I'm back at my desk after a heady weekend of translatorly frolics. The Wolfenbütteler Gespräch is the German literary translators' association's annual get-together, where the members meet and greet, give and receive readings, workshops and honours, and generally work up a sweat on and off the dancefloor. It's a pretty unique gathering that changes the face of the small town of Wolfenbüttel for three days of every year.
What struck me this year was the absolutely warm and supportive atmosphere. Although a couple of events are open to the public and the odd editor and student does attend, we were pretty much all in the same boat. But this year there seemed no trace of creative or political rivalry - possibly because there were fewer people in attendance than in the last couple of years. Instead, all the criticism in the workshops was wonderfully constructive, there were professions of support and appreciation all over the shop, and I generally felt embraced in a warm hug the whole time I was there.
The weekend kicked off with an evening of readings - four simultaneous ones, to be precise. I went to "My Favourite Book", which was an excellent idea and expertly moderated by Isabel Bogdan - a shout-out to Isa right here and thanks for all the Kleidpropaganda! Imagine the riches when four outstanding translators read from the books they've most enjoyed translating. Five hours' sleep later it was off to the workshops. I attended an all-day creative writing session, which convinced me that literary translators have all the skills they need to write their own material - and are their own best critics.
That evening Susanne Lange handed on the VdÜ's Hieronymusring award to Ulrich Blumenbach, from Cervantes to David Foster Wallace in one infinite leap. And then of course there was the party, where DJs Lang & Scheidt had them translators shakin' their bacon all night long. There were requests for a request form next year (in dreifacher Ausfertigung?), but I'm tempted to remain a dictatorial DJ. It was at least an honour to be told by a prizewinning translator that we had played "mainly good music".
A short four hours in the land of nod were followed by one of my highlights - Ingo Schulze in conversation with his English and Hungarian translators, John E. Woods and Lídia Nádori. The subject was translating Neue Leben - which presented a few problems, as readers outside of the former East Germany (including in the West) aren't generally familiar with a lot of the material. So the translators added a few footnotes of their own, in addition to the know-it-all notes by the "editor", a certain I.S. Ingo Schulze, we were told, is one of the friendliest and most helpful authors around - rather like being called the most intelligent rock singer, he laughed.
They also mentioned the May workshop in Straelen with the author and 17 of his translators, all of whom are working on Adam und Evelyn. You can listen to pieces (in German) on the workshop via Deutsche Welle and Deutschlandradio. And I now have a signed and tattered copy of Neue Leben to go with John Woods' translation New Lives on my To Be Read pile.
All in all, I suspect most of us returned home tired but happy. Oh, and can I just add that the overall female:male ratio was about 15:1, but the ratio of female to male record requesters was 1:7. What does this tell us?