Translation Biography

A little bit about me

I’m a translator, a visual artist, and a Senior Lecturer in Spanish at the University of Massachusetts Boston. My two most recent translations are Stay This Day and Night with Me, my translation of the novel by Spanish author Belén Gopegui, and Migrations: Poem, 1976–2020, my translation of the Mexican poet Gloria Gervitz’s magnum opus. I’ve translated poetry, fiction, and essays by authors around the Spanish-speaking world, though mostly from Latin America and, particularly, Mexico. 

These authors include David Huerta, Virgilio Piñera, Alberto Ruy Sánchez, Jesús Gardea, Eduardo Galeano, and Antonio José Ponte. I’m a founding member of the Boston Area Literary Translators Group and (with Yvon Augustin) the Roxbury Electric Illumination Collaborative art group. 

I live with my wife, teenage daughter, and future dog in Roxbury, MA, the traditional and unceded territory of the Massachusett and Wampanoag Peoples.

The long story

My journey into the Spanish-speaking world began when I was four years old. Vaguely aware that my family’s ancestral language, Yiddish, had been all but lost between the arrival of my grandparents to New York from Russia and Poland at the turn of the last century and my growing up in ‘exile’ in Acton, a white suburb of Boston, Spanish caught my attention. First contact was a combination of the Puerto Rican families my father worked with in nearby Maynard and the Spanish of early Sesame Street. In college, I set foot on the path to literary translation when I read the spectacular and deeply disturbing short stories of the Cuban author Virgilio Piñera in the mid-1980s. Upon learning that almost none of his fiction had been translated into English, I dedicated myself to remedying this situation. In 1985, I moved to New York City, where I worked as a bilingual textbook writer and studied literary translation with Magda Bogin and Gregory Rabassa. Two years later, I moved to Mexico to fully live in Spanish and to become fluent. While there, my translated collection of forty-three of Piñera’s short stories, Cold Tales, was published. That volume was quickly followed by my translation of Piñera’s novel, René’s Flesh. I was hooked!

I lived in the town of Tepoztlán for three years, translating fiction and learning Spanish—that is, attending birthdays, weddings, and funerals, planting and harvesting corn, opening and closing the neighborhood church (me, a Jew!), and learning the fine Mexican craft of the albur, the double and triple entendre that is the staple of any street corner hangout in a provincial Mexican town. There I also started to read Mexican literature, the classic authors as well as the youngsters, including the novelist Alberto Ruy Sánchez, the short story writer Jesús Gardea, and the poet Gloria Gervitz, all whom I would eventually translate. Upon my return to the States in 1991, I co-founded the Boston-Area Literary Translators Group, which has met semi-monthly for over 30 years.

My translation of Piñera’s fiction was the start of my life as a translator into English of literature from the Spanish-speaking world. Since then, I’ve translated the works of dozens of other writers, including short stories by Roberto Bolaño (Chile), Jesús Gardea (México), and Sonia Rivera-Valdés (Cuba); novels by Alberto Ruy Sánchez (Mexico) and Belén Gopegui (Spain); essays by Nicolás Guillén (Cuba), José Lezama Lima (Cuba), Antonio José Ponte (Cuba; and poetry by David Huerta, Gloria Gervitz, and Jaime Sabines (all from Mexico).

Among the literary honors I’ve received are the Robert Fitzgerald Translation Prize for my translation of poetry by Álvaro Mutis, PEN Oakland’s Josephine A. Miles Prize for my translation of Gloria Gervitz’s Migrations: Poem, 1976–2020, which was also shortlisted for the Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation, and a variety of local, state, national, and international grants and fellowships, including a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a residency in the inaugural year of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre, two grants from the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sports, grants from the Fund for Culture Mexico-USA and the Mexican Program of Support from the Translation of Mexican Works into Foreign Language, and two Translation Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (to translate a collection of stories by Jesús Gardea (1993) and then to translate an anthology of poetry by David Huerta (2005).

In my spare (but income-producing) time, I’ve taught Spanish at the University of Massachusetts Boston since 2007. I’ve lived in Sweden, Colombia, and Mexico, as well as the United States, and I speak Spanish fluently, Haitian at a semi-fluent intermediate level, and Swedish at an almost fully rusted-out level. I’m also an award-winning visual artist (primarily collage and art installations) and a community art organizer and activist. I live with my wife, teenage daughter, and future dog in Roxbury, MA, the traditional and unceded territory of the Massachusett and Wampanoag Peoples.

 

The Boston-Area Literary Translators Group

I lived in the town of Tepoztlán for three years, translating fiction and learning Spanish—that is, attending birthdays, weddings, and funerals, planting and harvesting corn, opening and closing the neighborhood church (me, a Jew!), and learning the fine Mexican craft of the albur, the double and triple entendre that is the staple of any street corner hangout in a provincial Mexican town. There I also started to read Mexican literature, the classic authors as well as the youngsters, including the novelist Alberto Ruy Sánchez, the short story writer Jesús Gardea, and the poet Gloria Gervitz, all whom I would eventually translate. Upon my return to the States in 1991, I co-founded the Boston-Area Literary Translators Group, which has met semi-monthly for over 30 years.

My translation of Piñera’s fiction was the start of my life as a translator into English of literature from the Spanish-speaking world. Since then, I’ve translated the works of dozens of other writers, including short stories by Roberto Bolaño (Chile), Jesús Gardea (México), and Sonia Rivera-Valdés (Cuba); novels by Alberto Ruy Sánchez (Mexico) and Belén Gopegui (Spain); essays by Nicolás Guillén (Cuba), José Lezama Lima (Cuba), Antonio José Ponte (Cuba; and poetry by David Huerta, Gloria Gervitz, and Jaime Sabines (all from Mexico).

 

Literary Honors

Among the literary honors I’ve received are the Robert Fitzgerald Translation Prize for my translation of poetry by Álvaro Mutis, PEN Oakland’s Josephine A. Miles Prize for my translation of Gloria Gervitz’s Migrations: Poem, 1976–2020, which was also shortlisted for the Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation, and a variety of local, state, national, and international grants and fellowships, including a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a residency in the inaugural year of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre, two grants from the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sports, grants from the Fund for Culture Mexico-USA and the Mexican Program of Support from the Translation of Mexican Works into Foreign Language, and two Translation Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (to translate a collection of stories by Jesús Gardea (1993) and then to translate an anthology of poetry by David Huerta (2005).

In my spare (but income-producing) time, I’ve taught Spanish at the University of Massachusetts Boston since 2007. I’ve lived in Sweden, Colombia, and Mexico, as well as the United States, and I speak Spanish fluently, Haitian at a semi-fluent intermediate level, and Swedish at an almost fully rusted-out level. I’m also an award-winning visual artist (primarily collage and art installations) and a community art organizer and activist. I live with my wife, teenage daughter, and future dog in Roxbury, MA, the traditional and unceded territory of the Massachusett and Wampanoag Peoples.