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New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation

The New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation supports research projects and activities in the theory and practice of literary translation.

Te Tumu Whakawhiti Tuhinga o Aotearoa

In Memory and a Pocketful of Words – published in the Times Literary Supplement in 1964 – Janet Frame ONZ CBE (1924-2004), one of New Zealand’s most distinguished writers, provides an insightful and moving appreciation of literary translation:

While I explored the settlement of tragedy, as a reader I found in foreign territory among Russian, French, Norse, Italian languages, an English boarding house where the translators lived. How faithfully they worked, going out every day, foraging alone, directed by scholarship and individual taste, bringing home (however cramped in English briefcases) the masterpieces of foreign literature! When other writers may have their reward by feasting with the Gods, the translators, who have given so much, will be sitting down as usual to their dull boarding house tea watched over by the boarding house rules pasted on the four walls of their dining room. English readers however familiar with Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Dante. Kafka and others, will know that to each of the translators the writing on the wall is a personal illuminative text into which the rules have been absorbed as if, written at first with invisible ink, they had been held before the flame, had been made visible, then had returned beneath the surface to light the new text of imagination: out of sight, like glowworms. From these translators with their briefcases and boarding house tea I drew inspiration as exploring reader. I ‘breathed in’ the works they brought home to the English language. How does one survive on such shadow oxygen unless it is that survival depends on the basic forma of the shadow and the reality. and not upon the surroundings from which they are drawn? The oxygen may lack its original distinctive flavour but if one is desperate to go on living one cannot wait to take part in the full tragedy of ‘smelling the air’—or of tasting it: it is enough that it is pure, perfect O.

The New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation (NZCLT) – officially launched on 3 March 2008, by the then Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Helen Clark – was established to support research projects and activities in the theory and practice of literary translation, celebrating the work of both New Zealand and foreign language writers.

The Centre is an innovative and exciting research hub that hosts a core group of literary translators from the Asian and European Languages programmes at Victoria, maintaining links and forging collaborations with national and international scholars, authors, literary translators, publishers, cultural institutions.

The objectives of the Centre are:

  1. to research issues relating to literary translation, particularly of New Zealand literature;
  2. to provide support for the translation of New Zealand writers, in part through the eventual establishment of a translator’s residency;
  3. the raise the awareness of the wider community about the process and relevance of literary translation;
  4. to develop literary translation activities in teaching and professional areas;
  5. to collaborate with other centres, institutions and agencies across the world on literary translation practices and policies.

The work of the Centre – which includes an annual public lecture, seminars and publications – is planned and implemented by a Committee, which includes staff members from the School of Languages and Cultures as well as from other academic divisions (currently, the International Institute of Modern Letters and Wai-te-ata Press) under the leadership of a Director.

The Centre welcomes research proposals (MA and PhD in Literary Translation Studies) in translational topics related to the languages and cultures taught in the School and to the research profiles of staff.

Current Director: Dr Luo Hui, Lecturer in Chinese (2016-)

Director: Dr Marco Sonzogni, Senior Lecturer in Italian (2011-2014)

Founding Director: Dr Jean Anderson, Associate Professor of French (2008-2011)