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IOWA Paper Cites Translator Nominated for IMPAC Dublin Award
UI professor lost in modern translations
Autumn Hill Books publishes books translated to English
By Deanna Truman-Cook
Iowa City Press-Citizen
December 18, 2005
In many countries, bookstores are more than half-stocked with works in translation.
A person would be hard-pressed to find a handful of such stores in the United States.
In fact, studies have shown that only about 3 percent of all published books in the country are translated works.
"It's frustrating to have so little available," said Russell Valentino, 43, associate professor of Russian and of cinema and comparative literature in the University of Iowa's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
In addition to there being a very small number, the ones that are being translated in the United States are of classics.
Valentino said there is nothing wrong with that, but in most cases, it is just a new or revised translation of an already much-translated classic.
Very few of the modern international books ever get translated into English, he said. Tired of the situation, he took the matters into his own hands and began his own press, Autumn Hill Books, in 2004.
The press has published two books. The first, "A Castle in Romagna," translated by Tomislav Kuzmanovic, a student in UI's MFA program in translation, is a nominee for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize for 2006.
The award is a partnership between the Dublin (Ireland) City Council, the Municipal Government of Dublin City and IMPAC, a productivity improvement company that operates in more than 50 countries. It's the largest award of its kind. The original work of author Igor Stiks, "Dvorac U Romagni," won the Croatian prize for best first novel in 2000.
The second book, "Foreign Words," translated from the French by translator Alyson Waters of New York, will be released in early spring. The author, Vassilis Alexakis, is of Greek descent and lives in Paris.
Valentino, who has the dual role of editor and publisher, runs the press out of his Iowa City home. He would like to begin publishing three to four translations a year and eventually get to 10 or more.
He sees English as a gateway language. If a book is translated into another language, most of the time it is English before any other, Valentino said.
Stiks' book has yet to be translated into Italian, which is across the Adriatic Sea from the author's native Croatia, Valentino said.
"This is just a huge opportunity for the writers," he said, adding that there are so many opportunities for translators to work with foreign writers in Iowa City.
UI is home to the oldest academic translation programs in the country as well as the prestigious International Writing and Iowa Writers' Workshop programs.
As for how he selects what book to translate, Valentino said he looks at the awards a book has won as well as the critical or commercial success it has had. He also looks for languages that he or his wife, Yasuko Akiyama, are well versed in. And translations can be a slippery slope, he said.
Translators need to make sure that they do the book justice. In other words, if a book is known for being lyrical, its translation needs to be just as lyrical but can't be overly so or less, Valentino said.
Languages Valentino said he feels confident in translating are Russian, Italian, Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, French, German and Spanish. His wife is knowledgeable in Japanese.
In addition to teaching in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Valentino has a fellowship in the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies.
Jay Semel, director of the Center, said he thinks Valentino is fulfilling a need in the literary world.
"He is a smart guy," Semel said. "I think there is a kind of stereotype that brainy faculty are like really bright children. They are nerdy. They can't live in the world. I think that is nonsense. One doesn't have to open up a press to prove it. I think Valentino will be successful. It is a powerful niche."
• Job: Owner of Autumn Hill Books. Also an associate professor of Russian and of cinema and comparative literature in the University of Iowa's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
• Age: 43.
• Resides: In Iowa City.
• Education: PHD in Slovic Languages and Literatures from UCLA. A masters from UCLA and a bachelors of arts from California State University Fresno.
• Family: Wife, Yasuko Akiyama, and sons Peter, 4, and Dante, 1.
• Did you know: Valentino is a lover of jazz. When he has the chance he still plays drums.
Reach Deanna Truman-Cook at 339-7360 or at .
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