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10 Questions for Ilze Duarte

“She stole almost everything from me. First, Mom’s joy. Then, Grandma Bela’s tender attention. And, still, Julinho. She took away the best that I had, the adults’ trust and my innocence. She tore me from my nest. And this, one couldn’t forgive in a person, even if she is kind, generous, and pretty.”
from “Miss Bruna,” by Marília Arnaud, translated by Ilze Duarte, Spring 2018 (Vol. 59, Issue 1)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
I was a student in the Certificate in Translation Program at the University of São Paulo many years ago. I had completed my bachelor’s degree in English and thought that taking the translation program would help me improve my English. (I didn’t grow up speaking English, and at that time I was still learning it.) In the literary translation course, we were told to choose a poem and translate it into Portuguese. I chose Emily Dickinson (“The last night that she lived…”). Emily Dickinson was and still is my favorite American poet, and I enjoyed the attempt immensely. I loved meter and rhyme (still do), but I also delighted in how Dickinson deviated from both to create poems that were so fresh and new in her time. But an “attempt” is all I can really call that first experience with literary translation. I didn’t have the command of English or the literature sensibilities that are necessary for such an endeavor (my professor agreed.) It is such a beautiful poem. Now I feel like giving it another try!

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I have always admired Machado de Assis, the great Brazilian novelist, for his spare, precise, incisive style. I try to emulate those qualities in my writing. Machado was also a masterful short story writer. I read quite a few of his short stories back in high school and still remember the main characters and plot. His short stories made me fall in love with the genre, and they are probably the reason why I have written and translated mostly short stories so far.

Marília Arnaud and João Anzanello Carrascoza, the Brazilian writers whose works I have been translating, have also influenced the way I write. During my graduate school years, I spent a lot of time composing academic texts. When I started writing stories, I unintentionally brought into my writing vestiges of the rigid, expository style of those academic texts. Reading the work of Arnaud and Carrascoza so closely, which literary translation requires, allowed me a special window into effective story telling, especially the use of language in its full range of possibilities: precise or suggestive, familiar or unexpected, restrained or explosive, but always evocative and appealing to the senses. I have been focusing a great deal on diction and voice as I hone my writing skills, and what I have learned from Arnaud and Carrascoza has been very helpful.

What did you want to be when you were young?
A friend asked me the same question a few years ago. I told her that when I was young I wanted to be a novelist. I was in awe of the writers whose works I read in school—José de Alencar, Machado de Assis, Aluísio Azevedo, Raquel de Queiroz, Graciliano Ramos, Clarice Lispector, Érico Veríssimo. But the more I read, the more discouraged I became about my abilities to write novels. I thought, “These writers knew so much about life, about human nature. What do I know?” That sentiment lasted a long time. Aside from the occasional poem, I didn’t do any creative writing for decades. My friend then said, “You have lived a lot since then. Why don’t you write about your experiences now?” She was right. I no longer had the excuse of youth and inexperience. I had started translating at about that time, and shortly after that conversation I started taking writing courses and writing my own stories—no novels yet, but you never know.

What drew you to write a translation of this piece in particular?
I had been in touch with Marília Arnaud about translating her first novel, Suíte de Silêncios, and knew it was going to be a long process from first draft to publication. I was anxious to share her story telling with an English speaking audience, and so I decided to translate some of her short stories. I asked Arnaud which short stories she would like me to translate, and she sent me "Miss Bruna" first. Once I finished reading it, there was no question in my mind that I was going to translate it. The intensity of the story’s plot is matched beautifully by Arnaud’s poignant descriptions of the main character’s internal landscape, which changes so dramatically from her initial innocence and joy. Reading "Miss Bruna" was a fully immersive experience. Bruna and her story stayed with me long after I finished reading, and I think this will be true for other readers as well.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I was born and raised in Brazil but have lived in the U.S. for about half of my life now. As a writer, I straddle these two worlds. I write a great deal about my experiences coming of age in Brazil, and even though I write in English, I am translating those experiences to an audience that grew up in a totally different world. And in translating literature written originally in Portuguese, I of course hold my experiences in these two worlds in my mind and bring them to bear on my work. I consider a translation successful when I feel that I have bridged these two worlds effectively for my audience.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
No. I prefer silence when I am writing and editing. Music distracts me too much. When I listen to music, it is usually pop rather than classical, and I want to sing along.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I have heard of writers who need to clean up the whole house or go for a jog before they are ready to start writing. I don’t have any such rituals. All I need is a quiet environment (or at least no kids clamoring for my attention) and big chunks of time. I find it hard to stop writing once I start, whether it is a translation or my own material.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I would love to write songs, both the melody and the lyrics. When I hear a song by Caetano Veloso or Paul Simon, I marvel at their poetry and their ability to put it to music and wish I could do the same. But I have no musical talent whatsoever. I can’t play any instruments or read music, but the lyrics…hmm…maybe that’s something I can still try. As I said, I love meter and rhyme.

What are you working on currently?
I have just finished translating Marília Arnaud’s first novel, Suite of Silence. I am revising it and will be sending it out to prospective publishers soon. I am also revising short stories and personal essays of my own.

What are you reading right now?
I just started Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover, for my book club. It was not my turn to pick, but I am happy that was the choice. I tend to write mostly autobiographical stories and am always looking to improve. I can tell I will be learning a great deal from this author.

ILZE DUARTE translates works from contemporary Brazilian writers. Her translation of João Anzanello Carrascoza’s Sea (Mar) appeared in the summer 2016 issue of Your Impossible Voice. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Milpitas, CA.

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