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Women Translating the Classics: An Interview with Emily Wilson, Sholeh Wolpé, and Arshia Sattar

By Alta L. Price


Translator and cofounder of the Women in Translation tumblr Alta L. Price spoke with three women translators of classical literature—Emily Wilson (Homer’s The Odyssey), Sholeh Wolpé (Attar’s The Conference of the Birds), and Arshia Sattar (Valmiki’s The Ramayana)—about their work, their approach to the canon, and the unique challenges of bringing the classics into English.

 

Alta L. Price: Since we cannot talk about classical texts without addressing the concept of a canon, can you share with us your distillation of the literary traditions of the culture(s) and language you translate from?

Emily Wilson: Canons are formed by many different factors, often a mixture: a decision by one person or many people to put X author on a school syllabus or in a culturally recognized performance context, or to print/publish/market a book a particular way, or to award a prize to one book or another, or to quote or copy out a particular text and save it from oblivion. The Homeric poems supposedly first became canonized in the sixth century BCE, when Pisistratos, a tyrant of Athens, instituted a new civic festival named the Panathenaea and legislated that the Homeric poems should be performed at this festival (although the details of what exactly this legislation meant and was are hazy and still debated by scholars). In any case, the Iliad and the Odyssey were ultra-canonical throughout ancient Greek and Roman cultures, read by kids but also performed as entertainment, and known by everybody. But of course they fell out of the canon in the West in the Middle Ages and found their way back through a gradual, halting path. Chapman’s Odyssey is the first in English, from 1614–16—later than the first English Aeneid (1513), the first English Metamorphoses (1567), or the first English Plutarch (1579). Modern American educational curricula usually assume that Homer is more canonical, or at least is to be studied and read more, than Plutarch or Seneca or Galen or Lucian; but that wasn’t necessarily true of the British classical canon a few hundred years ago. This kind of thing is worth remembering because it’s a useful reminder of how canons, including canons of what counts as “classical,” are constantly subject to revision.

In the case of Ancient Greek and Roman literature, some of the canon is predetermined by chance. We have extra plays of Euripides, beyond what was in the Byzantine school canon, because they happened to survive. Similarly, we have the New Sappho, discovered in 2004, which can be added to the canon, having been dug up from a trash heap. We have to be constantly mindful that canons change and also that how we (and it depends on who “we” are) read “the” canonical works also changes radically over time and from place to place. New translations are part of that reformation of the canon. So that’s all a roundabout way of saying that I don’t think distillation of the fragmented, complex tradition is possible, and that’s a good thing.

Sholeh Wolpé: I translate from Persian. Iran has a long and rich literary tradition. Poetry, which until the mid- to late-twentieth century was always written in verse, has always occupied an important place in the lives of kings, scholars, and regular people alike. Poems of the early Sassanid dynasty masters such as Rudaki (858–941) were often panegyric. Later, out of this system of court patronage, works glorifying Iran’s historical past began to emerge. An epic such as Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (The Book of Kings) became so popular it was transformed into performance entertainment in many coffee houses. Around the twelfth century, there was a rise of Sufi and mystic poetry. The most prominent of the Sufi poets was Attar, whose work inspired Rumi and influenced Hafiz, both master ghazel writers.

Attar’s The Conference of the Birds is a twelfth-century masterpiece. It’s an epic written in masnavi form—a poetic form invented by the Persians. It consists of 4,724 rhyming couplets that adhere to a meter of ten or eleven syllables per line.

Many people are not familiar with the story of The Conference of the Birds, so let me tell it here briefly: The birds of the world, representing the mystics, gather and acknowledge the Great Simorgh as their sovereign. Simorgh is a mysterious bird who dwells in a mythical mountain that wraps around the world. The great journey is led by the Hoopoe. At the start, each bird comes up with an elaborate excuse for not being able to make the journey, but the wise Hoopoe addresses each bird’s hesitations and vanities, and tells them about seven valleys they must cross in order to reach their destination. For example, the first valley is the Valley of the Quest, where the Wayfarer must cast aside all dogma, belief, and unbelief, because you can receive nothing in a cup that’s already full. In the end, the birds muster up courage and all take off toward the abode of Simorgh. Of the initial thousands, only thirty survive, and when they arrive at the abode of Simorgh, a great surprise awaits them all.

 

We have to be constantly mindful that canons change and also that how we (and it depends on who “we” are) read “the” canonical works also changes radically over time and from place to place. New translations are part of that reformation of the canon.

 

Alta L. Price: What are the toughest challenges and most exciting opportunities of working with classical texts? Can you give an example of a particularly complex issue that arose as you were translating The Odyssey, The Conference of Birds, and The Ramayana?

Emily Wilson: It’s hard to separate out the challenges and excitement of working with classical texts from the challenges and thrills of translation in general (which is always a challenging and thrilling task). I guess the specific challenges, if we take “classical” to imply “ancient,” have to do with translating from a language and a culture that no longer exists. If you’re translating a work of literature from an era when English existed, you can choose whether or not to try to echo the original’s time through your own language; I know that some translators of nineteenth-century literature try to make their English reminiscent of nineteenth-century English, even if you can’t maintain it entirely consistently—although some don’t make this choice, and one can make a case for several possible approaches. In the case of ancient literature, that choice isn’t available; the whole project is anachronistic from the start, in that English is not an ancient language. So there’s always the challenge of what to do about the antiquity of ancient texts. One possible way is to use archaic English, which will be a constant reminder that this text is not from our era—even if it’s not actually in a language from the original’s era, since Victorian English did not overlap in time with Ancient Greek and in fact has nothing in common with it. I didn’t want to do this for my various classical translations because it can be misleading: it can suggest that ancient texts always sounded stilted and Olde Timey, even in their own time. Sophocles always sounded very literary, very “poetic,” because of the dense metaphoricity of the language; but he didn’t ever sound Victorian. Seneca’s style is extremely distinctive but not archaic. Euripides is often very conversational. All that kind of distinction is totally lost if you think all ancient literature has to be put through the archaizing sausage factory.

In the case of Homer, there was an extra challenge because the tradition behind the poems was formed over a period of several centuries, and the language is a mix of dialects from different regions, with words and phrases from different eras. I felt I couldn’t write in an English that would be as mixed as the original is without losing qualities that also feel essential to the original, like the pacing and the directness and the emotional depth and the ethical engagement. It was a tough call though because part of me was tempted to experiment with really weird mixed-temporal, mixed-dialect English; it would have been fun to do. I made sure that my English is occasionally surprising as at least a tiny nod to the original’s linguistic diversity, e.g. using the occasional odd word (“ossifrage”), and that there are moments when it sounds surprisingly contemporary alongside less obviously “now” phrases (“a complicated man”)—again as a nod to the temporal diversity of the original and as a way of creating a kind of visibility for the translation process, including the gap in time between us and Homer. One big challenge was what to do about all the repetitions of Homer. I decided, after much struggle and experiment, that I couldn’t make my translation as repetitive as the original is without losing its energy—because repetition feels so different in our literate culture than it feels, and what it means, for a primarily oral culture. The line about “rosy-fingered Dawn” occurs many, many times in the Odyssey, and I do something different with it every time to try to make the metaphors always feel alive, as to me they do in the Greek.

Sholeh Wolpé: In terms of translation, The Conference of the Birds is a trial—a bundle of 4,724 rhyming couplets. For example, I agonized for months over how to present the idea of the “inner self” without philosophical impositions. In Sufi tradition, the “I” stands between our true self and the Beloved. Once it is destroyed, we unite with the Divine and hence recover our true self. The Conference of the Birds is an allegorical poem about our human struggle, both physical and spiritual. I had to be clear about what or who this “inner self” was without confusing the reader. Attar used several words for “I,” meaning what is not of the soul. These words refer to the conceited self. For example: taab (طبع), meaning disposition, humor, and nature; kheesh (خویش), meaning oneself; khod (خود), representing the self or the ego; and nafs (نفس), meaning the essence of self. I decided to choose one word in English to signify what Attar meant by the sum of these terms in order to preserve the poetic beauty and fluidity of the work and not burden it with too many footnotes and interruptions. I chose to use the word ego to stand in for all those words because, in my opinion, it was the closest in meaning to what is not the soul: our inner, conceited self. Ego comes from the Latin root, ē′gō, meaning “I,” “the self that feels, acts, or thinks.” It is our lower self, the upholder of self-righteousness and self-proclaimed truths.

This was just one of the myriad challenges. But I do not regret dedicating three years of my life to this work. It was worth it. And it brightened my own inner life.

Arshia Sattar: The excitement of translating a classic is that you are rarely the first person to do this and you will certainly not be the last. I think it’s marvelous that you place yourself within an existing and ongoing tradition. The challenges are many—I don’t think they’re tough, I think they push you as a translator and that’s a good thing. There’s the obvious and universal challenge of making something from a different time and space sound and feel like it can be from the here and now. It’s the temporal aspect that makes translating a classic different from translating a contemporary work.

With any Indian text, a translator has to confront the word dharma. It’s a complex and layered word and is at the center of Hindu ideas about how to live in the world and also about what constitutes the right and the good. It’s been translated as “duty,” “obligation,” the “Law,” “righteousness,”—all of them are some part of the word, but none of them capture the whole word. So I decided not to translate the word. It’s such a slippery word and, at the same time, such an important idea that I thought as the reader gets deeper and deeper into the story and the issues of dharma get more and more murky, s/he will be able to think about it for themselves and let the meaning unfold in all its multivalence.

 

Arcane language alienates the reader and renders any work inaccessible, and perhaps even boring, to the modern reader. I wanted to recreate Attar’s masterpiece as a readable, entertaining, inspiring work of literature without compromising accuracy.

 

Alta L. Price: Do you read previous translations? If so, how would you say your work is different from or in conversation with them?

Emily Wilson: I have read a handful of Odyssey translations, mostly not all the way through—in fact I’m not sure if I’ve read any all the way through, except Chapman and Pope. I’ve only looked at a tiny minority of the translations of this much-translated poem. When I was first deciding on the project, I looked closely at a chunk in the original next to several modern English translations to see if I felt I could and wanted to do something different from what was already out there—because of course it wouldn’t be worth doing otherwise. I felt I could do something both authentic and importantly different. After that, I didn’t look at other translations for another five years while I was working on the project. I’ve looked at bits from other translations over the past year to try to answer questions like this. My translation is different in formal ways: mine is the same length as the original, unlike most; mine is iambic pentameter, where most modern ones are some version of free verse or prose. It’s also different, I think, in its directness of language, its avoidance of bombast or archaism, and I hope also in its ethical and psychological complexity. One of the things I missed in the other translations I looked at was a sense of how varied the point of view of the Odyssey is: how much the narrative voice allows us to see inside the perspectives and feelings and thoughts of many different characters, not just the protagonist, and how these alternative voices offer certain kinds of important challenges to the protagonist’s perspective.

Sholeh Wolpé: Over many years I had read several previous translations of The Conference of the Birds, the most notable of which was a translation by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis, completed over thirty years ago and published by Penguin. I don’t know much about Afkham Darbandi, but Dick Davis is a brilliant, respectable, and dedicated scholar. I’m a huge fan of his translations of Persian masterpieces. However, in this case, I felt it was time for a new and modern translation of The Conference of the Birds. I’m not a scholar. I’m a poet. Therefore, I translated, or rather recreated, The Conference of the Birds as a poet. Arcane language alienates the reader and renders any work inaccessible, and perhaps even boring, to the modern reader. I wanted to recreate Attar’s masterpiece as a readable, entertaining, inspiring work of literature without compromising accuracy.

This epic poem is peppered with parables. The parables in the story are smoothly connected and orbit around a central theme. In fact, this method of storytelling through poetry was later adopted by future master poets, namely Hafiz and Rumi. Attar’s use of everyday details, stories, and historical chronicles is a masterful technique he invented to animate the deeper meanings of what we consider “reality.” Therefore, I recreated the parables as poetic prose, and the speech of the birds and of Attar as contemporary verse. In this way, the work becomes readable in a modern sense, not only as a deeply spiritual work but also as a form of entertainment, as Attar intended it to be.

Arshia Sattar: I absolutely read other translations. They are a great guide to what you can do and what you should not do. Typically, I read them before I start my own translation so they’re somewhere in my head as I work. I also go to them when I’m struggling with a word or a phrase. I think it’s important, though, to read more than one translation of a work. You get a sense of how the work has been situated in English (if you are translating into English) over time. And whether you like it or not, your translation will automatically be located in this same universe—either in consonance or dissonance with it. You also get a sense of how the work has been understood previously—that’s important because a classic exists only as itself, as a text, but also within a context. When it leaves its own language, that context is often constituted by other translations.

 

As a woman translator, you can’t ignore what happens to women in epics and you have to ask the question about whether they have agency or not. This is not a modern feminist question, it’s simply a narrative question.

 

Alta L. Price: As a female translator, do you feel you bring a new or different perspective to these texts? If so, how?

Emily Wilson: Female, no, not necessarily. Women are all different. Many women are not feminists. Many women are not interested in gender. Many women are misogynistic in various ways. Also, many women don’t choose to write in iambic pentameter. I’d be hard pressed to identify a feature of my translation that is entirely predetermined by my gender identity. Caroline Alexander was the first woman to publish a translation of Homer in English, with her Iliad translation (shout out to her!); and her perspective, or at least her translation style, is entirely different from mine. I’ve looked at a few Homer translations by women into other languages (French and Italian), and I can’t see any particular ways that their approach is like mine—certainly no more like mine than any random assortment of translations by men. So I think we should be really reluctant to generalize about what it means to be a “female translator.” I’d say that I, like all translators, make choices, and those choices are informed by my experiences as a human being as well as a scholar. But this is true of male translators as well as female ones, and men almost never, in my experience, get asked the question. My perspective is, I think, much more consciously formed by other features of my identity: my identity as a student/reader/lover of metrical poetry in English of many periods; my identity as an immigrant; my identity as a scholar interested in narrative perspectives and ethics as well as language. I worry that talking about the different perspective of female or feminist translators can reinforce a kind of ghettoizing of women’s work and women’s writing.

In looking at other translations of the Odyssey, I’m certainly struck that there are certain highly debatable interpretations that seem to be pretty common in English versions by men (although not universal), such as presenting Calypso as a sex-crazed hysterical “nymph,” or having Telemachus call the women raped by/who slept with the suitors “sluts” or “whores,” when the original does not do these things. I don’t do those things, but is that entirely because I’m female? I suspect there’s more to it than that. I do tend to assume that female characters are not inherently less interesting than male ones, and I do want to be as clear-minded as possible about gender roles and inequalities in all their complexity and contradiction, in this or any text, as well as other social roles. But I’m not sure that even that necessarily follows from being female. I also think it’s possible, in theory, for a male translator to bring a different perspective to a canonical text, including a perspective informed by a more critical set of ideas about modern and ancient gender assumptions.

Sholeh Wolpé: Absolutely. Yes. I did what no one, to my knowledge, has ever done before in translating classical literature. I followed the absence of gender in Persian nouns and pronouns! The Divine, Simorgh, the Hoopoe, the Wayfarers, and all the birds are not necessarily male or female. In Persian, we do not have “he” or “she,” “his” or “hers.” This masterpiece is about our souls and the human soul is genderless. I respected that in my translation.

Arshia Sattar: As a woman translator, you can’t ignore what happens to women in epics and you have to ask the question about whether they have agency or not. This is not a modern feminist question, it’s simply a narrative question—does the woman act or is she always acted upon? Sita, the “heroine” of the Ramayana, is held up as an ideal for Indian women, typically as a patriarchal ideal of submission and obedience to the men around her and of undying love for her husband under very trying circumstances. And so, yes, when I was translating the story (which is not hers), I was looking for her in ways that I could understand and relate to. The good news is that I found her, not the Sita that the patriarchy would approve of and endorse but one that contemporary women could identify with and celebrate. I don’t think a male translator would necessarily have been driven by the same impulse. A woman translator is not necessarily driven by that impulse, she is compelled by it, especially when she is translating a text that was created and sustained by a patriarchal culture.

 

The presence of a particular kind of focus on a gendered issue . . . may influence my approach. But that’s not really about “women” as such, or even “men” as such; it’s about the nature of the text and the fault lines of depictions of gender roles within the specific text.

 

Alta L. Price: What roles do women play in the classics you’ve translated? Did their presence or absence influence your approach to the text?

Emily Wilson: There are plenty of goddesses as well as “women” in the Odyssey. Now I’m working on Oedipus Tyrannos—which has a much lower female character count—and the Iliad, which also has fewer prominent female characters than the Odyssey. I’m not sure that it changes my approach. In fact, I’m interested in non-female characters too . . .

I talked earlier about my choice to vary some of the repetitive elements of the Odyssey, and to keep to the same line number as the original. I’m realizing, in working on the Iliad, that I may want to make different choices about those things with this, because the long lists of names, insults, titles, and patronymics seem so central to the poem’s subject—its treatment of male status and the costs of conflicts over male status, both for the men themselves and for the collateral female damage. I can find creative ways to translate an eight-syllable phrase meaning something like “of the much-resounding sea” so that it feels loud and powerfully sea-like but has fewer than eight syllables. Of course I did versions of that move, in various ways, for the Odyssey to try to maintain/echo its freshness and vivacity and pace. But I don’t know how to say “the son of Atreus” a lot of other ways, and I don’t want to leave it out because, as I say, it seems so essential to the way the poem is figuring masculinity. So I hope this is sort of an answer to the question. The presence of a particular kind of focus on a gendered issue—male military honor and the ways it plays out in language and speechifying as well as on the battlefield—may influence my approach. But that’s not really about “women” as such, or even “men” as such; it’s about the nature of the text and the fault lines of depictions of gender roles within the specific text.

Arshia Sattar: I translated the Indian epic, the Ramayana, so yes, women, or rather one woman, plays a very important part in the story. The princess Sita is abducted by a rakshasa, a sort of oppositional (rather than demonic) being, while she and her husband are in exile in the forest. Of course, her husband must then find allies and wage a great war against her abductor in order to win her back. If you stand to one side of the text, rather than look at it front and center, you could argue that the story is about what happens to Sita and how that affects the men around her. There are other women in the text as well and it’s important that we, as translators, treat the so-called minor characters well. These characters are there for a reason, and often the way we treat them shines a light on what we think of the story’s central characters, both male and female.

But we are translators and so the original text remains primary—we can’t change what it says, what we can do is change how it says what it does. Emily Wilson’s recent translation of the Odyssey is a great example of that. We have choices of meaning and implication when we translate—all languages have many words for the same thing. So it is possible to translate the Odyssey, as Wilson did, without resorting to misogynistic vocabulary. So also it is possible to think about and translate the Ramayana with Sita in mind. It’s bound to make a difference to the tone and tenor of the translation.

 

In Persian, we do not have “he” or “she,” “his” or “hers.” This masterpiece is about our souls and the human soul is genderless. I respected that in my translation. 

 

Alta L. Price: What can these texts—and your new translations of them—offer contemporary readers in the English-speaking world?

Emily Wilson: The Odyssey is a very old poem that resonates with many issues that are current in our culture: what to do about immigrants, migrants, foreigners; how to define home, identity, belonging; whether we can recover the past, and whether we want to; how the rules can be different for different social classes; the long aftermath of massive wars and how they affect a homeplace even when they’re fought far away; gender, marriage, and socially unequal relationships; bullying; being stuck; being alone; myths and magic; waste, wealth, stewardship, poverty, privilege; loyalty, power, autonomy, loss, grief, violence, agency, death, language, lies, storytelling, disguises, transformation. I should stop, but there is an awful lot in there. Beyond that, I hope my translation brings out some of the complexity of how the original poem deals with these issues: that, for instance, we’re shown the moral imperative of welcoming strangers—the code of “Xenia”—but we’re also shown all the ways that hospitality can go horribly wrong, how to be a bad as well as a good host, and what happens when a homeowner (like Polyphemus, or like Odysseus himself) feels invaded by uninvited guests. Looking at contemporary issues through the lens of a poem from almost 3,000 years ago can be an invitation to think about them again with fresh eyes.

Sholeh Wolpé: These are dark times and this is an enlightening, nonjudgmental book that should be required reading for everyone. In its essence, The Conference of the Birds is a story about us, the human race. It is the story of the journey of the soul back to its source. The source is the Great Ocean, the Beloved. We can give it any other name but it remains itself, unknowable. Attar tells us that belief and unbelief are both irrelevant to the Wayfarers of the Path. All paths lead to the Beloved, and we each walk the path according to our own capacity. Complete annihilation of the ego (that carrier of self-righteousness and self-proclaimed truths) shortens the duration of the journey.

We are the birds in the story. All of us have our own ideas and ideals, our own fears and anxieties, as we hold on to our own version of the truth. Like the birds of this story, we may take flight together but the journey itself will be different for each of us. Attar tells us that truth is not static and that the path evolves as we evolve. Those who are trapped within their own dogma, clinging to hardened beliefs or faith, lengthen their journey toward the unfathomable Divine.

Arshia Sattar: People say that a classic needs to be translated every twenty years, i.e., for every generation. By this account, I have to say that my translation of the Ramayana has just passed its sell-by date. It was published in 1996. But I will also say that it’s never been out of print, so it’s still out there and holding up.

Classics are classics for a reason—they have something to offer readers across time and space whenever they are read. In this time of increasing prejudice and hostility to those perceived as Others, reading from another culture can surely help us to realize that whether we are Hindu or Muslim, Sudanese or Mexican, Christian or Buddhist, Danes or Syrians, we want the same things: love, peace, happiness, prosperity. We cherish the same things—our families, our homes, the color and smell of our land. And this has been true long before we became “refugees” and “terrorists.” Reading classics from cultures other than the Christian West will make us aware of our similarities rather than our differences. And when we do notice the differences, we will realize that there are other ways to face the same dilemmas, other ways to parse the human condition.

 

Classics have a way of rooting us, of giving us ground to stand on from where we can approach contemporary writing and sensibilities and aesthetics from other cultures.

 

Alta L. Price: Can you recommend other classics, already available in English or still in need of translation, that merit attention?

Emily Wilson: I’m surprised there aren’t more translations of Ovid into English by women. There has been a lot of interesting critical work on Ovid’s depictions of gender identity and power and sexual violence and rape; it seems time for more and different translations.

Sholeh Wolpé: Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings by Ferdowsi, translated by Dick Davis, is a marvelous read. Rumi—Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teachings, and Poetry of Jalâl al-Din Rumi by Franklin Lewis is a wonderful book. A masterpiece that has never been translated into English is Khosrow and Shirin by poet Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1209). This epic is a gorgeous, mouthwatering romance between a Persian king, an Armenian princess, and a poor sculptor. Poet Ganjavi was married several times (due to each wife’s untimely death) but he was monogamous, meaning he never married more than one woman at a time—an uncustomary practice for his era. His fascination with women and his love for them is apparent in all his work. What makes Khosrow and Shirin timeless and irresistible is the poet’s attention to the female perspective. I’d love to translate this great classic.

Arshia Sattar: I am ashamed to say that I wouldn’t know a single work from the African continent in an African language that should come to our attention. Because of our colonial history, works from India’s classical languages have been translated for about 200 years and everyone has their favorites. For me, poetry in classical Sanskrit and Tamil should be better known outside academic circles in the West. Classics have a way of rooting us, of giving us ground to stand on from where we can approach contemporary writing and sensibilities and aesthetics from other cultures.

We can’t say often enough that English readers in the West are simply not interested in translations from the East or from the global South. And of course, it is Western markets that decide which translated works get globally distributed. There is great efflorescence in translations into English from Indian languages in India at the moment and I know that barely one or two of those make it across the water every couple of years.

I would love easier access to The Tale of Genji, from eleventh-century Japan, and to Chinese classics like The Dream of the Red Chamber and Water Margin. By easier access, I mean new translations that are reasonably priced and available across the world. How fabulous it would be if these books were placed on the center tables of bookstores as works about humanity, rather than ghettoized in special sections for the exotic.


 

Emily Wilson is professor of classical studies and graduate chair of the program in comparative literature and literary theory at the University of Pennsylvania. In November 2017, W.W. Norton & Company published her translation of The Odyssey, the first known complete translation by a woman in English. Wilson attended Oxford University (Balliol College BA 1994 and Corpus Christi College MPhil 1996) and Yale University (PhD 2001). In 2006, she was named a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome in Renaissance and Early Modern Scholarship. She lives in Philadelphia with her three daughters and three cats. Follow Professor Wilson on Twitter @EmilyRCWilson.

Sholeh Wolpé was born in Iran and has lived in Trinidad, the UK, and the United States. About her poems, the Poetry Foundation writes, “Wolpé’s concise, unflinching, and often wry free verse explores violence, culture, and gender.” She is the 2018 inaugurual author in residence at UCLA and a recipient of the 2014 PEN/Heim, the 2013 Midwest Book Award, and the 2010 Lois Roth Persian Translation prize, among others. Her publications include four collections of poetry, two plays, three books of translations, and three anthologies. Wolpé ’s modern translation of The Conference of the Birds (W.W. Norton) by the twelfth-century Iranian mystic poet, Attar, has been hailed by Reza Aslan as “timeless as the masterpiece itself.” She has taught poetry and literary translation at UCLA and University of Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program. Follow her on Twitter @Sholeh_Wolpe. ​ 

Arshia Sattar has a PhD in classical Indian literatures from the University of Chicago. Her translations from Sanskrit—Tales from the Kathasaritsagara and The Ramayana of Valmiki—have been published by Penguin Books. She has also written two books for children, Kishkindha Tails and Pampa Sutra. Most recently her publications include Lost Loves: Exploring Rama’s Anguish (Penguin India, 2011), the edited volume The Best of Quest (Westland Books, 2011), and Ramayana: An Illustrated Retelling (Restless Books, 2017).  



Read More Women in Translation on WWB

Women in Translation: An Interview with Margaret Carson & Alta L. Price

Can Literature Save the World? Sholeh Wolpé on Translating Attar’s The Conference of the Birds

Women Translating Women: An Interview with Literary Translators

Simurgh: Seeding a New Generation of Literary Translators, by Arshia Sattar, Sonam Kachru, and Neerja Mattoo 

Translating the Classics: An Interview with Lydia Davis


Published Aug 22, 2018   Copyright 2018 Alta L. Price

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