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10 Questions for Mara Faye Lethem

“A pleasant month of June was drawing to a close when Enric Espol showed up with a bandaged hand, his fist clenched be­neath the gauze. He was clearly changed in many respects, which gave rise to speculation, but no one could possibly imagine the scale of the wallop that had bowed him.”
—from “The Desert”, Fall 2018 (Vol. 59, Issue 3)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
The first book I ever translated was about the Catalan performance group La Fura dels Baus. I recall vastly underestimating how long it was going to take me, and a black-and-white photo from the eighties of them destroying cars with axes.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Vivian Gornick, Geoff Dyer, Vladimir Nabokov, Grace Paley, Thomas Berger, Dr. Seuss.

What did you want to be when you were young?
A lawyer (my father is a painter).

What drew you to write a translation of this piece in particular?
Sometimes I feel that I can’t really read certain books without translating them, and I really wanted to get inside Calders’s head in that way. His work challenges me on the level of language, yet the results have to come off as effortless, and droll. Both his obsessions and his literary devices resonate very deeply with me.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Public libraries to me embody all that is right in the world.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I need silence for editing but for translating, I either feed off a certain high energy propulsion, or center myself with singing along: M.I.A., Die Antwoord, Minnie Riperton, Black Box Recorder, and, of course, Whitney Houston.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
If I’m having trouble staying in my chair or, as we say in Catalan, suffering from “el cul d’en Jaumet,” I will often recur to the archives of This American Life.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My husband, who sometimes likes to call himself the Top European Expert on Mara Faye Lethem.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Where do I sign to transmogrify into Hannah Gadsby?

What are you working on currently?
Javier Calvo’s forthcoming book, currently entitled Bronwyn, a feverish, drug-fueled extravaganza; next up is Max Besora’s Adventures and Misadventures, a torrential, scatological novel based on the 17th-century exploits of Joan Orpí, founder of New Catalonia in the Americas


MARA FAYE LETHEM is a writer and translator whose work has been featured in GrantaThe Paris Review, McSweeney's, The New York Times, The Guardian, and El País, among others. Her translation of Patricio Pron's Don't Shed Your Tears For Anyone Who Lives On These Streets is forthcoming from Knopf.

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