Translation Workshop celebrates 60 years and looks at what’s next

The University of Iowa established the country's first Literary Translation Workshop in a university setting 60 years ago. The program has since expanded, and faculty are excited about its future.
Monday, December 18, 2023

By Charlotte Brookins 

In 1963, the University of Iowa introduced the country’s first translation workshop in a university setting. Ten years later, the workshop expanded into a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program, and, as of last year, a Bachelor of Arts.  

The workshop and its programs are housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

“We’re involved in international literature-in-the-making,” says Aron Aji, director of translation programs and associate professor of instruction. “One of the most important forms of cultural dialogue, cultural collaboration, and understanding, is literature.” 

Aron Aji
Aron Aji

The trajectory of success was recently recognized in the form of a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education — one of the largest humanities grants at Iowa — to support the establishment of a National Resource Center for Translation and Global Literacy. 

The Center will serve as an incubator to support initiatives that extend the presence of translation training and study at the undergraduate level in the US, whether in the form of new degree programs, tracks or cross-disciplinary and co-curricular projects. One of these goals was accomplished last year with the introduction of the program’s undergraduate curriculum. 

“In the United States, translation has typically been studied at the graduate level,” Aji explains. “But we want to change that. We are trying to make it so translation, like any other academic discipline, has an undergraduate curriculum leading to a master’s-level professionalization.” 

Among the many graduates of the workshop is Kathleen Maris Paltrineri, coordinator for the Center for Translation and Global Literacy and adjunct assistant professor in the English department. Paltrineri graduated from Iowa in 2021 with an MFA in literary translation. 

“It’s an honor to have been a part of the Translation Workshop,” Paltrineri reflects. “Although my experience in the workshop was impacted by the pandemic, we were generously supported by the faculty. The courses remained rigorous, and the faculty were invested in our research and literary translations.” 

Kathleen Paltrineri
Kathleen Maris Paltrineri

Paltrineri says she enjoyed the opportunities afforded to her by the workshop, including literary translations in and out of a variety of languages, close collaboration with faculty members and fellow students, and even the chance to research and translate in Norway as a Fulbright Fellow

Paltrineri emphasizes the necessity of a program like Iowa’s translation workshop, citing the need for translation skills in a global world.  

“Each workshop is an opportunity to appreciate the expansiveness of language and to celebrate literary and cultural traditions from across borders,” says Paltrineri. “This program has fostered a community of writers who are imagining a literary culture centered around world voices.”  

Further showing the broad impact of Iowa’s translation program, another translation alum was recently recognized with the National Book Award for Translated Literature. Bruna Dantas Lobato, who graduated from the MFA program in 2019, won the award for her translation of Stênio Gardel’s Words That Remain. The judges said Dantas Lobato’s translation brought the text to life. 

“This is wonderful news,” reflects Aji. “This is one of the most prestigious literary awards given in the country.” 

Aji says he is very proud of the work of his former students and expresses his gratitude for the support he and his program has received over the years. He is eagerly anticipating the future of the program. 

“We have this wonderful and arguably the largest and most energetic translation community in a university setting,” Aji says. “We are very excited about our future.” 

The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers about 70 majors across the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. About 15,000 undergraduate and nearly 2,000 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by faculty at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all Iowa undergraduates through the college's general education program, CLAS CORE. About 80 percent of all Iowa undergraduates begin their academic journey in CLAS. The college confers about 60 percent of the university's bachelor's degrees each academic year.