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Eric Becker

College: Queens College
Awards: Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, 2015

Translating More Than Words

"Translation brings us something different, a perspective that we don't have in English," says Fulbright Award winner Eric M.B. Becker (Queens College, MFA, Creative Writing and Literary Translation '15).

Becker, 31, was a journalist in Missouri, the Metropolitan Opera's senior website manager, and assistant managing editor at the literary journal "Asymptote." In February 2015, he became editor of "Words Without Borders," a monthly magazine of works in translation; April's issue focused on Tamil literature and May's on Palestinian works.

"In the past translators said, ‘Let's yank it into idiomatic English,' but today there's more attention to respecting the original," says Becker. "Translators need to be cognizant of the nuances and try to reflect the connotations and histories of the words used in the original."

For his master's thesis, which he expects to publish in 2016, Becker translated "Estórias Abensonhadas," a story collection written in Portuguese by Mia Couto that grapples with Mozambique's identity following the 1976-1992 civil war. Couto won the 2014<![CDATA[<p]]>“Translation brings us something different, a perspective that we don’t have in English,” says Fulbright Award winner Eric M.B. Becker (Queens College, MFA, Creative Writing and Literary Translation ’15).

Becker, 31, was a journalist in Missouri, the Metropolitan Opera’s senior website manager, and assistant managing editor at the literary journal “Asymptote.” In February 2015, he became editor of “Words Without Borders,” a monthly magazine of works in translation; April’s issue focused on Tamil literature and May’s on Palestinian works.

“In the past translators said, ‘Let’s yank it into idiomatic English,’ but today there’s more attention to respecting the original,” says Becker. “Translators need to be cognizant of the nuances and try to reflect the connotations and histories of the words used in the original.”

For his master’s thesis, which he expects to publish in 2016, Becker translated “Estórias Abensonhadas,” a story collection written in Portuguese by Mia Couto that grapples with Mozambique’s identity following the 1976-1992 civil war. Couto won the 2014 Neustadt Prize for International Literature, which is granted for a body of work and often foreshadows a Nobel Prize, and was a 2015 finalist for the Man Booker International Prize, which also is given for a body of work.

Couto's stories "concern how memory around national events is formed, along with the desire to forget. Mia is a poet, so I have to pay attention to the rhythm of his sentences, as well as to what they're saying." Luckily, Becker could email Couto to discuss how best to render his words. A PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant supported the project.

With his Fulbright, Becker will travel to Brazil to work on two translations. One is a story collection by Eric Nepomuceno, himself the translator of Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez into Portuguese. The other is a historical novel by Edival Lourenço, "Naqueles morros, depois da chuva" (“Amid those hills, after the rain”), which traces the rise and fall of an 18th century soldier of fortune during a mining boom in remote central Brazil.

"Translation is much more than translating the words on the page; it's translating the context in which the characters are living to readers who may not have any familiarity with the country," Becker says.

Lourenço's novel poses particular challenges. Set in the colonial past, it uses a unique regional language; Becker will research that dialect and historical events at museum archives, cultural institutes and universities in Rio de Janeiro and in Goiás, an interior city near where the events took place.
Becker got hooked on the language about 10 years ago when he met the woman who became his wife, Luisa, a documentary filmmaker and multimedia journalist from São Paulo, Brazil.

For more information see ericmbbecker.com.