SETL - European School of Literary Translation


 info@grinzane.net  e-mail


In 1992 Magda Olivetti, translator from German of great authors (Bernhard, Bachmann, Schnltzler, Kafka, Musil, Rilke, etc) and cultural entrepreneur founded in Turin the Scuola Europea di TraduzIone Letteraria (SETL), financed by the Piemonte Region and by the Fondo Sociale Europeo - European Social Fund, on the initiative of the Salone del Libro - Book Exhibition.
Rich with various experiences, the SETL has had two recent editions in Florence, as a pilot project, backed by the Toscana Region and by the F.S.E. and managed by the FIT Consortium of the Universities of Toscana, associated with the Grlnzane Cavour Award - Premio Grlnzane Cavour. In 2002, SETL courses are being planned as an inter-regional project in both Toscana and Piemonte.

(Interview from site  www.alice.it )

Why a school for literary translators?
We are all aware that literary translation is the highest form of cultural communication between countries with different languages and that literary translators are authentic mediators of art just like musical interpreters, and yet there is no conservatory that disciplines their training. In Europe there are excellent schools for conference and parliamentary interpreters and for technical translators, but literary translators have always had to be self-taught. The SETL was born to fill this significant gap. Many highly esteemed translators have come from our courses and today they are working for major publishing houses like Adelphi, Einaudi, e/o, Mondadori, Sellerio, Zanichelli...

How do we teach to translate literature?
This is the heart of the question: we had to create an ad hoc didactics, find the financing necessary to develop it and build up a strong relationship between our students and the world of employment. Our didactics is inspired by the “botteghe d’arte” - art studios of the Rinascimento, or better, by the ancient relationship between the teacher and the disciple. We have professional translators, who have long experience and are known and highly esteemed by publishers, who “apprentice” their pupils and teach them the art. Every good literary translator knows that what counts most is practice and that abstractions, theories and reflections of the art of translation, however interesting, are as useful as a text on the piano or musicology for someone who has never laid his hands on a keyboard. If quality is a distinctive mark of our translator-teachers (always mother-tongue), our students too, are chosen through a rigorous selection process both written and oral. Accompanying the approximately three hundred hours that make up the framework of the School, there are writing lessons held by well-known authors (Giuseppe Pontiggia, Daniele del Giudice), because the most important thing of all for a literary translator is to be able to write in his own language. We also hold classes in Editing and Reading.

Is other teaching planned?
Yes, as the natural outlet of a translator is in the publishing field, we will have a course of editorial writing, held by Valerio Magrelli, supported by the interventions of publishers and editors who will come to explain their work to the students, from the care of books to their marketing and the press office, and to illustrate what is expected from a literary translator and more in general from a young internal or external collaborator. We can affirm that the SETL contains in a nutshell a publishing school, that has enjoyed from time to time the collaboration of all of our large and small publishers of culture. Among these we can recall: Adelphi, Bollatl-BorlnghIeri, Bompiani, Donzelll, Einaudi, Electa, e/o, Feltrinelli, Garzanti, Giunti, Guanda, Le Lettere, Marsilio. Il Melangolo, Mondadori, Passigli, Sellerio, Zanichelli etc..
In the second semester, the school schedules a first semester of sixteen weeks of full immersion and a second semester of thirty-two weeks with the didactic assistance from a distance, these same publishers entrust books to be translated to the students; these will then by published with the names of the students in the space reserved for the translator, and finally, the publishers will open the doors of their publishing houses to students for on-job training periods.

Do you work only with literature?
No, the new proposals of the SETL courses held in Florence, that we will maintain and include in the future curricula, are “professionalizing” courses, that extended and diversify the students’ competence, to help them find positions in the work world also outside the publishing field. We have about 100 hours of full immersion in the field of art text translations, that range from essays of the highest level to exhibition catalogues and even tourist guides; there are translation lessons dedicated to the cinema that include screenplays, dubbing and subtitles, lessons on translation for television and radio; for the theatre, for journalism, fashions, advertising... In all of these sectors, once they have learned the basics from expert and specialised professionals, SETL students have the prerogative of being translators with a valid cultural background and they have shown that this is a great advantage over those who have learned to translate using strictly technical languages. We have all seen gross blunders in translations that are due precisely to the lack of a solid and varied cultural foundation.
To prove what I have just said, immediately following the courses of 2000, the NTL (II Nuovo Traduttore Letterario) Cooperative was formed in Florence, made up of students of the course. This cooperative is working very well; it is being enriched with new elements and competences and has even increased its rates

What are SETL’s future plans?
I would like to set up a form of collaboration with Universities, so that SETL courses can be useful to reinforce the professionalising degree courses, serving as a bridge to the world of employment. And naturally I hope that similar courses will be set up in other European Countries with equivalent duration, commitment and didactic objectives ,that will bring out this new figure of the literary translator. To spread this project not only in Italy, but also in other countries, I have founded a Cultural Association that is called SETL and which has among its organisational objectives also that of studying and solving the problem of the economic under-evaluation of the literary translator.
Literary translators from all parts of Europe complain of their compensation, and rightly so. However, if publishers were to pay what translators deserve, they would go bankrupt, because translations are an added cost. What we need is a law at a European level, and funds (it would be enough to increase the fund for high level translations) to pay literary translators a salary uniformed to that of the various university levels, according to the skills, for the months that a particular job lasts. Naturally the field will have to be considerably delimited: translators of cheap novelettes, for example, certainly cannot be classed as literary translators.
Once a law of this type has been passed, the literary translator would become a professional who could live on his work; his name would appear on book covers just as musical interpreters have their names on recordings.
I should like to set up a study group to draft a serious and concrete bill of law to be presented as soon as possible to the European Parliament.