MET workshops

Editing literary translations: MET’s Sea of Words Project* exploring how we edit for authors and their translators

As translators and editors, we help authors prepare English texts for publication. This entails using accepted terminology and respecting genre conventions, as well as nailing the syntax. But do our efforts to render an author’s text in English mean sacrificing voice or stifling creativity? Do we flatten authors’ texts when being overcautious? Do we succumb unnecessarily to the tyranny of corpora and genre conventions? Do we stay so “close to the centre” that we fail to lend strong English voices to strong native ones?

MET’s ongoing Sea of Words Project is refuelled every year by this workshop and its working groups, which present holistic tasks based on a literary text, in a setting that enables discussion of the linguistic, psychological, ethical, and cultural issues involved. Through editorial work and discussions, participants will explore the nature of a specific text, the author’s voice, and their own roles as wordsmiths and facilitators. The aim is to renew participation and gain new champions of a project that is uniquely communal and personal. Since the spring of 2011, the experience has proven to give those involved a new perspective on their work and, indeed, their profession.

There are three scheduled sessions, for which all MET members are invited to register:
  • Session 1 (7 March 2014): Initiation to the 2014 project. New participants get a taste of the activities and experienced participants see the new stories. Formation of working groups that will edit a story at their own pace.
  • Session 2 (9 May): Translation theory (problems and approaches to their solution), writing process theory (what’s known about the range of how writers work toward publication)
  • Session 3 (late June or early July—to be announced): Practical session on structuring queries to send to authors or their translators.
Purpose: To provide a setting in which language professionals—especially those who do not normally work with literature—can gain valuable insights about text management through a collaborative literary editing task.

Developers:  Mary Ellen Kerans and Fiona Kelso developed the 2011 edition and Barnaby Noone, Fiona Kelso and Mary Ellen the 2012 edition. But this project has grown gradually through the contributions of the many collaborating editors. Their names are found on the first pages of the stories edited so far. We make special mention of the influence of Ron Puppo, who brought the perspective of translation theorists in 2012.

Facilitators: In 2014, Mary Ellen Kerans and Kymm Coveney.

Description and structure: Session 1: The workshop will open with some background information on Sea of Words – the competition and MET’s and a very brief discussion of why group-based literary editing is beneficial to a wide range of language service providers. Small teams will be formed to edit an excerpt from an English translation of a winning short story from the most recent Sea of Words competition. Session 2: Around the end of the first round of editing by the working groups, a few translation-theory concepts will be introduced to provide a framework for discussing the issues that arise when editing. The teams will then regroup for a second round of editing before each team shares their final results and experiences with the entire group. Session 3: Brief introduction to the problem-solution formula for efficient author querying, followed by practical examples and tasks based on queries from the current season’s working groups.

Who should attend? Translators, editors or other language professionals interested in literature or working for and with authors. Participants do not need to know the source language of the story to be edited, or have any professional experience with literature. The workshops are free, but participants must be members of MET.
Outcomes: Insight into ways of broadening or deepening engagement with texts and how problems are resolved. In past years participants have felt they gained a heightened awareness of the trade-offs involved in translation choices; a new appreciation of the reader’s tolerance—even desire—for the unusual; and familiarity with a cyclical style of working that is more like writing and prepares us to work directly with writers.

Pre-workshop information:
  1. Participants are asked to familiarize themselves with the objectives of MET’s ongoing Sea of Words Project by reading answers to some frequently asked questions and following the links provided.
  2. Upon enrolment, you will be sent two short stories from previous SoW Project editions as “before/after” files—for relaxed reading. We hope these files will further clarify the project, illustrate the quality of the stories, and whet appetites for the workshop.
  3. Shortly before the workshop, you will receive the English translation of an excerpt from the latest SoW finalists. You will be asked to read the translation and do a short pre-workshop task involving the first paragraph. There is no requirement to know the source language.
This New York Times opinion article mentions some of the issues we’ve discussed in past editions of the SoW Project.

About the facilitators
Kymm Coveney came to Spain in 1982 and has spent much of that time as a freelance commercial and technical translator. She attended the Spanish workshop at the British Centre for Literary Translation with literary translators Daniel Hahn and Anne McLean (BCLT Summer School 2013).

Kelly Dickeson translates freelance in a range of fields and has recently been focusing on medicine. She joined the Sea of Words Project in 2011 out of pure curiosity and was enthusiastically involved with the working groups for two years. She will run the second workshop session along with Mary Ellen Kerans.

Mary Ellen Kerans is currently MET’s continuing professional development chair on the association’s council. She is mainly a medical translator and author’s editor who also occasionally teaches academic writing. She has lived in Barcelona since the late 1970s.

* The workshop sessions have no fee, but MET membership is required.