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New literary translation minor introduced

The Saint Vincent College English Department recently hosted Megan Matich, a 2011 SVC graduate, as a guest speaker for its Visiting Writers Series.

Matich lives and works in Iceland where she translates foreign literature.

She read poems from her book, “Cold Moons,” a collection of Icelandic translations of poems by Magnus Sigurdsson.

Saint Vincent students will now have the opportunity to follow in Matich’s footsteps with the new literary translation minor that is offered at the college.

Michelle Gil-Montero, associate English professor, currently teaches a Literary Translation Workshop class — the only available translation class offered at this time. Gil-Montero sensed the need to implement this new minor to satisfy a specific area of students’ interests.

“The first time I taught translation [at Saint Vincent] was in 2010, and I had a fairly small group of students. But I noticed there was a clear personality type: students who were really interested in languages, studying languages, and writing,” she said.

The first translation class was comprised of English majors who were studying other languages, and language majors who were taking literature courses. Gil-Montero said that the class merged the two interests in a “seamless way.”

Matich, who took Gil-Montero’s translation class, said, “I decided to take it and discovered that I could sort of blend my love of literature together with my love of language into something useful and fun and creative.”

This past semester, the English Department collaborated with the Modern and Classical Language Department to propose the literary translation minor. The proposal cited that less than ten colleges in the United Sates offer a B.A. in this field, and that the proposed program is “unlike any at a college of [Saint Vincent’s] size.”

Anthony Horner, a senior English major, barely missed his opportunity to enter the program. He commented on students’ desire to explore other languages through literature.

“I think in our generation, there’s a specific character type that deeply senses this feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world. We know there’s a lot out there that we’re not exposed to and that we’re hungry for,” Horner said of literary translation.

His interest in other cultures lead him to major in anthropology, before switching to English.

“What I wanted from anthropology, that fascination with a cultural ‘other,’ I got from Literary Translation,” he said.

Gil-Montero expressed a similar sentiment to Horner’s.

“People read books in translation and don’t know they weren’t originally written in English. In the United States, we’ve become cut off, out of touch — an echo-chamber of our own ideas,” she said.

The proposal suggested that the program would set Saint Vincent apart from other small colleges and draw students from “across the country and perhaps internationally.”

Although the department has yet to promote the minor off campus, undergrad students who are already at the college have entered the program, such as Mallory Truckenmiller, an English and Spanish double-major.

As a result, two new courses will be offered to fulfill the minor: World Literatures in Translation, where students will read and translate contemporary foreign literature, and Small Press Publishing, which will allow students to work with the literary translation press and produce books of literary translations.

The program will prep students who are interested in translation, international studies, or even teaching abroad and foreign service.

Gil-Montero commented on the program’s appeal.

“Reading foreign literature opens our eyes to how people live half way across the world and how they think in other languages,” she said. “I think it appeals to a lot of students here.”

Photos: SVC Flickr, The Reykjvik Grapevine

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