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Alumnus’s Publication Explores Literary Translation in Practice


After graduation, alumni of The American University of Paris often stay in touch with their professors. Some, like Jan Steyn ’08 (Comparative Literature & English) and G’10, go further, actively collaborating with faculty members throughout their careers. Steyn’s work with Professor Dan Gunn of the Department of Comparative Literature and English started while at AUP and has recently culminated in the release of a collection of essays exploring literary translation, which is edited by Steyn and includes Gunn as a contributor.

Translation: Crafts, Contexts, Consequences (Cambridge University Press, 2022) is a broad collection of reflections on literary translation, including both theoretical analysis and practical discussions on such work, which aims to act as an entrance into the field for inquiring readers. It focuses on exciting conservations taking place in the field without attempting to be comprehensive. “It’s trying to open up avenues and get people interested in the subject,” says Steyn.

The book’s three subtitles form the framework for its broad explorations: “Crafts” for the reflections of translators on their daily practice; “Contexts” for cultural, global and cross-disciplinary considerations; and “Consequences” for the ethical and political ramifications of translation work. “It’s about the material practices of translation, as opposed to translation as a metaphor,” explains Steyn. Certain chapters bring in perspectives from other disciplines, including neuroscience and psychoanalysis, while accommodating a broad audience.

The book was born from Steyn’s academic relationship with Professor Dan Gunn, which started when Steyn was an intern working on Gunn’s research project, The Letters of Samuel Beckett. Gunn also supervised Steyn’s first literary translation, Journal by Alix Cléo Roubaud. “He was immensely useful in my formation,” says Steyn. In fact, Translation: Crafts, Contexts, Consequences was originally Gunn’s own project. “He lobbied the publisher to take it on in the way only he really can,” continues Steyn. “He’s a tenacious, wonderful presence.” When Gunn passed the project on to Steyn due to other commitments, Steyn ensured that Gunn had a place in the final volume.

In fact, Gunn is not the only AUP-adjacent translator to appear in the book. Kate Briggs, a former AUP professor, edits the volume’s final essay. Franco Nasi, who here writes about translation, creativity and awareness, has worked with Gunn on the Cahiers Series of publications, which explore writing, translation and the ways in which the two practices interact. Bernard Turle, whose essay discusses the daily life of a translator, is also a Cahiers contributor and regular collaborator with Gunn. The Cahiers Series is published by Sylph Editions in association with AUP’s Center for Writers & Translators, for which Gunn is Center Director. Steyn’s book is dedicated to George Craig, another Cahiers contributor who had previously spoken at AUP but who sadly died in 2019.

Jan Steyn is a lecturer in literary translation and French at the University of Iowa, where he also directs the MFA program in literary translation. His own translations, between French, English, Dutch and Afrikaans, include six books and numerous shorter works. He holds a PhD in comparative literature from Cornell University.