I grew up in Pennsylvania, although half my childhood was spent in the touring van of my parents’ theatre company, where the only way to escape the monotony of American highways was to become a voracious reader. After getting my BA from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, I moved to Italy, and after much lurking on translation forums, began translating professionally in 2004.
Since then I’ve worked my way through at least five pages a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year. Early on it was far more—over time one learns to slow down, in the interest of sanity and quality—and most jobs seemed unrelated to the lofty questions that had fascinated me while eavesdropping on literary translators. Financial statements, tourist brochures. Baroque descriptions of baroque furniture. Erectile dysfunction patches. Grain elevators. Parallel to this I started working on a regular basis for a fellow translator’s tiny bilingual review, where I fell in love with contemporary Italian poetry, but that was never going to pay the bills. So, yacht catalogs. Hospital beds. On a good day, chocolate.
Yet as they say in Italian, tutto fa brodo: it all adds to the broth. As I gradually narrowed my bread-and-butter fields down to contemporary art and history, and extended the literary side to include fiction, the more commercial jobs began to taper off. In the meantime, though, my years of mucking around in the unglamorous guts of language brought valuable giblets to the stockpot. Intuition, because experience with parsing hastily written copy gives you a sixth sense for the author’s intentions. Curiosity and research chops, because specialized texts quickly teach you that even your own language and culture house many rooms you never knew existed. Visualization, because technical jobs—just like fiction—often require you to picture things you’ve never seen. Thoroughness verging on paranoia, because for this sort of work you rarely have the safety net of an editor. Flexibility and creative courage, the better to serve the text—any text. Now that I can be selective I’ve gravitated to areas that interest me more, but I’m proud of this wide-ranging background and consider it the foundation of my skills.
As the river of words keeps changing, I remain fascinated by the basic process of shuttling my mind between the author’s and the reader’s. It’s a job that’s rarely boring, never solitary. By definition no translator is ever alone in front of the page, but I also treasure my professional communities—italophone and anglophone, commercial and literary. They’re what made me want to become a translator in the first place. That, and the chance to work in PJs, and the other company around the office.