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Oksana Lutsyshyna Discussion and Reading — Now Online

April 21, 2021

Thanks to the Danylo Husar-Struk Programme in Ukrainian Literature of the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies, last week we had a few dozen fans come together for an International symposium dedicated to the work of Oksana Lutsyshyna, followed by her poetry and prose readings. Yours truly was also there and attempted to make an intelligent contribution at about 1 hr 7 min mark. At the very end of the reading Oksana was kind enough to read an excerpt from her novel Ivan and Phoebe in my translation (which my husband said was “flawless” and that’s a big deal because despite being my husband, he is my toughest editor).

Participants: Tamara Hundorova, Maxim Tarnawsky, Vitaly Chernetsky, Taras Koznarsky, Olena Jennings, and Nina Murray.

Organizer and moderator: Alex Averbuch 

Oksana Lutsyshyna is the 2021 laureate of the Taras Shevchenko National Prize in Literature, awarded for her novel Ivan and Phoebe (2019). The novel has also been awarded the UNESCO Lviv City of Literature Award (2020). Lutsyshyna (b. 1974) is an award-winning writer, poet, translator, PEN Ukraine member, and literary scholar. She is the author of three novels, a collection of short stories, and five books of poetry, all but one published in Ukraine. Her latest poetry collection, Persephone Blues, was published in English translation in 2019 by the Boston-based publisher Arrowsmith. Oksana Lutsyshyna holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Georgia, and is currently a lecturer in Ukrainian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. 

Who Am I to Say? A Personal History in Publishing

April 12, 2021

Here I am, telling folks to invest their time and attention to listen to me dispense advice, and you might find yourself reasonably wondering, why should anyone listen to me?

First of all, as we have all heard, free advice is worth exactly what you paid for it, and a long time in the trenches of grants and program management has taught me conclusively that advice paid-for is advice written down. And better remembered.

Those considerations aside, I do think I have seen/published a thing or two. If you don’t know me yet, read on.

Read more…

Publishing Sector in Ukraine: A British Council Report

April 10, 2021

In case you missed it, British Council Ukraine just released a comprehensive review of the national publishing sector.

This research includes over 100 hours of face-to-face and online interviews with publishers, retailers, librarians, festival workers, representatives of cultural and industry entities, and other stakeholders. The project’s aim is to explore the Ukrainian mass-market literary publishing sector and generate a detailed needs-analysis of Ukrainian publishers, and further defining opportunities for internationalisation.

The report captures and confirms trends from library infrastructure to skill gaps in the industry. It’s a valuable baseline and ought to be required reading not only for publishers, but also for authors.

And it confirms the observations that have led me to partner with Apofenie to offer a roundtable on How to Prepare for Foreign Markets on April 21.

This chart, right here, is the reason I am offering advice. Specifically, the 25% red portion of it (and a little about editorial). One of the big problems identified by publishers is the lack of skilled translators to and from Ukrainian. I cannot comment on the first group, but I do know the second if well, if not exhaustively, represented in my contacts list. There are not a lot of us.

Subvention funding being offered by the Ukrainian Book Institute is a big step forward and will make a difference in attracting independent and university presses to the available titles. However, it cannot help raise the next generation of translators, or address the need for translators who can work with less-than-common pairs of languages. The latter will likely continue to be a challenge that can be mitigated by developing a larger cadre of translators who can translate into English as the intermediate step.

This is both good news and bad news. English is already the key to the largest foreign market (the entire anglophone market is bigger than the Chinese one), which means it already attracts students and practitioners. But this is also a crowded marketplace, which means the bar is high and work has to distinguish itself.

How to do that, what to be prepared for, what the expectations are — these are the topics of the roundtable on the 21st. Do sign up!

How to Prepare for Foreign Markets: Event for Authors and Publishers, April 21

April 8, 2021

I am thrilled to announce I am partnering with Apofenie magazine to offer an online event on April 21. You can sign up here on Facebook.

This event, by the way, is free if you are a patron of Apofenie on Patreon. All funds raised will contribute to the running and upkeep of the magazine, with the eventual goal of enabling it to pay contributors and translators (and wouldn’t that be nice?).

What are we going to talk about?

Since it’s Kate Tsurkan and I who hatched this idea, we have an audience of Ukrainian authors and publishers in mind–but really, anyone who writes in a language other than English, and therefore would have to have their work translated for the anglophone market, is welcome to join.

My goal is to convey the following fundamental observations–and I’m going to refer to the U.S. market here because I know it best:

  • Trite and cliched as this may sound, the U.S. market, in particular, is the big leagues. The size matters–in the number of individual titles published annually, sales volume, number of people involved etc. Books in translation have to compete with everything else that’s already there. While an author may have achieved certain recognition or even stardom in their native country, if we are talking about the first translation out of the original language, it matters not. Zilch.
  • The U.S. market, like any ecosystem, has trends, mini-trends, and micro-trends as well as a list of things that are just no longer acceptable in books.
  • The translator might be the first person to point out some of these faux pas to the author. To which the author might justifiably respond, but that’s part of the story. You are not my editor. Indeed. But without your translator’s cooperation, you are never even going to get to an editor, so you have two choices: one is to insist that your work remain sacrosanct and not a single word–let alone sentence, paragraph, scene or character–be altered. The second is to embrace the free (and limited) editing advice your translator offers, so that maybe you don’t have to be sent to a developmental editor with whom you will not be able to argue.
  • Translators seem expensive. They are not. I can physically manage roughly one novel of the length (and, yes, complexity) of James Joyce’s Ulysses in a year. At my current per-word rate, this would put me at $15 an hour which, many in Congress would agree, should be the minimum wage. Amazon offers that to warehouse personnel. I’ll let you think about it.

Why do I feel compelled to seek a professional forum in which to communicate these things? Some of the answers–in the next blog post.

Sean Murray – Live!

March 25, 2021

Previously, we reported the publication of Sean Murray’s novella “MacFarland’s Unreasonable Expectations” here and if you still have not read it, you should stop reading this and go read it. It’s great.

And because the good folks at Pendust Radio definitely know what they are doing, they are also publishing interviews with their authors. In addition to this rare chance to see Sean Murray live, the page includes a few extra questions, and a pretty good joke. (Note to self: Poets don’t get asked to tell jokes. But I should have a joke in my pocket just in case).

“Your Ad Could Go Here” Longlisted for EBRD Prize

March 18, 2021

Longlist announced, and one of my translations is on it! How exciting is that? I am also thrilled to see two other books from Ukraine on the list: Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov, translated by Boris Dralyuk (MacLehose Press, an imprint of Quercus) andCarbide by Andriy Lyubka, translated by Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Stockhouse Wheeler (Jantar Publishing Ltd).

Looking at previous years’ longlists, this is the first time Ukraine is so well represented, which is great.

Your Ad Could Be Here is a special case: it’s a collection of short stories, some of which were translated years ago. Others have not been translated until now, and a few are very recent. So it took a village to pull this volume together: in addition to translating a couple of pieces outright, I edited the whole collection to make sure the collective gave a consistent representation of Oksana Zabuzhko’s unique voice and its subtle modulations in individual pieces.

And here’s the other thing: I heard this news from two friends who independently congratulated me. How great is that? People out there are watching literary prize long-lists and are delighted when they see a name they recognize! That is utterly delightful. Thank you!

Roy Scheele reviews Alcestis in the Underworld

February 2, 2021

It is not a small feat for a small publisher (or a poet) to get their books reviewed–which is why, please, if you read poetry, or any books by independent publishers, do review them! Maggie Ball at Compulsive Reader has been providing an essential and very needed service to the global reading and writing community, and I am thrilled to see Alcestis in the Underworld review by Roy Scheele on her website. A quote:

Murray <…> does not try to establish a perfect correspondence between these poems and the myth’s incidents and details; instead, the poems move freely back and forth between two planes of existence, the personal and the mythological, as they recall Murray’s youth in Ukraine and her subsequent career in the U.S. diplomatic service, particularly her time in Russia. The myth itself functions in the poems more like a reticulated canopy, casting an occasional net of shadows over the scenes taking place below.

Uilleam Blacker reviews Zabuzhko in translation

January 31, 2021

What indeed? The link to the review is here. A quote, if you’ll bear with me (emphasis mine, because why not?):

Thanks to superb translations by Halyna Hryn and Nina Murray, the anglophone reader already has access to Zabuzhko’s novels Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex (1996) and The Museum of Abandoned Secrets (2009). Her new collection of stories Your Ad Could Go Here, produced by a team of translators led by Hryn and Murray, reveals Zabuzhko to be a versatile writer of short prose.

Interview with Paul Nelson

January 29, 2021

Some of my readers may remember I signed up for the August Poetry Postcard festival for the first time this year, a challenge of writing a poem a day. I confess I had fun with it. Many people who participate make their own postcards, and the sheer variety of techniques and imaginations is an inspiring part of the experience.

The founder, Paul Nelson, interviews participating poets, and yours truly had the pleasure of speaking with Paul a little bit ago. Not included in the recording is the moment Paul turned his laptop around to show me the view out of his window: A beautiful harbor under a streaky sky, sailboats, and an occasional skirl of a seagull.

If you are interested, you can register for the 2021 iteration here: Submittable PoPo registration.

The Skill of Cursive Long-Hand and the Translating Brain

January 28, 2021
Photo by Pixabay on

Handwriting seems to have a kind of a moment — on Instagram, in bullet journals, and snail-mail swaps. It’s hard to tell how much of it is lettering, a calligraphic practice, and how many folks may be actually writing in cursive for practical reasons.

I am, as many of you know, rather a fan of handwriting — see, for example, my essay “Ink” — and today I have another argument to share in favor of acquiring and maintaining the skill of cursive writing.

I was talking to a friend the other day about note-taking. She is an American who learned Russian to native-like proficiency. I am a Russian native speaker who learned English to native-like proficiency, and we have both had occasion to be note takers at conferences where speakers held forth in both languages. Turns out, we both take notes in English even when the speaker is speaking Russian. Neither one even paid attention to this until we started talking about this.

Two things are happening in that process, obviously: taking notes of the salient points and translating from one language to another. Neither one has any trouble keeping up with the Russian speakers; in fact, we can capture quotes verbatim (and all of this sometimes with the notebook on one’s knee because one is just sitting on a chair in a packed room). Russian, of course, takes more time to convey information than English–and that’s provided the speaker is disciplined. But I do feel that handwriting in this situation is important: it is slower than typing and importantly just slow enough to leave time for the translation. I also work as an interpreter, and in that context, we work with (at most) a three-second gap–you need to hear things before you can say them out loud, but if you fall behind three seconds, you might lose track of what’s going on. Clearly, writing is much easier than speaking while listening. Writing by hand adds the fluidity–the sense of being in the zone, perhaps–that makes the operation of translation almost invisible.

I don’t translate in long-hand, although I used to when I was starting out. I do compose in long-hand: I need the time and the utter freedom of putting words wherever I want them on the page that hand-writing provides.


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