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10 Questions for Allison Braden

"I don't consider myself sensual," Antonia said, pulling the sheet across her torso and stroking his hair. Miguel smiled without her noticing. He knew she was trying to draw out praise for her skin, her body, her lips. Antonia was provoking him. She knew she was irresistible. She knew that any movement of hers, however subtle, would set off a chain reaction that would end in a moan, both pitiful and powerful.
—from "Double Antonia" by Andrea Maturana, Translated by Allison Braden, Volume 61, Issue 3 (Fall 2020)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
The first work I translated was María José Ferrada’s Kramp, a delightful novella about a Chilean girl who assists her traveling salesman father. It was mostly for practice since another translator was working on it at the same time; I only regret that my clever puns will never see the light of day.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Lately I’ve been complaining about work that verges on too literary. I find myself preferring direct, conversational prose, where the drive to connect outweighs highfalutin style. Arelis Uribe, another Chilean author I translate, is a perfect example, as are Charles Portis, Barry Lopez, and Alejandro Zambra.

What other professions have you worked in?
My translation, journalism, copy editing, and fact checking are part of a big web, but I’ve also taught Spanish, worked at a public radio station, and been a swim instructor and outdoors guide.

What did you want to be when you were young?
I wanted to be a meteorologist and hurricane hunter as a kid, and I applied to college intending to study computer science. Luckily I came to my senses and found my way back to the liberal arts before classes started. My liberal arts education gave me the luxury of never having to decide what I want to be: I have the tools to chase my shapeshifting interests. I wouldn’t trade that freedom for anything, but I’ll admit to daydreaming about the paychecks I would have gotten as a software engineer.

What drew you to write a translation of this piece in particular?
When I read this piece the first time, I shuddered at the last line. I’ve had that experience every time I’ve read it since, and I wanted to see if I could provoke the same visceral reaction in English. Maturana’s stories for adults—she writes children’s books too—evoke the subtle terror of womanhood and interpersonal relationships in a way I’ve rarely encountered. (Carmen Maria Machado’s work is similar.) The book this piece is from, (Des)encuentros (des)esperados, was published in 1993 but could have been written yesterday—it’s long overdue to appear in English.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I’ve always been drawn more to place than people. Growing up in the South affected me powerfully, and I don’t think any writer from around here can escape being influenced by the landscape or the storytelling tradition. Being Southern also comes with a particular cultural angst, which fostered my interest in bringing about empathy through powerful, effective communication. My experience of place in Bangladesh, Venezuela, and elsewhere has only reaffirmed that. In Bangladesh, kids let watermelon juice run down their wrists at the edge of the river, playing and slapping at mosquitoes, just like my sister and I did in Savannah, Georgia. That’s a minor example, but there’s so much that connects us, and I’m convinced that when we find a way to bond over it, it’ll be easier to talk about our vast differences, too. Lately though, and maybe this is telling, I’ve sought out places with fewer people. I visited Mongolia and Siberia a few years ago and spent a season in Patagonia last year. I’ve been grappling with how to experience the world responsibly when air travel exacts such a huge carbon cost, and I suspect writing is part of the answer.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My sister is my favorite editor. Not only can she point out just the right tweaks to make any piece of writing more powerful, she also knows Chilean slang better than I do! I have a bad habit of sending her stuff that’s not quite ready for another pair of eyes—luckily, I can trust her with my terrible first drafts.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I ordered a drawing book earlier this year. Sometimes I catch sight of something so gorgeous that words don’t feel like enough. Color and lines give you a sense of control when you don’t trust the reader to envision the exact angle of late afternoon light, falling across a trio of cedar waxwings perched in a twisted bone-white snag and igniting a thousand shades of blue in the mountain range behind them. Unfortunately, I’m still on Lesson 1 in my book, so words will have to do.

What are you working on currently?
When I’m not reporting, I’m finishing up my translation of and seeking publication for Arelis Uribe’s phenomenal book of short stories, Quiltras.

What are you reading right now?
I’ve been devouring nature books: Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Kathleen Dean Moore’s Holdfast. I’m eagerly awaiting my copy of Helen Macdonald’s Vesper Flights. Their writing is an escape from the headlines but also a way to tune into the world more deeply.


ALLISON BRADEN is a writer and Spanish translator based in the North Carolina Piedmont. She is a contributing editor for Charlotte magazine, and editor-at-large for Asymptote Journal, and an editorial assistant at the academic journal Translation and Interpreting Studies. Her journalism has appeared in Outside, Columbia Journalism Review, and The Daily Beast, among others, while her work in and adjacent to literary translation has appeared in Asymptote and Spanish and Portuguese Review. Allison was a Fullbright scholar to Bangladesh, and her translation work focuses on fiction by women from the Southern Cone.

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