Professor publishes second translated book

Self-proclaimed ‘translating nerd’ worked six to eight hours a day in the summer


The cover of Giulio Mozzi’s “This is the Garden” translated by Elizabeth Harris.

English professor Elizabeth Harris is a self-proclaimed translation nerd. She celebrated the publishing of her second work of literary translation Thursday afternoon at a reading and reception at the North Dakota Museum of Art.

“The two books I’ve had published, Mario Rigno Stern’s novel ‘Giacomo’s Seasons’ and Giulio Mozzi’s story collection ‘This Is the Garden,’ were books that I chose,” Harris said. “I picked them because they moved me; I thought they were beautiful and that they deserved an American audience.”

A couple dozen attended Harris’ reading, but English graduate student Beate Stokkvik said that wasn’t enough.

“I’ve never been to a reading before,” Stokkvik said. “It’s such an accomplishment for Liz. I wish there were more people here — most are from the language department, and it’d be cool if more from outside showed up too.”

Harris, who teaches creative writing and periodic translation courses, got her masters degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University after receiving a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota. She went on to earn master of fine arts degrees in both creative writing and literary translation from the University of Arkansas.

“Once I discovered that there was such a thing as literary translation, it seemed like the perfect fit for me,” she said.

Harris left Bluffton College in Ohio in 2004 and has been teaching at UND ever since, putting in extra hours balancing translation and teaching.

“Teaching can and will fill up every moment of a teacher’s time, and this is very important work, so it has to be taken seriously,” she said. “As a teacher, if you really want to write, you have to carve out time to write … On my weekends, I don’t answer the phone during the day. I get up in the morning, and I translate, and I try not to stop except for a dog walk and lunch until late afternoon.”

During the summers, Harris concentrates on translating. She works around six to eight hours a day at translating — most of the time, not always — and takes a day off a week.

“For me, a translation nerd, this is fun. It’s what I want to be doing,” Harris said.

Harris has won a couple of translation prizes including 2013 Translation Prize from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Culture in Rome, and a 2013 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Prize from the PEN American Center.

Despite years of practice, Harris was challenged by her latest translation, but said she grew through the process.

“I feel like translating Mozzi pushed me to a new level as a translator,” she said. “I paid extremely close attention to Mozzi’s prose style while I translated, and tried to find a style in English that would match what was there in the Italian. I hope I’ve succeeded.”

The tenured professor is already working on her next project, translating Antonio Tabucchi’s “Tristano Dies,”  which is set to come out with Archipelago Books in 2015.

“Translators can’t just translate everything,” she said. “Some authors, some voices, are a better fit than others. Lucky for me, the publisher of Archipelago liked my translation sample, because ‘Tristano Dies’ is a great book, really complicated, really challenging and beautiful.

“All authors have their particular style, and that’s perhaps the greatest challenge of all, but it’s what I love about translation. It is endlessly challenging, and frustrating, and also fun.”

Marie Monson is the multimedia editor for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected]