Writers Omi

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  • , Non-Fiction

Around a year ago, for twelve blissful days, I went to translator heaven. Its official name is Art Omi, an arts organisation in New York’s Hudson Valley which offers residencies to writers, translators, musicians, artists, dancers and architects. Their annual Translation Lab programme, which is fully funded, offers four writer-translator pairings the opportunity to collaborate face-to-face on a project. I went with the Austrian author Anna Kim, whose novel The Great Homecoming I was in the process of translating for Portobello Books. I had heard great things about the programme and had high expectations, but the experience was so much more enriching than I could have imagined. Ever since, at every opportunity I get, I’ve been telling other translators how wonderful it is there. I know I can’t speak for everyone; we’re all different, and have our own idiosyncrasies when it comes to what constitutes the ideal working environment, but to me it offered everything I needed to focus upon that particular project: a beautiful, rural setting (but with the lively town of Hudson a 20 minute drive away, along with its cosy bookstore-pub, which is either the best or the most financially ruinous concept I’ve ever encountered — for the punter, of course!); cosy, light filled bedrooms with attached, individual workspaces, a small but well-stocked library, insanely delicious dinners each night by the roaring fire, and the company of fellow translators and writers. Our group, which happened to be made up of eight women that year, bonded swiftly, and are still in touch a year on. The Omi team were always on hand, and made us feel welcome from the moment we arrived. On the weekend, editors from New York came to visit. The grounds incorporate a sculpture park, perfect for long walks and containing works by previous artist residents, as well as a café which plays a strong role in the local community, hosting events which showcase residents’ work.

One of the most valuable aspects of the programme is the opportunity it provides for in-depth, in-person conversations with the author. Most of the time, translators send their queries by email – at best, if geography permits, they might meet for coffee or lunch to go through them. But at Omi, there are 10 whole days. And if that sounds like a lot (in our case it wasn’t, given the 600 page book!), don’t be overwhelmed; there’s no prescribed structure and each writer-translator pair works as best suits them. The program simply provides the environment for that, removed from the distractions and responsibilities of daily life. What I found most beneficial were the conversations Anna Kim and I had off the page, when we went for walks in the grounds, and to the café. The Great Homecoming is a book deeply rooted in Korean culture, something which was new and unfamiliar to me at the time – and I discovered so much more from the chats we had at Omi than I had from the Korean history books I’d swotted up on previously.

Beyond this, there was something about the magical environment, and the group of fascinating, accomplished women there, which made me feel more like myself than I had in a long while. It reminded me of the strength to be found in community, in surrounding yourself with people who are passionate about the things that light you up. It also made me realise just how important it is that residencies like these exist. They provide the ideal environment for refining a text alongside the author, and forge connections which benefit the entire field of translated literature.

If you are an English-language translator with a text-based project (fiction, nonfiction, theatre, film, poetry, etc, are all eligible), which you’d like to spend time working on alongside the author, I urge you to apply. Omi recently announced its call for proposals for Translation Lab 2019, to be held this November, and the deadline is July 15th. The application guidelines can be found here. At last year’s London Book Fair, I took part in a panel about grants and residencies, and spoke about how to give your application the best chance of success — if that sounds useful, you can listen to it here.

Good luck!