Category Archives: blog

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.


The 17th annual Classical Translations Contest is here!

Contexts for Classics at the University of Michigan is pleased to announce the 17th annual Classical Translations 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 Monday, March 26, 2018 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 Latin.

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

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 read from their translation at the annual Classics Department Awards Ceremony on April 17, 2018.

Call for Submissions: Senior Prize in Literary Translation!

The Department of Comparative Literature is pleased to invite graduating seniors in all departments at the University of Michigan to submit entries for our annual prize in literary translation.  

This prize is intended to encourage undergraduate students to develop projects (through previous coursework or on their own initiative) in translating into English a literary text originally written in another language. 

Submissions are due on the last day of classes, and will be judged by a team of faculty members in Comparative Literature.  

A prize of $500 will be awarded at the end of winter term. The winner or the winners  will be invited to read at the department’s end-of-year  reception.


  1. All seniors graduating in Summer 2017, Fall 2017, or Winter 2018, and affiliated with any department at the University of Michigan, are eligible to submit a translation.
  2. Students may choose to translate into English any literary text (or excerpt of a literary text) that was originally written in another language and in any literary genre (e.g. fiction, poetry, drama, creative nonfiction).
  3. A submission should consist of your translation (no more than 10 pages), and a brief translator’s preface (no more than 5 pages) that introduces the text and author you have chosen and explains your method of translation.  If you have worked significantly with previously available translations, glosses, or commentaries, please note these in your translator’s preface. Make sure your submission references all texts and tools you have used to produce your translation (i.e. other translations you have consulted, translation software you may have used, etc)
  4. Please submit your translation in the following format: an email listing your name, your graduation date, your major(s) and minor(s), and the complete title and author of the text you have translated, and an email attachment without your name that includes your translator’s preface and your translation, along with a copy of the text you have translated in its original language.
  5. Your submission should be emailed to no later than 5pm on Tuesday, April 17, 2018.
  6. For questions, please contact Kathryn Horne in the Department of Comparative Literature, 2021 Tisch Hall, University of Michigan. You may also contact the translation advisor, Silke Weineck, at

2018 Phillips Classical Prize & Modern Greek Prize Competition

The Phillips Classical Prizes in Latin & Ancient Greek are a long-standing tradition in the Department of Classical Studies to promote and encourage the study of ancient languages. They originate from an endowed scholarship fund, bequeathed to the Department in the will of Henry Phillips, who died in 1895. The prizes are awarded annually to outstanding undergraduates who, by virtue of a special exam, prove their excellence in the various levels of Latin or Ancient Greek. The Modern Greek Prizes have been awarded annually since 1993 to undergraduate students at intermediate and advanced intermediate levels for excellence demonstrated in Modern Greek translation.

The translation competition is open to current undergraduates. Exams are held Thursday, March 15, 6-8 pm. Exam winners will be honored on Tuesday, April 17 at 4pm in the Hussey Room at the Michigan League. Family members and friends are welcome to attend!

Please register online by March 12th

Greek 1a – Classical: For students who are currently enrolled in, or have completed, Greek 302 but no further Greek courses.

Greek 1b – Koine: For students who are currently enrolled in, or have completed, Greek 308 but no further Greek courses.

Greek 2: For students who are currently enrolled in, or have completed, Greek 402 but no further Greek courses.

Greek 3: For students who have completed courses beyond Greek 402.

Latin 1: For students who are currently enrolled in, or have completed, Latin 231 but no further Latin courses.

Latin 2: For students who are currently enrolled in, or have completed Latin 232, Latin 233 or Latin 295 but no further Latin courses.

Latin 3: For students who are currently enrolled in Latin 301.

Latin 4: For students who have completed 301 and are currently enrolled in a 400- level Latin course.

Latin 5: For students who have completed more than two courses beyond Latin 232 or Latin 195.

Intermediate Modern Greek: For students who are currently enrolled in, or have completed, GREEKMOD 202 but no further Modern Greek courses.

Advanced Intermediate Modern Greek: For students who have completed courses beyond GREEKMOD 202.


Transcultural Studies Information Sessions in March

Are you a current junior interested in earning an interdisciplinary MA degree with just one year of study beyond your bachelor’s degree?

Join us for an information session on the new accelerated master’s degree program in Transcultural Studies! Learn about the program requirements, what you can study, how to apply, and more.



Tuesday, March 6 at 4pm
Modern Languages Building, Room 2011

Wednesday, March 7 at 4pm
Angell Hall, Room 3222

Thursday, March 8 at 4pm
South Thayer Building, Room 6000


This interdisciplinary program is intended to provide both advanced training and a capstone experience for current LSA undergraduates who anticipate pursuing a PhD or working in other professional settings where intercultural competency and a critical framework for thinking systematically about connections, comparisons, and translations among human communities will be desirable skills.

Transcultural Studies uses approaches from across the Humanities and Social Sciences to foster a critical and historically informed understanding of human communication and interaction across perceived boundaries of language, culture, nationality race, and religious identity. The program allows you to earn a UM Master’s Degree with one additional year of study beyond the BA.

Students who are juniors this year are eligible to apply; applications are due April 1. For more information, see the Program in Transcultural Studies website or email

Panel: Lost (and Found) in Translation: Perception and Expression across Borders and Languages

Thursday, January 18, 2018
6:00-8:00 PM
West Conference Room, Rackham Graduate School (4th floor)

In 1922, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein declared that “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” With the globally-connected community at the University of Michigan in mind, we invite you to an exploration of the cross-cultural academic expressive production that accompanies thinking and writing from a non-English background. Taking the University of Michigan as a case study, we hope to engage questions of scholarship and public expression incubated in the globalized environment that is the contemporary American university. Rather than focusing on the mechanics of English as a Second Language or as a lingua franca, we seek a discussion around scholarly expression in a multicultural, globalized academia. How does an American academic culture of expression interact with the increasingly international body of authors on campus? And, what does it mean to think and write from a non-normative background? Please join us for a scholarly conversation on multilingualism and the pleasures and difficulties of translation.

Pär Cassel
History & International Relations

Gottfried Hagen
Near Eastern Studies

Se-Mi Oh
Asian Languages & Cultures

Benjamin Paloff
Comparative & Slavic Literature

Will Thomson
Anthropology & Architecture

Hors d’oeuvres to be served. The public is welcome!

TRANSLATION ACROSS CAMPUS: Reading from “Unscripted: An Armenian Palimpest”– The One Where It All Comes Together, by Anjali Alangaden (undergraduate intern for Abinsthe: World Literature in Translation)

There’s something kind of amazing that happens to a piece of literature when it is read aloud. It’s difficult to describe, but almost as if the words are transformed from something static into a living, breathing presence simply by being read aloud. I found this especially true during the reading and reception held to celebrate the release of the newest issue of Absinthe: World Literature in Translation this past Friday.

This latest issue, “Unscripted: An Armenian Palimpsest”, showcases the work of contemporary Armenian authors who produce literature and poetry from across the Armenian diaspora. The issue is made even more special because it is one of the few collections of this type of work available today. What made this event particularly exceptional for me, and I suspect the rest of the attendees, is knowing that each of the readers had personally translated and edited the very work that they were reading.

Having read through the entire issue a few times before this event, I considered myself fairly familiar and rather fond of its contents. However, I was absolutely unprepared by how much my appreciation and understanding of each piece would grow after hearing them read aloud. Maybe it was the fact that every word read was one that had likely been the focus of considerable deliberation that made these readings so meaningful. Or perhaps it is that each voice provided a depth of emotion and inflection that simply cannot be replicated in print. Whatever it was, I’m glad so many people had the chance to see months of work come together.

In addition to my blog posts chronicling translation projects taking place across campus, I have also worked as the undergraduate intern for Absinthe over the past semester, hence my familiarity with the issue. So this event was certainly doubly exciting for me! While I certainly wasn’t in the middle of any huge decisions regarding the journal, I had chance to witness how translation efforts come together at the most formal levels. Primarily, this involved an astounding level of collaboration and communication to ensure all contributors were on the same page and pleased with the final product.

In addition to the many things I learned about coordinating so many moving pieces and meeting often-difficult deadlines, my experience as an intern is especially valuable to me because it gave me a way to contextualize what I was learning about less-formal translation projects. I had the chance to speak to a variety of people on campus who are involved in some sort of translation work, whether it’s through a hobby, internship, or career. What has emerged to me from these conversations and from my experiences with Absinthe is that translation takes on a variety of different forms in daily. Rather more importantly, I’ve also found that each of these forms is uniquely valuable and valid.

Sometimes translation serves a highly practical role, as it did for Translate-a-Thon participants or medical interpreters. Here, perhaps, function outweighs grace to a certain extent, but that is not to say it is a cruder form. In a hospital, it’s absolutely vital that patients receive the most important information. But balancing that important duty with compassion for a patient’s situation is both a skill and an art. Other times, the aim of translation is to create a piece of art or to preserve a historical perspective. The process here is much more extensive and strategic, as was illustrated during my work with Absinthe and conversation with Kristin Datta.  

Regardless of where it happens, translation is a key facet of everyday life, and one I am glad I had the chance to explore over the past few months. And with that, my series comes to an end. Thank you to everyone that shared their experiences with me and to everyone who has provided guidance along the way.

— Anjali Alangaden

TRANSLATION ACROSS CAMPUS: Where Medicine Meets Translation – An Interview with Megumi Segawa (UM Healthcare Interpreter), by Anjali Alangaden

Minoring in Translation Studies is perhaps not the most typical choice for an undergrad hoping to go into medicine. And over the past couple years, I have often been asked how I see these two seemingly distinct fields of study interacting. But for me, the connections between translation and medicine are both clear and increasingly important.

On a daily basis, most physicians find themselves interacting with people from diverse backgrounds and identities. Sometimes that means working with patients who may not understand English or who struggle with comprehending often complicated medical jargon. Being an effective and compassionate health care provider requires physicians to bridge these communication divides. If that isn’t translation at work, I don’t know what is!

To further explore how translation and medicine interact, I spoke to Megumi Segawa, who has worked as a Japanese Healthcare Interpreter in the University of Michigan Health System since 2007.

Could you describe a little bit what medical interpreters do and how they function within the medical system?

Interpreter Services is a department at Michigan Medicine and we provide free interpreting services for patients with limited English and deaf and hard of hearing patients.  Staff interpreters are available for Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, Russian and American Sign Language.  Basically we show up at the patient’s appointment and work with them throughout the medical encounter.  We provide assistance at check-in, in-take, doctor visit, check-out, various testing and procedures, ER visits, and Labor & Delivery.

How long have you been working with the medical interpreters? How does someone get involved in this field? 

I have been working as a staff Japanese interpreter since 2007 but started to work as a temp interpreter a few years before that.  I had interpreting experiences in other fields before I joined Interpreter Services and learned about medicine and medical interpreting though training sessions and online.  There’s a 40-hour medical interpreter training program called Bridging The Gap and that is something everyone must have before working as a healthcare interpreter.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an interpreter?

Interpreting for terminally ill patients are always difficult.  Similarly interpreting for parents whose baby/child has serious problems is also very tough.  What is hard in those situations is that you feel as if you were delivering “bad news.”  On top of that, you also have to voice the reaction to the news, so you end up feeling everyone’s pain.

How many interpreters are active in UMHS and how many languages do you accommodate?  

I think we have about 100 interpreters including staff interpreters and temp interpreters.  We have many temp interpreters for languages other than the 7 foreign languages I mentioned in Q1 such as Romanian, Polish, Greek, Somali, and Hindi.  When there is no in-person interpreter available, we provide phone interpreting services through an outside agency.

Are there any other things you’d like to add?

We also translate medical records and patient education materials for providers and patients.  Translation and interpretation are rather different things.  Just like not all bilingual people are good at interpreting, not all interpreters are good translators and visa versa.

-Interview by Anjali Alangaden

TRANSLATION ACROSS CAMPUS: Translating History, One Video at a Time – An Interview with Kristen Datta (undergraduate intern for the World War II History Project), by Anjali Alangaden

I first met Kristen Datta in a freshman seminar during January of 2015. We were both pretty interested in languages and were both considering pursuing a major in Linguistics. One thing that I immediately found fascinating about Kristen was her interest in learning both Japanese and German, a pair of languages that were completely foreign to me. As I was studying Portuguese at the time, another not-so-common language on campus, we quickly connected over our interest in languages and our struggles to understand the often painfully dense literature we were discussing in class.

In the three years that followed, I’ve had at least one class with Kristen every semester — honestly not that unusual of an occurrence in the Linguistics Department — and every semester I have learned a little bit more about her. For example, she comes from a family of science-minded individuals, but has branched out to pursue a dual major in Linguistics and German. I also found out that her grandmother was Japanese, which guided her interest in learning that language. And as I discovered just a couple months ago, Kristen is also doing an internship with a nonprofit called the World War II History Project that aims to discover and preserve the firsthand accounts of participants and survivors of World War II.

First off, could you describe the project that you’re working on?

So the project is for an organization called the World War II History Project. It covers interviews with a lot of different sorts of World War II veterans, but a decent number of them were German prisoners of war in the United States actually. So they were captured in North African and brought to the US as prisoners of war. We have these video interviews, but no transcripts – so I’ve been doing a lot of transcribing for sure. My supervisor is writing a history book on this, although I’m not sure about all of the details. So a lot of what I’ve been doing is mainly focused on these German prisoners of war.

How did you find out about this project and get involved?

It was actually through the German Department, you know those weekly emails about all the things going on in the department. Well, they had this list of internships and stuff so I sent in my application and did a Skype interview.  And then, yeah, it worked out!

So this is clearly part of a larger project. Is this based primarily in the US or somewhere else?

Yeah it’s based mostly out of the US. My supervisor’s in Florida, I think. But some of the other people working on this are in Germany.

How much time do you put in per week?

During the summer I was doing a lot more, obviously. I usually did a few hours a day then, but recently I haven’t been working on it as much. Coursework and all that stuff kind of gets in the way, but I’m still working on it here and there when I can2

Of all of the things you’ve translated, what do you think is maybe the most interesting?

I know a decent amount about World War II history through my German studies and history classes in general. But it’s really interesting to have a perspective from the prisoners of war, especially the Africa campaign because that’s not a lot of what I know about. I guess also, it’s personally interesting to me to here about this as well because my grandmother was Japanese-American, and she was actually in internment here in the US…so kind of looking at the comparison of how Japanese-American citizens were treated in internment camps versus prisoners of war. It’s also interesting because these interviews

Can you tell me a little bit about the videos you’ve been working on?

The main guy whose interviews I’ve been working on, well he was an interpreter so he speaks both German and English very fluently. The only problem is that he switches back and forth between the languages throughout the interviews. You know, it’s kind of fun to see the ways he incorporates the languages and how he talk about specific things. Also, my military vocabulary has become a TON bigger.

Oh that’s interesting! Tell me a little more about that.

Yeah, the worst is definitely place names! So like I said, he was part of the Africa campaign which I’m not that familiar with. So I’m trying to use all these clues like ‘I know they’re in Tunisia, and this name sort of sounds like this so…?’ I usually end up Googling a name that I think I heard and look at maps, trying to see what things like cities and lakes and bays that they’ve referenced. But yeah, thankfully my supervisor knows the history of this way better than I do and she did all of the interviews, so she can give me a lot more information than I would have otherwise. Also, a lot of times they use the German names for locations, so I really have to backtrack and try to recreate the German pronunciation and spelling.

You’re a German major, right? Have you found that you linguistics background has helped you in this?

I’m mostly relying on my German honestly. I like to think that it helps, but one of the nice things about German, at least, is that the spelling is a little more understandable. The spelling and pronunciation aren’t exactly the same, but at least they’re close. If there’s a word I don’t know, I can usually just transcribe it how I think it’s spelled and then refine as I go.

You’ve probably listened to quite a few hours of footage at this point. Is there anything he’s said that particularly stuck out to you?

I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that I didn’t really know in general. I think it’s also really interesting to hear how his work as a translator in the prisoner camps kind of affected how he interacted with both Americans and the German prisoners of war. After the war, he actually ended up living in the United States for quite a few years actually, so I think it’s kind of interesting to see how he went from being a prisoner of war to being a long-term resident of the country that captured him. He talks a lot about the fights that did break out or some times that they were mistreated by the guards, but overall, it is an interesting dynamic to look at both the good and the bad interactions and how that influenced his decision to stay in the United States.

-Interview by Anjali Alangaden

Join us for a reading from new issue of Absinthe on December 8th!

The editors of Absinthe: World Literature in Translation are pleased to invite you to the launch of our upcoming issue, “Unscripted: An Armenian Palimpsest.”

Please join us in celebrating this publication with a reading on Friday, December 8th from 3:30 – 4:30 PM in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan (2024 Tisch Hall).

Readers include Maral Aktokmakyan Erdogan, Meg Berkobien, Tamar Boyadjian, Dzovinar Derderian, Michael Pifer, Peter Vorissis.