Susan Bernofsky’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 Susan Bernofsky. She is the translator of Jenny Erpenbeck’s The End of Days et al. She is also the director of Literary Translation Program, School of the Arts MFA Writing Program at Columbia University.
Back when I was a young teacher of translation workshops at Bard College in the early aughts, I heard one day that translation luminary Edith Grossman would be lecturing at Williams College, a 90-minute drive away. In accordance with the principles “always do what’s best for your students” and “follow your heart,” I packed my car full of undergraduates and hit the road. This was several years before she gave the series of lectures at Yale that would turn into her book Why Translation Matters, but she was obviously already percolating the ideas that would produce those talks, and my students and I came home tingling with inspiration. What excited us most was her insistence that the translator was a writer in English—a writer who must use artistry, analytic thought, and the ability to intuit via analogy to create a great work in English capable of standing in for a work written in some other tongue.
Now, over a dozen years later, I have the great privilege of teaching alongside Edie in the Writing Program at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, where her courses on literature in translation have long been a favorite with MFA students. She teaches seminars with titles like “Fictional History,” “The Genius of García Márquez,” “What We Talk About: Fiction in Spanish About Love,” and “Writers You Should Know More About.” Because she has now analogied dozens and dozens of books gorgeously into English, her reading lists are always filled with works in her own translation that she invites her students to explore both from the outside in, and from the inside out. Listening to her stories about a life well lived in the service of literature is always a joy. I am so grateful to Edie for all she has given us and all she continues to give.