10 Questions for Elizabeth Harris
- By Kira Archibald
“A blue eye, floating in still water, blood vessels showing in the yellow cornea. A small, white liquid ball gathering on the lower eyelid, ready to spill over at any moment. The eye, under slackened folds of skin, swung wildly and stared into my own. Now that the iris had half disappeared into the corner of the eye and more cornea was showing, the glassy fluid overflowed and ran down beside the large, sharp nose . . . . The pupil was locked onto me.” —from “Just a Minute,” by Monica Pareschi. Translated by Elizabeth Harris. Winter 2017 (Vol. 58, Issue 4)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated
The first book I translated was Mario Rigoni Stern’s Le stagioni di Giacomo, or Giacomo’s Seasons, which I worked on for my MFA thesis in literary translation at the University of Arkansas. There were other short pieces I did before this, but I’d say that translating this novel, with all its challenges, was really my early training in translation. It’s a book that takes place between the World Wars in northern Italy, in the Veneto region, and its prose is spare; the setting was quite challenging: it takes place in the foothills to the Alps and setting is practically a character. The novel took a lot of research (both with the setting and the military terminology), and when it was finally accepted for publication by Autumn Hill Books, I went back and revised it entirely: as a grad student I’d taken too many liberties with this beautiful book, so I needed to go back and work on getting the translation closer to Rigoni Stern’s original style.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
My writing is my translating; I would say that each work I’ve translated has influenced my approach to translating, especially the longer works I’ve translated by Mario Rigoni Stern, Giulio Mozzi, and Antonio Tabucchi. I did study for an MFA in fiction along with my translation studies. My fiction-writing was influenced by many authors but perhaps especially John Cheever, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, and Isaac Babel. Honestly, I could go on and on with the writers I love who influenced my writing.
What other professions have you worked in?
I’ve only recently left teaching to concentrate on translating full-time. I was a professor of creative writing (fiction) for many years at the University of North Dakota.
What drew you to write a translation of this piece in particular?
Monica Pareschi’s story is in her collection, È di vetro quest’aria, which was recommended to me by another Italian writer. I like Pareschi’s writing very much and this little story in particular.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
No, I wouldn’t say there’s a place that influences my writing. These days, though, I live along the Mississippi and my office looks out over the river. It’s certainly a pleasant place to work. Bald eagles swoop by.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I don’t have any rituals, really, but I do like to get going on translating first thing in the morning, right after I have my coffee, if at all possible.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
The first person who reads my work in the draft stage is my friend and colleague, Louise Rozier, a professor of Italian as well as a translator.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I think I might play the violin. I’d like to make the music that I see fiddlers playing in Chagall paintings.
What are you working on currently?
I’ve been working on Antonio Tabucchi’s Racconti con figure, or Stories With Pictures, which will be published by Archipelago Books.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Francesco Pacifico’s novel Le donne amate and Antonio Tabucchi’s Viaggi e altri viaggi. Along with these, I’ve been reading two versions of Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet (translations by Richard Zenith and Margaret Jull Costa) and The Selected Poems of Carlos Drummond de Andrade(various translators).
ELIZABETH HARRIS’S recent translations include Giulio Mozzi’s story collection, This Is the Garden, and Antonio Tabucchi’s novels, Tristano Dies and For Isabel: A Mandala. She is the recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant and the National Translation Award for prose, both for Tabucchi’s Tristano Dies. She is now translating Tabucchi’s Stories With Pictures (Racconti con figure) for Archipelago Books.