Presenting the American Literary Translators Association

The American Literary Translators Association, affectionately known as ALTA, is the main professional organization for translators of literature in the United States. Joining it comes with perks, especially for translators new to the field. ALTA hosts a yearly conference where you can meet more experienced translators working in your language area and learn what is on the minds of translation professionals in a given year. I attended my first ALTA conference as a high school student in 1983, when it happened to be held in New Orleans; a teacher who knew one of the organizers deposited me in the German workshop right between master translators Krishna Winston and Breon Mitchell, who were no doubt hashing out some high-level translation problem I can no longer recall. I do remember being taken aback when someone in the room dropped the phrase “Sex mit einem Teenager haben” – which I realized only years later had been intended as an illustration of how English vocabulary was beginning to infiltrate colloquial German (a trend that has continued). There used to be at least half-a-dozen language-specific workshops routinely offered every year as part of the conference; now their inclusion has become sporadic. But there are many other ways to join in. All conference participants are asked to speak from notes in their panel presentations rather than reading written papers, and so there is a strong emphasis on conversation in all the conference sessions, making it easy for newcomers to join in the dialogue. Becoming an ALTA member, which costs as little as $20/year for student memberships, also lets you join the ALTAlk online discussion forum, where everything from translation theory to the vicissitudes of publishing to calls for submissions and fellowship opportunities gets discussed. ALTA also awards prizes each year for the best published translations in several categories, and offers competitive travel fellowships to help younger translators attend the conference. I was delighted to be able to bring a posse of graduate students from the MFA program at Queens College to the conference this year. Definitely worth checking out.

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