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Posted on Dec 9, 2018 in Blog, International, Languages

I Take My Turn for Translation

I Take My Turn for Translation

When I moved to New York City full-time in winter 2015, I began attending meetings of the PEN Translation Committee. I had already participated in the activities of the PEN Children’s Committee for years and served as a blogger for the PEN World Voices Festival, coming down from Albany and staying with my mother-in-law in Queens or in the small apartment Richard and I rented in 2013 to see if we wanted to live permanently in the city. At a Children’s Committee in January 2014 I received my first translation gig, which became the award-winning picture book The World in a Second.

I appreciated the work that the Translation Committee co-chairs have done to welcome new members into the group (thank you, Alex Zucker and Margaret Carson for giving me such a warm welcome!), run the meetings, and organize a fun social gathering afterward. But as I kept a seat warm at the meeting, it never occurred to me that my turn would come up to serve as co-chair. That has changed, and beginning with the new year, I will be joining Tess Lewis as the new PEN Translation Committee co-chair.

Over the next four years, I worked with the Translation  Committee on a model contract for translators. I did advance promotion for various events that the committee co-sponsored or organized and blogged about them afterward. I participated in a well-attended panel on translating children’s books at the Brooklyn Book Festival and read from my children’s book translations at the KGB Bar in Manhattan.

My new position will require new skills of me — showing up on time, organizing and running meetings to cover a large agenda in the 90 minutes we have, serving on award committees (which I’ve already done three times for the Children’s Committee), and spearheading new initiatives. At the meeting at which I was appointed, we discussed a Translation Slam — two translators translating the same text passage — for a children’s book, which will highlight the unique issues that children’s books present when crossing from one language and culture to another.

Another initiative I’d like to pursue is expanding translators’, and readers’, knowledge base related to gender-specific language and nonbinary identities. As gender-specific as the English language is with pronouns, other languages are even more so, with adjective endings, verb conjugations, and surnames dependent on one’s gender. How do authors writing in languages other than English express gender fluidity? How do we translate those books? And how would someone translate the variety of English-language pronouns into non-English languages. We can examine the work of groundbreaking writers around the world who have addressed gender fluidity and bring in the translators of their work.

My term as co-chair will last two years, and I look forward to this new responsibility and challenge. I thank the members of the PEN Translation Committee for their confidence in me.


  1. Congratulations on this new opportunity, Lyn! You will do a great job. I look forward to hearing more about how gender fluidity is expressed in the source language and translated into the target language. I find translation fascinating anyway, but this is really venturing into new territory.

    • Thank you for your faith in me! Gender fluidity in language is a topic for which the time has come. It also raises the question of how language itself adapts to a given era, because aspects of language change all the time (to the chagrin of traditionalists).

  2. Congratulations, Lyn! What a great opportunity–and a great challenge! If anyone is up to translating a story from a gendered language to one that is gender-fluid–while maintaining the story’s message, style, and rhythm, that would be you! Plus “showing up on time, organizing and running meetings to cover a large agenda in the 90 minutes”–now that might be an even bigger challenge!

    • Thank you! I’ll keep everyone posted on how it all goes!

  3. A well-deserved position! So proud of you, Lyn!

    • Thank you! I’ll have to say that the principal qualification for this position is showing up regularly at meetings and being willing to do the work.

  4. Congratulations Lyn! This is wonderful news and PEN is lucky to have you.

    • Thank you! It’s such a worthwhile organization, especially for defending freedom of expression and silenced and endangered writers around the world.

  5. Great news, Lyn – congratulations! They’re lucky to have you.

    • Thank you! I’m honored to be a part of both the Translation Committee and the Children’s Committee.

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