How I found myself in literary translation...I believe that a literary translator needs a wide and varied history to translate books, especially novels. Well, my history fits that requirement!
I was born in California the seventh of eleven children. Our schooling took place in strict Catholic schools, where nuns carried rulers not only to measure, but to smack. My father died when I was 11, and four years later, I left home and caught a plane to Hawaii. At 17, I became a deckhand. I sailed from Hawaii to Tahiti, South America, Samoa, the Cook Islands, the Marquesas and many other Pacific islands – I sailed some 50,000 nautical miles on thirteen different boats. I learned how to handle sails, helms and high winds, how to cook in a galley being tossed by the waves, and how to navigate by sun and stars.
I’ve always loved reading, especially the classics, and at sea I had time to read books. I wrote too, mostly short stories and poetry, and even did a stint as a reporter in American Samoa. During a nine-month stay in Tahiti, I learned rudimentary French. These six years of traveling by sea shaped me, and the memories remain. Of storms and calms, birds, whales, noble and ignoble men...
Eventually I went back to school. I majored in chemistry at first, and worked as a lab technician at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and on an aquaculture farm. I lived on the farm: night watches to test oxygen levels, experiments for extra credit, Hurricane Iwa, shrimp BBQs.
Then I discovered I had a gift for languages. I changed my major to French, and spent much time working in the language labs and reading the great French writers like Hugo and Balzac. I also worked many jobs during college, from sales to banking to boat provisioning.... Then I won a scholarship to study at the Université d’Aix-en-Provence. I studied literature, translation and the Conseil Constitutionnel. During summer break, I traveled by train across 15 European nations.
After earning my bachelor’s degree in French, I took a second bachelor’s degree in journalism, with a 4.0 GPA. I also passed an intensive year-long course in Japanese, and was able to practice it often at my jobs at Naish Hawaii and Ralph Lauren. Hawaii is one of the most expensive places in the world to live, and at one time, I juggled five part-time jobs to support myself and my studies!
One of those jobs -- at the university newspaper -- helped me get writing experience and clips for my “book.” I worked as reporter, city editor and features editor. I earned several writing awards during these undergraduate years, including the Carol Burnett Research Paper Competition, First Place in Poetry from Windward News and the Etienne Gros Prize in French Literature.
If "scholar" was still a job title, I would have chosen it without hesitation. I loved school, and went on to earn my Master’s Degree in European Languages and Literature. German was my second European language. Though I had a busy class schedule, I accepted the post of Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Hawaii Review. I had to select the best work from massive piles of manuscripts, a job that helped my writing by teaching me to distinguish good writing from bad.
During my last year of graduate school, I won a 6-month internship at the largest newspaper in the state, the Honolulu Advertiser. I wrote several articles a day, including front-page articles, and had articles picked up by Associated Press and Knight-Ridder. At the end of my internship, the newspaper hired me to continue working as a reporter. To see my name and my articles in print, to see people reading ‘my’ newspaper in cafés or on the bus, made me proud and motivated. The job was difficult and stressful, but my writing improved immensely.
At the same time, I started getting work as a translator. The French Consulate sent me referrals to translate business plans, brochures, manuals, scientific papers and theses, and when I had my second child, I decided to pursue translation as a career rather than newspaper work, which is too fast-paced a career for a young mother.
After translating a few scripts, I became interested in scriptwriting as a genre, and eventually wrote four full-length screenplays. In 1998 and 1999, I was chosen out of a field of more than 600 applicants to join a screenwriting retreat with lectures and classes by such well-known Hollywood directors as James Cameron and Ron Howard.
Scriptwriting is very different from most of the writing I’d been immersed in. "Think visual, make every word and direction count..." Such techniques sharpened my writing skills, especially in plot and dialogue. I moved to California in 1996, but not to follow the dream of Hollywood glitter. The quiet country life suits me, and translating films and books suited me better than "pitching" them to producers. This led to my career in translation, as I branched out and took on various literary translations.
I moved to France in 2002, and here I specialize in literary translation, though I continue to publish short stories and magazine articles. My life is built around translating, and I work regularly with publishers, marketing, fashion, press communications companies and editors -- translating imaginative texts of all kinds.
My main focus, though, is literature. I constantly search for French novels that deserve to be read in other languages. I’m lucky that English is my native language, as it's the closest thing to a universal language on Earth, and I’m happy to possess the training and skills to turn fine French phrases into beautiful English prose...and to see my name in print like this:
"Translated by Teia Maman."