Quick Study: Lisa Hayden primarily translates contemporary fiction. Lisa also writes a blog, Lizok’s Bookshelf, about Russian literature.
Why She Does It: “When I came back to the U.S. after living in Moscow for six years, I wanted to write fiction. I even wrote an entire draft of a novel but I hated having to find ways to create narrative momentum and develop characters. I just wanted to choose and arrange words! I’m glad I never published any of my stories but now, as a translator and literary blogger, I can use my Russian along with a lot of what I learned in writing workshops back then, whether it’s stylistic preferences—things like using simple dialogue tags—or recognizing when and why a plot begins falling apart. All of which is to say translation blends two of the things I enjoy most: very close readings of Russian books and writing fiction in English.”
Pssssst…..: Lisa’s interest in Russian literature began when her parents bought her a subscription to Jack and Jill magazine, which sometimes published “Baba Yaga” stories, when she was around eight years old. During the first several years she wrote her blog, Lisa hardly read any fiction in English, though she now regularly reads translations into English and books written in English.
Lisa’s Places: Born in New Hampshire, grew up in Maine, went to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (where she studied Russian-Soviet civ as an undergrad and received an MA in Russian literature), lived in Moscow during 1992-1998, and returned to Maine, settling just south of Portland, about six minutes from her favorite beach.
Process This: “I listen to jazz a lot, especially when I’m working on early drafts. The riffs remind me to improvise, plus I’m a creature of habit and I listen to a standard set every day, in the same order, so it shapes my workday, too. Right now I listen to Miles Davis and John Coltrane. I probably wouldn’t get much done without Miles Davis but every book and story has its own play list.”… She prints out several drafts, even of longer books, using different colored pens to mark up each draft, though she makes her final reading on a Nook, where the different format makes it easy to spot typos and words that sound out-of-voice.
Favorite Dictionaries and Resources: Oxford’s Russian dictionary and Multitran.ru are always open. Lisa also uses lots of specialty dictionaries and sites, depending on what she’s working on. She especially recommends stepbible.org, a site from Tyndale House in Cambridge, UK, for checking Bible quotes in multiple translations into many languages.
Foot in the Door: Lisa got started translating after writing her blog for several years: her first published translations were stories by Alexander Gritsenko, which appeared in the Squaring the Circle anthology published by Glas. Her first translation of a novel is Marian Stepnova’s The Women of Lazarus, which is forthcoming from De Geus’s World Editions imprint.
Dream Job: “In a sense every job feels like a dream job: what could be better for someone like me than getting paid to read in Russian and write in English—both of which I love—all so I can help make Russian books available to more readers? I feel like the luckiest person in the world, particularly since I only agree to translate texts I truly enjoy. The book I’m working on now, Eugene Vodolazkin’s Laurus, is a fun challenge because the sentences are short and fairly simple but the words span many centuries. There’s lots of quiet humor, too, which I always enjoy. As for what I might like to translate, of course after living in Russia all those years, I don’t want to jinx myself by mentioning specific books but if I look over my lists of contemporary favorites, I have lots of other dream job books, most of which also have unusual language or stylistics: Dmitry Danilov’s Description of a City, for example, would be a blast for its humor and use of generic terms and Margarita Khemlin’s Klotsvog would be a treat for its first-person narrative told by a wonderfully selfish character. They’re both wonderful books.”
Sage Advice: “Go to as many book fairs, author readings, and translation events as you can: hearing writers’ voices, networking, and looking at books, even if they’re nowhere near my interest areas, has been crucial to developing my translation practice.”
Lisa Recommends: Lisa’s favorite book—the book that really got her interested in Russian literature in college—is Lev Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which she’s read four times but definitely does not want to retranslate.