My First ATA Conference

Like a baby’s first word, or the first day of school: such is the importance of attending one’s first major industry conference. It provides a huge (and needed) boost in the attempt to form a full-time career out of a part-time passion.

For three days at the end of October, I went to Boston to see what I could learn, who I could meet, what connections I could forge. And I have to say, it was a rousing success. I’ve been so busy taking action based on what happened at the conference that I’ve only now been able to put my thoughts down in the ether (“on paper” being a bit of a misnomer…).

So, here follows, in tidbit/interview form, a general conference review, from the highly biased opinion of a starry-eyed first-timer:

Scariest/best decision: skipping the first-time-attendee orientation session in favor of a seminar on “Translating for Quebec,” given by Grant Hamilton. He knows his stuff. I know Québecois is a bit different (so is Canadian English), but he pointed out so many things you must know. Geography. Politics. News. “La fleuve” is not “the river,” but the St. Lawrence River. Obviously…

Worst decision: not bringing a winter hat, gloves, and snowboots.  Oh, Nor’easters, how you make life more interesting!

Proudest moment: reading poetry I had translated while living in France, from a dear friend of mine’s collection.  And having people give genuine compliments on both the translation and my stage presence.  Thank you, choir/theatre training.

Strangest connection: meeting a French>English translator who lives just across the river in New Jersey, and finding out we had the same professor at NYU — eccentric Anne-Marie.  She had her in New York, but by the time I came along, Anne-Marie had been politely shuttled to the Paris campus, to finish her dissertation.  25 years in the making.

Best celebrity sighting: Chris Durban. No, no, this isn’t your normal star, but a very highly respected French>English translator who is renowned and revered among most in this profession. She is smart, sharp as a whip, and takes no nonsense from whiners. I want to be like her when I grow up.

Most interesting audience member moment: watching the discussion go way off its rails at the Arabic session on theory and framework.  I think it’s a cultural thing that makes people who have grown up in Arabic-speaking countries less tactful when butting into a presentation intended to give them useful information.  The presenter, a native-English-speaking professor of Islamic Studies who learned Arabic along the way, was trying to give the by-necessity-generally-amateur Arabic translators a bit of theoretical framework, and they pushed back the whole while.  Not because they didn’t think his ideas were useful, but because it just seems to be in their nature.  And at the end, most of them congratulated the presenter on surviving his trial by fire and said they would be taking some of the techniques into account while translating.  Interesting.

First moment I thought “hey, I actually belong here”: Friday lunch with some of the French translators I had met the prior evening at the French Language Division dinner.  The dinner had been lovely, fun, and informative, and I had met some great people.  The next day, finding some of those people for lunch, was proof that they weren’t just humoring me.  (Some people could have probably realized that during the FLD dinner.  I am, occasionally, harder to convince.)

And now, for the list of awesome things that came from the conference:
– personal contacts
– an invitation to write a review for the Slavic Language Division’s newsletter on a session on translating Rachmaninov’s art songs (seems random, but isn’t: the request came from the woman who ran the literary readings After Hours Cafe)
– the initiative to get involved with my local chapter, the NY Circle of Translators
– two possible job offers!
– a strong desire to go to next year’s conference in San Diego (starting to save money now…)
– the knowledge that yes, I can do this

Excellent?  Yes, I would definitely say so.

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