World Literature Today|Spring 2020

Good Storytelling Still Trending - An Interview with Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Veronica Esposito

Antonia Lloyd-Jones has translated works by many of Poland’s leading contemporary novelists, including Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk, Jacek Dehnel, Mariusz Szczygiel, and Artur Domoslawski. She has been a mentor for the Emerging Translator Mentorship Program and co-chair of the UK Translators Association. In 2018 she was honored with Poland’s Transatlantyk Award for the most outstanding promoter of Polish literature abroad.

Veronica Esposito: You’re someone who is able to make a living off of being a literary translator. How do you do it?

Antonia Lloyd-Jones: It’s thanks mainly to good luck and hard work. I went entirely freelance in 2001, but for fifteen years before that, translation was a paid hobby, while I had what I call “sensible” jobs, earning a regular salary. Those jobs allowed me to take out a mortgage and buy property, which means I don’t have to pay rent and can always rent out the place if my work dries up. Part of the secret of financial survival is accepting a wide variety of jobs (good for developing the craft), and although I can afford to be choosy now, I still accept unusual jobs, partly to stretch my skills. These smaller jobs bring in useful income as well as providing variety.

In this ongoing feature, Veronica Esposito interviews emerging translators who are changing the way we read world literature and beginning to reshape the translation field. While opening bookstores, leading national translation organizations, establishing local translation communities, and pioneering new forms of collaboration, these translators are finding and translating groundbreaking literature. In these pages throughout 2020 and online each month, Esposito explores how they see their efforts as building up the future of the field and, more generally, where the field is going. How is the literature that we read and publish changing as they continue to translate new books and work with new presses, and what might the future of translation look like?

These days I earn a reasonable amount from royalties—I wish I had known sooner how to negotiate contracts properly, and I try to teach less experienced translators how to negotiate the best terms. It’s never easy, and I still get it wrong; it’s like knowing your wish will come true if you get the formula right, but there’s always a catch. I recently heard a translator cry, “Why didn’t I include a TV series based on my translation in my subsidiary rights?” It doesn’t occur to us that world-scale success is possible, but you never know what will take off, and through what medium.

Esposito: For years, you’ve been an advocate for Olga Tokarczuk, who has now emerged as one of the most prestigious and successful authors in international literature. In your opinion, what makes her so special? What lessons can the translation community draw from the rise of Tokarczuk?

Tokarczuk’s a magnificent storyteller. That’s her superpower.


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Spring 2020