Designed to help students build their own theoretically-informed translation practices—with attention to issues of race, gender, and queerness—this course offers an introduction to translation via a hands-on approach. What pronouns do you use when translating from a language that doesn’t have gendered pronouns? Do you translate slurs? We will tackle these questions, plus the basics, thinking about a work’s tone, audience, and sociohistorical context in order to bring it alive in English.
In part one we will read and analyze essays on the theory of translation and sample translations to understand how such theories are applied. From Emily Wilson’s feminist and race- and class-conscious approach to the classics to Susan Bernofsky on the importance of revision, from John Keene’s theses on translating Blackness to my own reflections on antitrans sentiment in queer Iranian lit, our readings offer concrete ways to translate accurately and responsibly. In part two we will then workshop your work, putting such theory into practice.
The course requires prep time and active workshop participation. Students should come prepared to offer careful attention to their own translations and critique colleagues’ translations. Working knowledge of a second language is required, but there is no prior translation experience required. All written languages are welcome for source texts: our multilingual, multigenre course method uses this diversity as a strength, rather than a limitation. But translations into English only. Beginners are both welcome and encouraged: if you like to read and write, and have some second-language skills, you can—and should—translate! All written languages are welcome for source texts, but translations are into English only.
Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features. The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility.
Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.
- The goals of this course are three-fold:
- Students will understand ethical translation practices.
- Students will develop skills in literary translation.
- Students will become better critics, of our own work and of others.
- Students will receive a 10% discount code for all future Catapult classes
- Careful reading each week 30-90 min.
- Workshop submissions 300 - 500 words literary prose (whether fiction or nonfiction), or 1-2 poems not exceeding 15 lines each. Students are expected to provide both written and verbal feedback on their peers’ workshop submissions. Each student will receive written and verbal feedback from the instructor and their peers once in the 12-weeks of the class.
Weeks 1 - 8 Theory Put into Practice
Readings each week + guided lead-up to workshop as follows:
Week 1: reading only
Week 2: finding models - brainstorm translations you like
Week 3: choosing a text - brainstorm possible texts to tackle; select one
Week 4: understanding your text, part one - research the text and author, thinking about its historical and cultural significance
Week 5: understanding your text, part two - close read your text; look up any tricky words or idioms
Week 6: create a calque (word-for-word translation)
Week 7: prepare a first draft
Week 8: second (+third/fourth!) draft(s); clean up into a submission
Weeks 9-12: Workshop — 1 submission each + peer review, including line-by-line markup and 250-word feedback letter
Mariam Rahmani is a writer, translator, and teacher. Her fiction, essays, and translation have appeared in Granta, Gulf Coast, n+1, and elsewhere. Her 2021 translation of the 2008 Iranian cult hit, Mahsa Mohebali’s In Case of Emergency, was well reviewed in print in the New Yorker and New York Times Book Review. Rahmani holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from UCLA and an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University. Among her honors and awards are the 2021 Henfield Prize in fiction from the Columbia MFA, a 2018 PEN/Heim translation grant, and a US Fulbright fellowship. Rahmani currently teaches as a Lecturer at UCLA and is working on debut novel.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, by Mahsa Mohebali, translated from the Farsi by Mariam Rahmani (Feminist Press). This novel, published in Iran in 2008, takes place in Tehran in the course of a day when the city has been flung into chaos by a series of earthquakes. Shadi, the young, disaffected narrator, is less concerned with the disaster than she is with locating her next opium fix. Rather than flee the city with her family, she spends the day traversing it, getting high with various misfit friends and making observations about Tehrani society with her acerbic wit. Her sardonic commentary is interspersed with sensual descriptions of her highs, and of the periodic quakes roiling the ground beneath her. “I wish I could sink, pour into the earth and dance with her,” she declares. “Let the tremors crawl through my body. I don’t want them to stop.
Sheekasteh is the Farsi expression for the kind of visceral, idiomatic slang that characterizes this book’s prose — nimbly translated here by the scholar Mariam Rahmani — but the word literally means ‘broken.’ The novel’s most compelling transgression may be linguistic, the tectonic shift it represents in Iranian letters.
A macabre urban carnival of a novel. In Mariam Rahmani’s inspired, electric translation, Mahsa Mohebali’s portrait of the unmoored offspring of Tehran’s educated elite jolts the reader, offering a rare visceral glimpse into contemporary Iran.
Utterly shattering - I could hardly catch my breath… At turns hilarious and deeply unnerving, here is contemporary Tehran as never glimpsed before. Mariam Rahmani's pitch-perfect translation is intoxicatingly energetic, capturing all the poetry and pathos of disintegration. Read this now.
Mariam Rahmani’s startling new translation of Mahsa Mohebali’s IN CASE OF EMERGENCY practically vibrates in the hand. It’s demotic, queer, deeply and lovingly Persian in a way few texts that make it stateside ever are. It’s also laugh out loud funny, humane in its treatment of addiction without condescending. Rahmani’s translation is brilliant—her language throughout dazzles and sears… Turns out I’d been waiting for [this book] my entire life.
Taking Dr. Rahmani's class COMP LIT 191 was a very refreshing and rewarding experience for me as a graduate student[…] Combining seminar and workshop formats, the class not only familiarized me with translation theory but helped me to develop my own theoretically-informed translation practice and skills. It provided solid training and experiences for those who are planning to work on translation projects such as me or pursue translation as a profession. By foregrounding hands-on experiences with translation and providing constructive feedback, the class allowed me to build my own translation works & portfolio. I found Dr. Rahmani's class productive not only in the sense that it generated insights into translation studies (and related fields such as feminist and postcolonial studies) but it enabled students to create their own work. I could feel that Dr. Rahmani genuinely cares about her students, and she was adept at managing the culturally diverse classroom. I look forward to studying with Dr. Rahmani in future and hope to see her offer more classes on translation or related topics!
I think Dr. Rahmani is an outstanding teacher. The material in her course is very important for learning translation and understanding what translation means on a global scale. The atmosphere in the class is very vibrant and every student can participate. [...] I think I learned a lot in this class, and life lessons that will last a lifetime.
The class was uniquely inspiring and both encouraged and ultimately required me to think about translation in a completely new way... Engaging with course material as rigorously as expected definitely meant that I learned such a great deal.
Professor Rahmani’s seminar on translation theory ended up being one of those fascinating outlier classes [... that] I never expected to engage me much but which ended up being among my favorite UCLA classes. The subject material for Professor Rahmani’s class, which includes the independent, creative practice of translating original works as well as the exercise of reading other translators’ works, is engaging and fun to the extreme[…] She is a phenomenal teacher [...] and has much to give to engaged students such as myself.