Jennifer Croft Makes News

Photograph by Magdalena Wosinska

Today the paper of record, the gray lady — yes, The New York Times — ran Alexandra Alter’s deep and wide-ranging profile of my beautiful wife, Jenny Croft. And how could one profile Jenny without ranging widely? She is equally accomplished as an author and translator, and her activism has helped change the face of publishing, (almost) literally:

Croft published an open letter with the novelist Mark Haddon, calling on publishers to credit translators on covers. The letter has drawn nearly 2,600 signatures, including from writers like Lauren Groff, Katie Kitamura, Philip Pullman, Sigrid Nunez and Neil Gaiman, as well as prominent translators, among them Robin Myers, Martin Aitken, Jen Calleja, Margaret Jull Costa and John Keene. Her campaign prompted some publishers, among them Pan Macmillan in Britain and the independent European press Lolli Editions, to begin naming all translators on book covers.

A significant part of the profile, of course, concerns Jenny’s latest feat, her heroic translation of Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk’s magnum opus, The Books of Jacob, which has received scores of glowing reviews and this week became a New York Times best seller — a rare achievement for any translation. In an email to Alter, Olga herself pointed to what makes Jenny the master that she is:

She is incredibly linguistically gifted[.] Jenny does not focus on language at all, but on what is underneath the language and what the language is trying to express. So she explains the author’s intention, not just the words standing in a row one by one. There is also a lot of empathy here, the ability to enter the whole idiolect of the writer.

This empathy, this preternatural sensitivity to what lies beneath words, is also evident in Jenny’s fiction, and the most exciting section of Alter’s piece for me personally announces a work-in-progress:

Croft, who lives between Los Angeles and Tulsa, is now working on a novel about translation, titled Amadou. The story takes place in the primeval forests of Poland, where a group of translators have gathered to work together on the latest opus from a celebrated female Polish novelist. The translators are stunned when the author undergoes an otherworldly transformation and disappears into the forest, leaving them alone to puzzle out what her new novel means.

Stay tuned, as they say in the news biz!

As I shameless pilfer bits and bobs from Alter’s well-shaped piece, I think of a passage from my man Alexander Voloshin’s epic of Russian Hollywood, On the Tracks and at Crossroads, concerning the dreary quality and shoddy ethics of émigré newspapers in California.

Culture has only barely grazed us.
We have the local papers, yes,
but I regret to say our press
leaves quite a lot to be desired…
Its publishers have never tired
of cutting, pasting — what we get
is reprints; nothing new as yet.
Their job, they feel, is to serve food
that has been thoroughly pre-chewed.
These gentlemen take inventories
of other publications’ stories …

They steal from strangers as they please
and think it silly to pay fees
for every line … They’d rather buy
five or six pairs of scissors. Why
slave away when you can reap
what others sow — and do it cheap?

Kudos to Alexandra Alter and to all the journalists and editors who serve up fresh food — stories worth telling that have gone untold for far too long!

Культурой мы слегка задеты, —
Есть в Калифорнии газеты,
Однако очень много «но» —
С печатью нашей сплетено …
У «прессы» — странные повадки —
Из всех газет перепечатки
Нам здесь издатели дают,
И весь редакционный труд
Свели к тому, чтобы задаром
Нас пичкать «жёваным» товаром,
Черпая повизну вестей
Из сводки «старых новостей» …

Они сотрудников не знают
И предрассудками считают —
Платить построчный гонорар…
Купивши ножниц пять-шесть пар, —
Они садятся и — за дело:
Читают … режут … клеят смело
И … жнут чужое без стыда, —
Не сея — эти господа! …


20 thoughts on “Jennifer Croft Makes News

  1. Oh my this one got to me right away. First of all may I say WOW and DAMN and kudos to Jennifer for the article in the NYT. I hadn’t been aware of her activism but it makes such sense and though I do not translate and heartily appreciate those who work this magic for without all and each of you, we poor Americans who are mainly monolingual (though we are improving in that corner) could not enter through into these new worlds. As someone who maintains a page for Rilke with over 50 K followers I can say that people often ask who the translators are. What really hit home for me was this: “Jenny does not focus on language at all, but on what is underneath the language and what the language is trying to express. So she explains the author’s intention, not just the words standing in a row one by one. There is also a lot of empathy here, the ability to enter the whole idiolect of the writer.” For me, that is the essence of great translation and a reader can feel it in their bones. Readers, some of us have that same empathy even if we can’t read the original language. So thank you for this and for the Volshkin addition. I will definitely check out his site!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a reader of translated work for so many years, it’s wonderful to see how over the past few years translation and translators are receiving more attention for the work involved and the issues surrounding it. Publishers should realize that some of us pick up a book by an unknown-to-us author because of who the translator is, and if Jennifer loses work because she has spoken out, it will not only be a loss for potential readers, but a loss for that publisher.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wonderful article – and how true! Translators have to be on the covers; they do not only recreate, they also create the works they translate. I know this from my experience with Boris Dralyuk’s renderings of my poems. Those humble little texts get a new life and shine in translation. And so do the texts Jennifer Croft has translated.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations, Boris, Jenny and literature in translation! We may all be sensing this article as a breakthrough, reflecting Jenny’s, your own and many others’ years of hard work and activism. The Oklahoma-raised part of my family is also celebrating! As is Alexander Voloshin… I’m particularly struck by the motif of dismantling and sensitively rebuilding works as an act of the imagination. So true, and furthering such cross-lingual relationships can do so much for a better attunement to our world’s polyphony. Here’s to the joy and resonance of your newsworthy journey!

    Liked by 1 person

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