understands why it feels the way it does, and sets it down—translates it—onto paper. Edith is so deeply sensitive and sensual that I have the sensation that she feels and smells and touches and tastes her way through books in the same way she feels and smells and touches and tastes jazz and dancing and Beethoven and movies and sex and whisky: with every nerve and pore. Oh, and pork. I almost forgot the pork.
This is the pleasure Edie brings to every endeavor, and every encounter, even the ones that provoke her characteristic “Dame un break.” And the pleasure radiates to everyone around her. That’s what keeps her friends coming back each month for more poetry and wine. The pleasure of Edie; the pleasure of the text.