NEA Literature Fellowships

Steven J. Stewart

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(2015 - Translation)

"The Lovers" and "The Theologian" by Ana María Shua

[translated from the Spanish]

"The Lovers"

They always talked of being reincarnated so that they could kiss in public. They died together, in an accident, during a clandestine encounter. He was reincarnated as a circus elephant and she as a petunia. The life of a petunia is very brief, which put them out of sync. In the following reincarnation, both were human, with sixty-three years between them. She became Pope and he a darling little girl who was permitted to kiss the papal ring during an audience.

"The Theologian"

In the 7th century A.D., a group of Bavarian theologians debates the sex of the angels. Obviously, they don't admit that women (at that time they weren't even sure that these had souls) are capable of debating theological matters. Nevertheless, one of them is a skillfully disguised woman. She emphatically affirms that angels can only be male. She knows, though she doesn't say so, that among them there will be women in disguise.

Original in Spanish

About Ana María Shua

Ana María Shua (1951-) is one of contemporary Argentina's most significant and prolific writers. She has published over 80 books in a multitude of genres and has won numerous national and international awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship. Soledad Gallego-Diaz writes in Spain's El País that “it's not possible to analyze any branch of Argentine literature from the last thirty years without recognizing Shua's brilliant contribution.” Shua is perhaps best known for being the “Queen of the Microstory” in the Spanish-speaking world on both sides of the Atlantic.

Steven J. Stewart teaches English at Brigham Young University–Idaho. He has published numerous translations in journals and anthologies. His book of translations of Spanish poet Rafael Pérez Estrada, Devoured by the Moon (Hanging Loose Press, 2004), was a finalist for the 2005 PEN-USA translation award. He has published two books of the short fiction of Argentinian Ana María Shua: Microfictions (University of Nebraska Press, 2009) and Without a Net (Hanging Loose Press, 2012). He has also published a book of translations of horror stories of Peruvian writer Fernando Iwasaki (Blood Bound Books, 2014). He has been awarded NEA translation fellowships for 2005 and now 2015.

Photo by Brianne Serrano

Translator's Statement

Lydia Davis writes that "To write is to travel, to write is to read, to read is to write, and to read is to travel. But George Steiner says that to translate is also to read, and to translate is to write, as to write is to translate and to read is to translate. So that we may say: To translate is to travel and to travel is to translate."

It's indeed the case that reading, writing, and traveling all share important qualities with translating. You never read a text more closely than when you translate it, and it's also true that a translator has written every word of a translation that he or she has done.

But how does travel fit in? Translating is a way of traveling into the mind and the language of the original author. It's also the case that translation allows a writer's work to travel beyond what are otherwise unsurpassable boundaries. And it's also important to recognize how incredibly valuable traveling can be to a translator: what better way to effectively render an author's work than to see what he sees, to experience some of what she was experiencing when she wrote the original piece?

Perhaps the biggest thing this award from the NEA will offer me is the opportunity to travel to Buenos Aires and spend time interacting and working with Ana María Shua there. I'm confident that this support will enable me and my co-translator, Kalli Angel, to create a stronger, more vivid translation of Shua's book Casa de Geishas.

I am extremely grateful to the NEA for this fellowship, for its willingness to help me read, write, translate, and (yes, why not transitively?) to travel the work of Ana María Shua.