Author Archives: Megan Berkobien

Absinthe at AWP

On Wednesday, March 7th, fellow Absinthe editor Genta Nishku and I hopped on a plane to Tampa, Florida for our first ever AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference. We were greeted by a perfect 65º day, though not everyone agreed it was warm—locals blamed us for bringing the cold front with us.

AWP is the MLA of the writing world, and so I was prepared for, well, crowds of people, the volleying of loud voices as people spotted one another from far off, and event after event of seemingly imperdible events. (By the way, it felt good to speak so much Spanish in Tampa. Love you sometimes, am-er-ic-a to the north). There’s a lot of joy at AWP, which is something I appreciate, especially after having been to an MLA conference (ALTA has a similar feel). And I was lucky to have Genta as a co-conspirator, and to know that many of my friends—translators, writers, micro-publishers—would be in attendance, too. There was no competition, no job interviews, no despair, and it was the kind of literary vacation I needed right now. It made me feel like translating, and that’s something I’m not always feeling up to these days.

After settling in, we made our way to the convention center to meet up with Kate Beaton—whom I met in undergrad—from the UofM Press. We carved out a small spot for Absinthe and admired the rows and rows of publishing projects at the book fair. It’s wild, really, to be confronted with all of those contemporary books; it’s even wilder that I managed to escape having only bought three of them (all in translation, of course). Those discounts are brutal, y’all. People loved our postcard of the medieval Armenian alphabet imagined as a kind of bestiary and some man even took one and said the letters would make for a good tattoo. Maybe he’ll subscribe, too . . .

While we weren’t with Kate, we were networking, although networking isn’t the right word for what we do at all. It’s community-building, it’s a support network, it’s a fan club. Most of the people I admire are in the same “situation” as I am—translators who are lodged in the in-between. They’re aren’t many jobs in the translation world—and there are even fewer well-paying jobs, especially for those who aren’t “stars” of their language—so many of us work in other fields and cobble together what we can to get by. Some—very few—get PhDs and translate in the mean-while of professing, but that’s a long shot, too, these days. It’s a real problem in our industry (literary translation & academia), and I’m inspired by the people and organizations that are trying to change things. I aspire to be one of them.

All of this is also to say that I was excited to not only rep Absinthe and spread the good word, but that I also had the chance to show off some of my own work as a book designer/artist with an interest in translation & labor. Last week I completed my first folio of a trilingual folio called Co Co Co U by Luz Pichel, Ángela Segovia, and Neil Anderson. Here’s a picture of my corner at the ALTA’s table (American Literary Translators Association). The people at ALTA (Lissie and Rachael) are phenomenal and I had such a good time talking about how we can advocate for not just translation, but translators. That’s a crucial difference y’all, and one that needs to be taken up over and over again in the years to come.

I spent my last night at a special reading featuring my fav poet, Ada Limón, with Cristy Hall, whom I’m co-editing Absinthe’s upcoming issue on Catalan Women Writers. We had time to work out some of our ideas earlier that evening, and let’s just say we’re excited to show you what we have in store, including that our issue will feature illustrations from the wonderful Elisa Munsó of El Diluvio Universal (Barcelona). Until then, chase that joy, y’all.


Our 2017 Minors in Translation Studies Graduate!

We’re so proud to highlight the fantastic work of this year’s graduating cohort of the Minor in Translation Studies:

Olivia Alge (BS, Informatics) completed the Minor in Translation Studies with a capstone project, “Software Translation from English to Spanish.” 

Jacqueline Alvarez (BA, Spanish) completed the Minor in Translation Studies with a capstone project, “Translating Her Story: A translation of And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou”

Sara Cusack (BA, Asian Studies and Cognitive Science) completed the Minor in Translation Studies with a capstone project, interning as law clerk at the Michigan Immigration Rights Center (MIRC).

Thomas Degroat, (BS, Neuroscience) completed the Minor in Translation Studies with a capstone project, “Translating George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, from novel into screenplay.” 

Haley Schafer (BA, French and International Studies) completed the Minor in Translation Studies with a capstone project, “Interviews In Translation: HUMAN: Le Film.”

New Faculty Translation

Congratulations to Professors Gareth Williams and Vincenzo Binetti on their recent translation of Roberto Esposito’s seminal work of political theory The Origin of the Political, out from Fordham University Press this year. Both Williams and Binetti are members of the Romance Language Department an the University.

On The Origin of the Political: In this book Roberto Esposito explores the conceptual trajectories of two of the twentieth century’s most vital thinkers of the political: Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil. Taking Homer’s Iliad–that “great prism through which every gesture has the possibility of becoming public, precisely by being observed by others”–as the common origin and point of departure for our understanding of Western philosophical and political traditions, Esposito examines the foundational relation between war and the political.

Praise for The Origin of the Political: “For Esposito, thought does not just fight–it is the fight itself. Esposito moves on the basis of a fundamental ontology of war, which marks what a previous tradition would have called ‘the unity of being.’ The Origin of the Political elaborates implications of this, not only through its masterful conceptual analysis and through its insights into the two thinkers it studies and critiques, but also because, as it makes explicit the stakes of the impolitical approach, it also ruins so many of the foundations of modern political thought and prepares the way for its fundamental renewal.”–Alberto Moreiras, Texas A&M University

Announcing the 2017 Translation Prize Winners!

We’re so excited to announce this year’s prizewinners for the Senior Prize in Literary Translation and Contexts for Classics Translation Contest.  Congratulations to all!

Winners of the 2017 Senior Prize in Literary Translation 
Olivia Alge, Desde la ventana by Diana Chapa (Spanish) 
Zahir Allarakhia, Last Night I Dreamt of You by Bahā’ Tāhir (Arabic)
Sara Cusack, A Patient by Mianmian (Chinese)
Winners of the 2017 Contexts for Classics Translation Contest
Undergraduate Prizes:
Michael Demetriou (History and International Studies; Minor in Modern Greek)
“Antigone” (translation of modern Greek poem by Tasoula Karageoriou) 
William “Billy” Fuerst (Political Science and Modern Greek)
“The Fourteen Children” (translation of modern Greek poem Tasoula Karageorgiou)
Anna Haritos (Modern Greek, BCN)
“Do not send me mother to America” (translation of modern Greek story by Anna Siganou)
Graduate Prizes:
Amy Pistone (Classical Studies)
Euripides, “Electra” (translation of lines 1011-1051)
Megan Wilson (Classical Studies)
Sophocles, “Electra” (translation of lines 472-515)

Deadline: 16th Annual Classical Translation Contest (April 4th)

There’s still time to submit your translation to the 16th Annual Classical Translation Contest!

Students in all departments and programs (graduate and undergraduate) across the University of Michigan are invited to submit literary translations of texts from Latin, Ancient Greek, and Modern Greek. We know that there are many people inspired by the beauty of these languages who wish to render them more freely and creatively than classwork often involves. This contest is intended to highlight the work of students who are interested in the process of translation as a creative, intellectually meaningful enterprise.

Rules and Prizes

  1. Please submit your work anonymously in the following format: FOUR hard copies of your English translation (along with the original text) and ONE separate cover page (listing the title and author of the text you translated, your name and email address, and your undergraduate major or graduate program).
  2. Submissions are due on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 by 5:00pm to the Comparative Literature Main Office, 2021 Tisch Hall (2nd floor).
  3. All submissions will be judged anonymously by a panel of faculty members from Classics, Comparative Literature, English, and related departments.
  4. Students affiliated with any UM department are eligible.
  5. All work should consist of original translations/interpretations of works from Ancient Greek, Modern Greek, or


  6. Original works may be in prose or verse and translations may be in prose, verse, or other format, such as multi-


  7. Maximum length of written submissions is five double-spaced pages.
  8. In each category (undergraduate and graduate), the prizes will be $100 each.
  9. Winners will be invited to present their translations at the annual Classics Department awards ceremony on April 18, 2017.

Sponsored by CONTEXTS FOR CLASSICS at the University of Michigan

Newest Issue of Absinthe Published!

The Department of Comparative Literature is pleased to announce that the newest issue of the journal  Absinthe: World Literature in Translation is now available.

Titled “Pen and Brush,” the special issue brings together poetry, prose, and artwork that address cultural exchange between Asia and Europe.  This issue was guest-edited by Emily Goedde (UM ’16 Comparative Literature PhD) with generous support from the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan.

Authors and translators include David Jimenéz (trans. Andrea Rosenberg), Wei Yun Lin Górecka (trans. Darryl Sterk), Ryoko Sekiguchi (trans. Shannon K. Winston), and Yang Lian (Brian Holton).

The Department celebrated the release of “Pen and Brush” with a reading and reception on January 20th, 2017.



Showcase: Past Winners of the Senior Prize in Literary Translation

Each year, the Department of Comparative Literature puts out its annual call for the Senior Prize in Literary Translation. Since 2011, fourteen seniors from departments across the University have received the honor (and prize money) for their stirring translations. Before we send out this year’s call for submissions, the Department would like to highlight several of those notable texts.

Our first blog in this series showcases the work of Ana Guay ‘15 (BA, Classical Languages & Literatures, minor in Translation Studies). Having graduated with a Minor in Translation Studies, Ana completed a capstone project titled “A Voice Not to Be Broken: Translating the poetic catalogue in and after Homer.” Weaving together her interest in paratexts and translation studies, Ana grappled with the four separate catalogues (from Homer to Virgil) while also exploring the legacy of Homeric translations in English. Ana was awarded the prestigious Gates scholarship to study Classics at Cambridge University in 2015 and is currently pursing a PhD in Classical Studies at UCLA.

The following is an excerpt from Ana’s translation of Augusto Roa Bastos’s novel Thunder Among the Leaves (Spanish, Guaraní):

The mill was closed for cleaning and repairs after the sugar harvest. The stench of boilers filled the heavy and electric December night. All was quiet and still along the river. Neither the water nor the leaves could be heard. The threat of bad times had generated a tense atmosphere, like the black hollow of a bell, in which the silence seemed to sizzle with stifled whispers and secret cracks.

In that silence the music of the accordion rose from the gullies. It was a ubiquitous melody; a frayed one. It would be interrupted and then return to begin again in a different place alongside the rumble of the river. It was a nostalgic and ghostly sound.

“What’s that?” a stranger asked.

“The accordion of Solano,” an old man told him.


“Solano Rojas, the blind ferryman.”

“But don’t they say he died?”

“He did. What plays now is his soul.”

“Aicheyaranga, Solano!” murmured an old woman, crossing herself. The bulk of the sugar mill crouched, unmoving, in the darkness. A dog barked from afar, as if it barked from beneath the earth. Next to the fire, two or three naked children turned over in their mothers’ laps. One of them began, fussily, to whine with fright.

“Hush, my son. Listen to Solano. That’s the custom in El Paso.”

The counterpoint of a potoo, which shattered the hill’s quiet with its birdsong, returned a melody still more ghostly. The accordion sang now with a distant and mournful lament.

“He sounds like that when there’s no moon,” said the old man, lighting his cigar from a firebrand on which a little of the night was burning. “He must walk in search of her still.”

“Poor Solano!”

When the murmur of voices died away, it could be noticed that the ghostly accordion no longer sang in the throat of the river. Only the bell of the jungle kept ringing for a time, at some imprecise distance; afterwards the bird, too, fell silent. The last echoes skimmed over the river. The silence returned to being tense, heavy, dark.

The first flashes of lightning blazed up towards the west, to the right of the jungle. They were like fleeting eyelids of yellowish skin that rose and lowered suddenly over the immense eye of the thunder.

The accordion did not sound again that night in El Paso.