School of Languages and Cultures

New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation

Te Tumu Whakawhiti Tuhinga o Aotearoa

On this page:


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

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

Back to top ^


At the Centre's launch, the first official publication, Been There, Read That! Stories for the Armchair Traveller (Victoria University Press) was also launched. The anthology contains more than twenty stories from twenty different countries, translated from over a dozen different languages. The anthology is a team effort, involving translators from the School of Language and Cultures, as well as other local and international specialists in language and literature from countries as diverse as Ireland, Iran, Spain, Korea, Vietnam, Austria, Switzerland, Mauritius and Venezuela, to name but a few. More publications have come out since (for further details see the staff profiles of the NZCLT Committee Members) and others are forthcoming.

Back to top ^

Annual Lecture and Seminars

2014 Annual Lecture in Literary Translation Studies

Title: 'Hearing the Voice'

Julie RoseJulie Rose is a world-renowned translator. Her acclaimed translations include Alexandre Dumas' The Knight of the Maison-Rouge and Racine’s Phedre as well as works by the French philosopher Paul Virilio, Jacques Ranciere, Chantal Thomas and others. She has translated essays written by authors including Vaclav Havel, Chantal Thomas on Proust, Jean-Louis Cohen, Hubert Damisch on architecture, Pierre Bourdieu on art and Yannis Tsiomis on high tech architecture.

In 2008 she delivered her English translation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. This version of the book – published by Random House (Modern Library) – is the first full original unabridged English translation of the book. Julie Rose is a recipient of the PEN Translation Prize (NSW Premier’s Prize and Medallion for translation).

Hosted by the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation, the Embassy of France and the Alliance Française

Back to top ^

Past Lectures and Seminars

2013 - The Annual Lecture entitled  'The Secret Life of Dead Languages and the Role of Translation'  was delivered by Diego Marani (Ferrara, Italy, 1959) is a bestselling author, translator, essayist, columnist, and blogger. .

2012 - The Annual Lecture entitled "Six or Seven Beginnings" was delivered by Michael Hofmann, award-winning poet, translator and critic.

2011 - The Annual Lecture was delivered by David Norton, Professor of English at Victoria University and was part of the worldwide celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

2010 - The Annual Lecture was part of the first international conference on literary translation,'Talking Past Each Other, Translating for Each Other'  and consisted of three keynote addresses delivered by Paulo Britto, Professor of English at the Pontificia Universidade Católica (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); Lawrence Venuti, Professor of English at Temple University (Philadelphia, USA); and by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, University Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University (New York, USA).

2009 - The Annual Lecture was delivered by Brian Boyd, University Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Auckland (NZ).

2008 - The Inaugural Annual Lecture was delivered by Breon Mitchell, Professor of Germanic Studies and Comparative Literature at Indiana University (Bloomington, USA).

In September and October 2009, under an agreement with the Korea Literature Translation Institute, the Centre welcomed Korean writer-in-residence, Kim Sun-Woo, to work on the translation of some of her poetry. Her books of poems include What If My Tongue Refuses to be Shut Inside My Mouth (2000), I Fall Asleep Under the Peach Blossoms (2003) and Who Sleeps Inside Me? (2007). She has also written essays, which have been collected in When the Moon Under the Water Unlocked (2002), Objects According to Kim Sun-Woo (2005), Sugar-like Kisses Entering My Mouth (2007), and Who Has Laid Inside This Rice Bowl Besides Us? (2007). She is also the author of a book of folk tales for the grown-ups titled Princess Bari (2003). She has received the Contemporary Literature Prize, the Chun Sang-byung Poetry Prize, and other literary awards.

Other distinguished national and international guests of the NZCLT include Bill Manhire, John Milton and Qui Xiaolong.

Back to top ^

Postgraduate Student Research

The Centre hosts a number of postgraduate students, who are working on projects across a range of languages and approaches.

For a list of students, visit the Student Profiles page.

Back to top ^