Samantha Schnee, who is attending FIL on a fellowship for translators, got her start in publishing as the assistant to literary agent Andrew Wylie, which gave her front-row access to the careers of some of the most famous authors of the 20th century.
Schnee abandoned a career in investment banking to take up the literary life and parlayed her time with Wylie into a job editing Zoetrope: All-Story, before she pursued an MFA in creative writing. In 2003, she teamed up with Alane Salierno Mason and Dedi Felman to launch Words Without Borders, the groundbreaking translation advocacy organization and online literary magazine. Now, Schnee, who lives in Houston, serves as the group’s chairman of the board. Since its launch, WWB has published more than 2,200 writers from 134 countries, translated from 114 languages—including some 400 articles translated from Spanish.
Schnee is herself a translator from Spanish, having worked on two novels by the Mexican writer Carmen Boullosa, 2014’s Texas: The Great Theft (Deep Vellum), which was shortlisted for the PEN Translation Prize and won the Typographical Translation Award, and the forthcoming The Book of Ana (Coffee House, 2019). She also translated Landing by Laia Fàbregas, which was released by Hispabooks in 2016.
In addition, Schnee watches the Spanish-language markets for London Literary Scouting. This puts her in a unique position to observe the development of Spanish-language writing and translation. As she prepared to head to FIL, we asked her to share the names of women writers working in Spanish whom she would like to see more widely translated and whom she would recommend to her colleagues. These are her choices:
Agustina Bazterrica / Argentina
“Bazterrica is one to watch. Her novel Exquisite Corpse won last year’s Clarín novel prize, selected from a shortlist of 10 titles culled from 494 submissions. The judges called it ‘a great novel that examines the sinister workings of a dystopian, cannibal society, notable for the dense, hypnotic atmosphere it creates, its surprising plot, direct and stripped-down language, and its capacity to illuminate the dark underbelly of daily life.’
Jeannette Clariond / Mexico
“Clariond is another Mexican poet who runs her own publishing house, called Vaso Roto. She has translated the Italian poet Alda Merini and Primo Levi’s poetic works, and is working on Elizabeth Bishop’s collected works. She will be at FIL this year.”
Lola Copacabana / Argentina
“She is doing an MFA at Iowa right now and codirects Momofuku, a small publishing house in Argentina. I translated an excerpt of her work for the Bogotá39 anthology, which named the best 39 Latin American writers under the age of 40. She can be a bit experimental.”
Claudia Hernández / El Salvador
“Julia Sanches won a PEN/Heim grant for her translation of Hernández’s Slash and Burn. The novel’s power and subject matter are deeply compelling: a young woman whose father is a freedom fighter gets caught up in the war and has three daughters by three different men, struggling to raise them in a perilous world for women. The book reads as highly autobiographical.”
Ámbar Past / Mexico
“Ámbar Past is doing truly incredible things in Chiapas; she’s a trilingual—English/Spanish/Tzotzil—poet who started a women’s publishing collective called Taller Leñateros to help document and preserve the local mythology and lore. It’s staffed and run by women. [Mexican writer] Elena Poniatowska is a fan and told me, ‘It’s such important work.’”
Samanta Schweblin / Argentina
“Her novel Fever Dream was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017, and she has a lot more in her!”